Archive – Commencement 2021 Virtual Ceremony on May 15, 2021

Virtual Ceremony Program

  • Commencement Program

    Opening Remarks
    Melvin L. Oliver, President

    Senior Presentation
    Zawadi Doti ’21

    Senior Presentation
    Becca Zimmerman ’21

    Board of Trustees Greeting
    Harold Brown, Chair, Board of Trustees

    Honored Guest | Acknowledgement
    Sandra Vasquez, Interim Vice President for Student Affairs

    Faculty Marshals | Recognition
    Maria Soldatenko, Associate Professor of Chicana/o-Latina/o Transnational Studies
    Joe Parker, Professor Emeritus of Critical Global Studies

    Student Marshals Greeting
    Barbara Junisbai, Associate Professor of Organizational Studies
    Rachel VanSickle-Ward ’99, Professor of Political Studies

    Senior Presentation
    Yusef Pierce ’21

    Senior Presentation
    Veronica Martinez ’21 with Ralph Zamora ’21

    Alumni Greeting
    Michele Siqueiros ’95

    Senior Presentation
    Kyle Davis ’21

    Introduction of Commencement Speaker
    Melvin L. Oliver, President

    Commencement Speaker
    Mondaire Jones, U.S. Representative (D-NY)

    Senior Presentation
    Kay Wright ’21

    Presentation of the Class of 2021
    Allen Omoto, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty
    Virtual Presentation of the Members of the Class of 2021

    Charge to the Class of 2021
    Melvin L. Oliver, President

Presentation and Speech Transcriptions

  • Opening Remarks - Melvin L. Oliver, President

    President Melvin L. OliverWelcome students, family, friends, and loved ones to Pitzer College’s 2021 Commencement Celebration.

    This year, our ceremony is virtual, but the pride and joy we feel today could not be more real.

    Although we would all prefer circumstances that would allow us to be in person on this joyous occasion, wherever you are in the world, in this moment we meet on common ground, coming together to celebrate the Pitzer College Class of 2021.
    To all the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and kin of every kind joining us today: Thank you. Education is a chain reaction, and you are part of the spark that set this day in motion many years ago.
    To our graduates, today we celebrate the resilience, brilliance, and solidarity you’ve shown over the past 14 months, as well as the scholars and people you’ve become over your entire time at Pitzer.

    We celebrate not despite, but in light, of the difficult days we’re living. There is no sugarcoating this—it has just been hard. A global pandemic. Racial violence. Political upheaval. Climate crisis. Inequities laid bare. Again and again. The impact has been everywhere, though not equal for everyone.

    For our graduates, the pandemic cut short your junior year and meant that you couldn’t spend your senior year with your classmates on campus. You have had to adapt to a whole new way of learning while managing untold personal challenges. Calling this “unprecedented” feels inadequate. This was not the vision, not the hope, not the plan, and I am sorry.
    I am also grateful to have witnessed how we have stood together and pulled together. I am grateful for the time we shared on campus prior to spring 2020 and all the ways we have learned and grown since.
    I am grateful to the faculty and staff, the family and friends, who have supported you, while you have, in turn, supported them—and uplifted all of us.

    Class of 2021, although you are not seated before me today, I see you. I see your array of accomplishments, your talents, your character, and your kindness.

    Most of you arrived at Pitzer in 2017, coming to the College from 28 states and 15 countries, ranging in age from 20 to 56, and 14% of you are the first in your family to go to a four-year college.
    Class of 2021, today, we honor the culmination of your college career and the commencement of the rest of your lives. We celebrate all of it, and all of you.

    This year, I am delighted to share this virtual stage with a few of our graduating seniors.

  • Senior Presentation - Zawadi Doti '21

    Zawadi Doti '21Zawadi Doti is a psychology and English and World Literature double major.

    Congratulations, Class of 2021.

    For many, it has been both a blessing and an achievement, reflecting on the strength and resilience you’ve fostered and carried in your time here, accompanied with feeling as if you’re an imposter, in your virtue to try and belong, to be granted access to the same privileges that many have.

    For me, this has been a journey that has required me to carry mountains rather than climb them. This place, the space, has got me wearing orange like it’s my favorite color, white like it’s my canvas, blue like the ocean filled with undiscovered beings.

    It’s pretty weird to lose sleep anywhere else but the four walls of a study room. But I choose to rise up, to stand up, to hold my head up high, hold on to memories that seem to pass like the wind. My reality, a little closer and you will see the depth of this ocean of knowledge. It comes crashing down and pulls in all the sudden memories of my time here.

    You see, I’ve got so many waves crashing. I’ve got too much statistics, too much prose, too much fiction, too much literature, too much research methods, too much research analysis, too much correlational studies, too much open mics. I’ve got too much sun hour, too much golden hour, too much Mounds time. Too much Pit-Stop mocha explosions, giant chocolate chip cookies, too much scratches, greasy hands from the GBP.

