Associate of French
Director of Undergraduate Studies
The president of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband, was recently asked by journalist Dahlia Lithwick to say what gave him hope during these grim times. In reply, he shared the experience of a film crew visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo. If you look at the statistics, said the crew, you feel depressed, but if you look at the people, you feel hope. Miliband added, "So people say to me, 'You're carrying the IRC forward,' and I answer no, they're carrying me forward."
When the campus was evacuated at midterm, classes had to be rushed online, requirements revised, technologies integrated. Gone was the blissful ignorance of our on-screen appearance, gone the ability to anticipate your questions in your eyes. Gone most of all the energy of our shared presence in the room. Distance was a given, but would there be learning? Would we fail our courses and let you down?
UB staff worked tirelessly to help us adapt and to buoy our spirits. Lecturers and graduate student TAs poured heart and soul into preparation. And when classes resumed, there you were; you showed up. You, the class of 2020. You smiled back. You forgave our stumbles. You prioritized your studies, despite the crisis all around. You hoped for the best, and believed in yourselves and in each other.
Generic conventions of the commencement greeting dictate that it conclude with inspiring wisdom to motivate graduates to go forward and do good. Allow me instead to commemorate the good you have already done, because there is no more urgent lesson from these times. As David Miliband put it, "While the people that we serve have got courage, resilience, humor, ambition, and hope, what right have we got to give up?"