Commencement ceremony honors graduates’ accomplishments, with an eye toward the challenges for which the school’s training has prepared them
“We’re counting on you. Are you feeling a little heavier on the shoulders? Good, that was the idea. Because there’s a job to do out there.”
That was the message commencement speaker José Ángel Gurría, former secretary-general of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), shared with the Class of 2022 during the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) commencement ceremony June 12.
Gurría highlighted the numerous global challenges our society faces today – and also reiterated that students’ time at GPS equipped them with the tools to solve them.
“It is a world that needs you to remind it, on a daily basis, that although the most urgent task is to fight the pandemic and stop the war, we cannot neglect our single, most important, intergenerational responsibility: to protect and preserve the planet for future generations,” Gurría said. “It is a world that needs you to stand up for the most vulnerable, for those whose human rights are being trampled by authoritarian regimes. It is also a world that needs leadership. You can be such leaders. In fact, you have a duty to be such leaders.”
Accomplishments amid adversity
The ceremony honored the 171 graduates of the Class of 2022, a cohort which GPS Dean Caroline Freund noted began their master’s programs remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, unable to gather in person until fall 2021.
“I have been inspired by the dedication and ambition of our students to master our intense curriculum in order to set themselves apart from others in their fields,” Freund said. “I have also been inspired by the student community at GPS, their support and caring for each other, their resilience in difficult times, and the many close friendships I have seen formed often across international and generational boundaries.”
Also in attendance were 18 members of the Class of 2020 with two traveling from abroad – from Finland and Japan – to celebrate commencement.
“Graduates from that class participated in a virtual commencement ceremony, with the promise that any who wished to be honored in person would be able to return at some point when we could again safely gather for a commencement celebration,” Freund said. “And now, two years later, we are finally able to honor the achievements and resilience of those who could be in attendance today.”
Freund noted the importance of this commencement, as the ceremony marked the completion of her first year as dean.
“All of your paths leading you to this moment have been unique, and you overcame a number of challenges in both your personal and academic lives in order to reach this moment,” Freund said. “Thank you for all of your incredible contributions to our GPS community over the past two years.”
‘Words create worlds’
Master of Public Policy graduate Belinda Panelo, who was elected by the Class of 2022 as the student commencement speaker, spoke about the importance of the words we choose and the extraordinary circumstances the students have endured for the past two years.
“Words create worlds,” Panelo said. “They create the world we have and the world we wish we could have.”
Panelo expounded on her time as a policy student and how many graduate-level course titles paint a picture of the world’s challenges while the undergraduate classes often have rosier titles, like Role of a Leader or Public Service in America.
While serving as a teaching assistant in a Role of a Leader course, Panelo said she was blown away by the undergraduates’ heartfelt commitment to their future, with clear, actionable steps on how they’d get there.
“There was no doubt or hesitation when they spoke of their big, hairy, audacious goals,” Panelo said. “Does that mean they don’t feel doubt or fear? No. Do you think they don’t notice the uncertainty in the world right now and are being unrealistic? No. They’re just carefully choosing words that will lay the path for their journey and by doing so are creating the world as it could be.”
Panelo echoed the words of one of those students, encouraging her fellow students to keep the sentiment in mind as they move forward with the next step in their lives and the closing of this chapter.
“You are not constrained to this moment in time,” Panelo said. “There is a future waiting for you.”