    I’ve got so much of everything, but not enough time, so I’ll keep this short. It hasn’t been easy. You see, from a young age, my accent was deeply rooted, unwilling to let go of my mother tongue. And as I spoke, my brain mixed my native tongue with English. So instead of saying hello, my friend, I said hello Rafiki mine. And in my entrance to this world, my hair births a texture that endured and took in all the love of the flowered sun. And for every ray of sun that dropped on my skin, I glowed, growing into spaces that deny my reality.

    Many of you at Pitzer have similar stories, ones that have shaped and led you to California, Claremont, Pitzer, ones that will continue to lead you to achieve greater things in life. We as a community have adapted to the changes and are all here today together.

    And I’m here to tell you, I am proud and excited to see you achieve yet another goal in your life. You deserve all the celebration. You deserve all the cheer.

  • Senior Presentation - Becca Zimmerman '21

    Becca Zimmerman is president of Pitzer’s Student Senate and a political studies/economics combined major.

    Becca ZimmermanClass of ‘21, congratulations and Class of ‘21 and a half, congrats. This year has been an emotional roller coaster for most of us. But despite its Groundhog Day-like qualities, I’ve almost been dreading graduating. I won’t miss my butt going numb on Zoom. Nor will I miss submitting 15 perms for one class. I realized I don’t want to graduate because I’m afraid I’ll never find a place or community like Pitzer again.

    There are certain Pitzer experiences that I simply can’t expect to be replicated, and I think most of you get that. So, let’s play a little game. Find a way to keep track however you like; points, tally, something else, I’ll let you figure it out if you’ve ever experienced any of these things. Ready? Okay.

    • Performed at Shakedown Sounds.
    • Lived in a building covered in murals painted by students. If you’ve painted on a building yourself, bonus points if the painting was unapproved.
    • If you’ve been woken up by chickens. Bonus points if you learned about the chickens’ fate from Student Talk.
    • If you witnessed or were partially responsible for some part of Mead breaking.
    • If you waited in line over 45 minutes for Snacky-Snack.
    • If you set off the pool alarm, had a lizard in your room, read Student Talk for entertainment, plus one if you started a Student Talk beef for your own entertainment.
    • Fell or otherwise made unexpected contact with a cactus.
    • If you suspected that one day, a certain group of your classmates might be the subject of a Netflix documentary.
    • If you’ve been part of a full class united negotiation with your professor to change an assignment, plus one if we’ve co-negotiated together.
    • If you drank swamp juice.
    • If you participated in a balancing club activity, plus one if you had absolutely no idea what you were getting yourself into and plus two if you knew exactly what you were signing up for.
    • If you protested a community issue on campus.
    • If you met people who challenged and expanded your worldview.
    • If you experienced a radical act of kindness, plus one if it was from someone you didn’t previously know or weren’t really close with and plus two if it made you cry.
    • If you found a mentor at Pitzer, plus two if you’ve been a mentor at Pitzer.
    • If you were ever able to lean on your community for support.
    • If you gained access to a space and you intentionally used that access and your platform to bring others into it.
    • If you tried something outside of your comfort zone and you’re better for it, plus two if you almost peed your pants in the process.

    Yes, Pitzer is fun and yeah, I think we lived up to, if not exceeded, our rep as being a little bit out there. A personal example of Pitzer’s quirkiness that comes to mind is from my first year Intro to Studio Art class, where we had an assignment to find and create 10 paint brushes for an in-class project. I decided to be a little bit of a wise guy and use a tampon as one of my artisan brushes. We get to class, there is music playing, we’re given our supplies and I start painting and after a minute or two, the professor comes over and asks what I’m doing and then stops the whole class to point out the importance of this brilliant example of outside-of-the-box thinking. Not even 10 minutes later, I watched a classmate cut a chunk of her own hair and tie it to a chopstick. Only at Pitzer.

    Pitzer is also a place to grow. I never would have had the courage to run for Senate President had this community not been so compellingly kind to me. I’m from New Jersey and you might know that if you’ve ever heard me pronounce water, quarter, or daughter and I’m used to driving, walking and talking at a very East Coast pace. These skills are a huge plus when I can move through a CMC crowd like a linebacker. If you’ve gone out with me, you know exactly what I’m talking about. But I’m heartbroken to leave the slowness of Pitzer behind.

    I don’t mean slow as in uneventful. I mean, I’m going to miss the walk from my dorm across campus, which I simply could not do without seeing a friendly face and stopping to catch up. I didn’t realize how unique this was to our campus until a friend visited from home. As I showed him around, I was stopping and waving and chatting with someone approximately every 20 feet. After 10 minutes of this, my friend stopped me and said, very seriously, “Is there literally anyone on this campus who isn’t this friendly?”

    Not really, no. And it’s not just the students, either. I cannot be the only one whose days have been immeasurably brightened by conversations with dining hall workers, maintenance crew or other staff at the College or who is formed a really wonderful friendship with a professor whose class you’ve never taken because of committee work or office hours or a common interest.

    This community is one of radical love and encouragement. It is imperfect, but I will deeply miss the human aspects of it that most of us have never experienced in such massive quantities. I’ll miss being in a place full of people united by intellectual curiosity and creativity and passion and empathy. These traits have driven so much of the organizing, mutual aid and community care that’s helped us sustain each other through an unimaginably difficult year. I am proud of all of us, and you should be proud, too. We’ve accomplished so much.

