President Drew Bogner's Remarks at Commencement 2020

Hello, I'm Dr. Drew Bogner, President of Molloy College, and I want to officially welcome you to the 2020 Commencement Proceedings. 

I want to begin by congratulating all of the graduates for your accomplishments, but even more so, for doing it in the midst of significant challenges.

We are here in this digital space because of the pandemic disruptions that have carved up our normal lives over the past few months.

I assure you that being in this digital space and not in person is an experience that I never wanted, I also did not want to be isolated from my two children and their spouses for eight weeks, or from my colleagues and friends.

Let me tell you what I'm missing most about today.

  • I miss the excitement that fills the arena - the buzz of 10,000 voices - the joyful gathering of parents, spouses, children, relatives and friends
  • I miss the pomp - the tradition-laden procession
  • I miss the personalized mortar boards
  • I miss the hoots and hollers - the shoutouts
  • I miss the selfies
  • I miss your well-practiced and spontaneous victory celebrations
  • I miss the handshakes - all 1,200 of them 
  • I miss you

We are all keenly aware that these last few months have presented us with challenges. Our normal routines seem like distant memories or early morning dreams. Our lives have changed radically and we long to return to the pre-pandemic day, but will our lives really ever be the same? Have we been changed by what we have just intensely experienced? Will we be the same person or have we learned something about ourselves, about others and about our society?

As many of you know, I grew up in Kansas and the best thing about Kansas was that Colorado and the Rocky Mountains was one day's drive away.  During my 16th year, my best friend and I traveled to Rocky Mountain National Park to pit ourselves against the mountains, climbing the highest peaks in the parks that pierced the sky at elevations above 14,000 feet. We hiked in, and up, and back out, traveling 16 to 18 miles a day.

The next year we traveled to the Western edge of Colorado, where it borders Northern Utah, to Dinosaur National Monument to shoot rapids in an open hulled canoe on the Green River. We had a truck with one of our dirt bikes tied up in the bed and our canoe strapped over the topper.

We arrived at the park only to find out that open hulled canoes were considered too dangerous for the river's rapids inside the park. Fortunately, a friendly gas station attendant informed us that people put in above the park at Flaming Gorge Reservoir and floated to the Monument's boundary. 

We bought a map of the river that showed the location of all the rapids, drove the dirt bike to a picnic area on the norther fringe of the National Monument, loaded up the canoe, and began our adventure. The first day we passed a few other travelers but soon we were alone on the river.

On the second day, we came to Red Creek Rapids, the only named rapid we would encounter. We beached the canoe and walked along the river picking out our route through the eddies and boiling river, and then pushed off into the strong current. You look for and follow the V-shaped patterns in the water, since they are formed by the water pushing away from the rocks and boulders. 

I was in the front of the canoe and when we entered the first V, the water rushed headlong over me into the canoe. The second V did the same and soon the canoe was half-filled with water. It was now an immovable metal log. We slammed into rocks but, fortunately, we had chosen the side of the river near the sloping back and not against the jagged cliffs. We scrambled out of the canoe into the frigid 35-degree water and pulled it to shore, 

Did these adventures change me? Yes, they did.I learned that there are forces larger and more powerful than me that I can only work around, and that each shapes me more than I shape it. You are humbled by the awesome power that exists outside of you and you embrace this humbleness. You learn that a human being is both marvelous and inventive but also fragile. You learn to adapt, finding ways to work with, and around, the immovable forces.

The coronavirus is, for us today, that immovable force of nature: despite what we might want, it pushes back, demanding that we adapt, or face the consequences. It should humble our stubborn pride of individualism and force us to learn some valuable lessons, if we are reflective and adaptable.

What lessons have I learned from the pandemic?

  • I learned that most people are capable of being an everyday hero
  • That people are capable of tremendous resolve and willing to sacrifice for others
  • I learned that we are all socially dependent, that we need others, that this attribute is so essential that we will find creative ways to connect and support each other
  • I learned that most people are kind and giving
  • I learned about pieces of technology I didn't even know existed
  • I learned that we are more interdependent than I would have ever thought, think of the food industry - it relies on those who:
    • Own the land and take the risk
    • Those who plant
    • Those who pick
    • Those who process the food
    • Those who transport it
    • Those who stock the shelves

  • I learned that we are inventive and creative beings, that we will find ways to share who we are and what we feel

What lessons have you learned about yourself?

What lessons have you learned about what is most important in life and how you should spend your time?

What lessons have you learned about the purpose of society and how it should be structured?

I'm going to ask you to lean into the emotions that you have felt during this pandemic: the frustration, the anxiety, the worry. I want you to take a moment and remember how you felt at times: the isolation, the exhaustion, and the fear. Remember what you sacrificed. Remember what others have sacrificed. Embrace these feelings deeply for a moment and ask yourself whether you will make sense of all these emotions, of all the disruptions and of all the sacrifices by pledging to be a better person and work to build a better society.

I have been a college president for 20 years and my role has given me insight into the workings of society. I know that education is fundamental. It is how we pass on our essential knowledge and values. Education is how we prepare the next generation to assume the roles that are critical and important to society.

Education is essential. It is a public good.

For those like you and me who have experienced what a disruption in education can mean, we can see more clearly than ever how important it is, and the need for investment in learning and schools.

So too, we have come to see the absolute importance of our health care system from the primary care practitioners to hospitals to public health to the pharmaceutical industry and manufacturing base.

We have all seen the cracks in our system and the need to build up this common good.

We have also seen more clearly, through this pandemic, the inequities in our society, those who live on the edge, with no resources to weather even a minor disruption and those who are homeless, without access to health care or enough food to eat.

The question I pose to you is, now that your eyes see these cracks plain and stark, and your heart feels the pain, sharp and real: what will you do to fix it?

What will you do on a personal level and what will you demand as a societal fix?

Our pain must lead to a gain.

I ask all of you to be agents of transformation. To be the phoenix that rises from the ashes and build anew, to be the bold everyday hero who believes in good, commits to service and works tirelessly to build a better world. 

Through this pandemic we have all sacrificed - some more than others.

The question is:

What did you learn about yourself, about others, about humanity, and about society?

Have you changed because of it?

Do you want some of these changes to be permanent?

Will you honor your sacrifice by being a different person?

Will you honor the sacrifices made by the many everyday heroes by working to make society better?

Will you be what we expect every Molloy graduate to be - a transformative agent for good?

Your generation will forever be linked to the coronavirus pandemic, but you, each one of you, has the power to determine what the legacy to society will be from this cataclysmic event.

Congratulations and go change the world!

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