Class of 2020 shines brightly in the face of adversity

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Bill Whitaker

Speakers honor the resilience of graduating students during this year’s virtual commencement ceremony

By Virginia Watson | GPS News

“Don’t let adversity snuff out your light.”

This was the advice of commencement keynote speaker and CBS correspondent Bill Whitaker to graduating UC San Diego students during the university’s virtual commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 13.

Whitaker addressed both the ongoing protests in the U.S. brought upon by racial injustice, as well as the novel coronavirus pandemic. Whitaker framed the current unrest and uncertainty in the context of what it means for the lives of graduating students.

“Graduation is a leap into the unknown, even in the best of times. But at times like this, well, it’s scary,” Whitaker said. “But you know what else is true? You are the most diverse generation in American history. You are changing the face of America.”

Whitaker shared that throughout his career as a journalist, interacting with everyone from heads of state to everyday people, his biggest takeaway is not to underestimate your ability to effect change.

“American democracy – this experiment in self-governance – is messy business,” Whitaker said. “We’ve seen that unfolding on streets all across the country, as we are confronted by the virus of racism that has plagued our country for 400 years. (But) this American experiment is not going to end on your watch. There are old wrongs to right and new heights still to reach.”

Whitaker perhaps best summed up the sentiments of this important moment in history by highlighting how essential the future work of the graduating class will be in changing the world: “There’s no going back. We can only go forward, and we need you as change agents – your youthful energy, your ideals, your brilliance – to light our pathway.”

A commencement ‘like no other’

news_graduation-cap.jpgThis year, virtual commencement combined the university-wide ceremony, which featured Whitaker, with those of the various campus divisions and schools, including the School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS).

Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla spoke to all UC San Diego students and called for them to continue making progress long after they leave the campus, reminding graduates that real progress is measured in years, not days.

“While here at UC San Diego, you were taught to be open, taught to listen and taught to collaborate to solve problems,” Khosla said. “Use these tools to speak up, peacefully protest and create allies throughout our diverse communities. Use them to act in the professional world.”

As part of the GPS commencement exercise, school faculty and leadership honored the Class of 2020’s 166 graduates. GPS Dean Peter Cowhey said this year’s class contained seven MCEPA graduates, 44 MPP graduates, 66 MIA graduates, 23 BA/MIA graduates and 25 MAS-IA graduates.

Cowhey noted that 49 percent of graduates came from outside the U.S. and that, among the graduating class’ many achievements, students held internships in 19 countries and on five continents during their tenure at GPS.

“This diversity is a great point of pride for our school because it provides a dynamic and diverse learning experience for our students,” Cowhey said. “It provides each student with a global network of colleagues to support them throughout their careers.”

Cowhey expressed his admiration for the Class of 2020’s tenacity, determination and hard work, particularly in light of the graduating students’ final quarter at GPS rapidly shifting to an online-only environment to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Your accomplishments shine even more because you’re graduating under circumstances that we never imagined,” Cowhey said. “It’s bittersweet, but you will always be able to claim that the experiences of the Class of 2020 were truly like no other in the school’s history.”

Madeline Kasik (MIA ‘20), who was elected by the graduating class as the student commencement speaker, said her classmates shared her own sentiment that no matter what’s happening in the world, GPS represents the most interesting group of people they have ever met and the greatest sense of community they have ever experienced.

“The strengths we’ve gained and the relationships we’ve formed through our time at GPS won’t disappear just because the future looks uncertain,” Kasik said. “Because in choosing to attend GPS, we chose potential. Opportunity. The chance to advance in ways we never could have imagined.”

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About author
Virginia S. Watson is the Assistant Director of Communications for the School of Global Policy and Strategy. She has spent her entire career in editing, writing and design, both in industry and higher education. She holds a master's in technical and professional communication from Auburn University and a B.S. in journalism from Troy University.
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