    For most of us, the odds are pretty low that we’ll ever find or end up in a place quite like Pitzer again, but I’ll leave you with three questions that might help you create some of Pitzer’s magic for yourself and for others, wherever you do end up.

    First, what have you learned about the person you became at this place? And what are you doing to nurture and protect that person? Second, what is something you learned about other people’s capacity to create community progress and joy during your time at Pitzer? Third, what part of Pitzer filled you up the most? What part of being here, which people, which causes, activities and aspects of this community brought you the most joy, purpose, warmth? What made you feel so excited it was hard to fall asleep at night, and what concrete steps can you take for yourself and for others to sustain that feeling?

    Thank you. I miss you all, and good luck. I’m rooting for you and I can’t wait to see you do big things.

  • Student Marshals Greeting - Professors Barbara Junisbai and Rachel VanSickle-Ward

    The Class of 2021 selected Associate Professor of Organizational Studies Barbara Junisbai and Professor of Political Studies Rachel VanSickle-Ward ’99 as its student marshals. 

    Rachel VanSickle-Ward and Barbara JunisbaiBarbara Junisbai: Thank you so much for that introduction, President Oliver.

    Rachel VanSickle-Ward: And thank you so much to the Class of 2021. We want to start by saying that we know that this has been a really tough year. And to all of you who are experiencing loss and grief, we want to send compassion. But we also know that this is a time of tremendous joy. And we’re so joyful that we got to spend the last several years with you. One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is, of course, how incredibly smart you are, and how I continue to be awed by the depth of your analysis and the sophistication of your instincts and insights. But maybe even more so by your capacity for care, and how, during this time where it was incredibly hard to make us connected, you made us even more deeply connected. You looked out for each other, you supported each other. It’s been such a joy to learn from you and with you. We’re so proud of you.

    Barbara Junisbai: I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly with what Rachel just said. Of all the jobs that I’ve had in my life, this by far is the best job I could ever imagine. At Pitzer, we’re so lucky to have a really close relationship with our students. You bring us not only intellectual stimulation but joy. Every time I come to class, I’m excited to see what new things I’ll learn. I’ve also really been inspired by students’ capacity for innovation, creativity, for really creating a space in which we can all learn together. It’s been a great joy for me to be a co-teacher alongside with my students and to be a co-learner and a co-facilitator. One thing that I hope you all know and that you let resonate deeply inside of your souls is that you have touched us deeply. Your imprint here at Pitzer will be long-lasting. We also hope that you know that no matter where you are, no matter what you do, no matter how far ahead in the future, you always have us at your side. We always support you. We always love you. We’re always proud of you. You always have a home here at Pitzer.

    Barbara and Rachel: Congratulations, Class of 2021!

  • Senior Presentation - Yusef Pierce '21

    Yusef Pierce is the first Pitzer student to graduate through the College’s new Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA program. He has earned his BA in Organizational Studies from Pitzer while inside a medium-security prison in Norco, CA, making him the first incarcerated college student anywhere to graduate with a four-year college degree based on Inside-Out curriculum.

    Congratulations to the Class of 2021.

    I took my first Pitzer Inside-Out course in 2019. But my journey started almost a decade earlier, in December 2010, when I was only four months into what would end up being a 19-year prison sentence. I received a letter that impacted me so much, that it is the only thing that I’ve managed to hold on to throughout this tumultuous experience. I realized now that I’ve saved this letter because it was meant for me, way back then, to share it with you all today.

    It reads,

    “Dear Son, I was so glad to see you Monday. I love and miss you so much. As I said before, I’m having the hardest time accepting what I’ve read, saw and heard concerning your case. Who is that guy? I wish somebody would please tell me who he is, and why they are saying he is you. Okay, and this sounds like denial. So, I’ll move on to acceptance and say, ‘What’s done is done.’

    “Now, where do we go from here? As I told you before, education is your key to success. You must believe me, there is no shortcut, and no easy fix. You, now more than ever, must diligently seek and obtain higher education. I know you’re in a hurry, you want it all right now. You don’t want to live without the financial ability to purchase what you want and need. But you must lose that mentality. We all have to struggle and do without.

    “In this world, people are struggling, working hard, doing without to get their needs met and accomplish their goals. That’s the way life is. You deceive only yourself when you think, ‘I will take the easy path because no one else has been smart enough to see.’ The joke is on you when you think that because many people see the easy path, but also see the destruction that it contains.

    “The Bible says that man that is born of a woman is a few days, and those days are full of trouble. When you do your very best, work hard and treat everybody right, calamity will still come. Think about that. So why make it harder than it has to be? And remember, every mistake you make, your children will suffer for it. To quote Tupac, your every move must be a calculated step. Son, let today be the day that you decide to live the rest of your life with honorable purpose, to be the best father for your children, and the very best man of moral character on the planet.

    “Here’s a poem titled Invictus. I had to read it in my high school English class. The very last stanza, it has stayed in the recesses of my memory. I’m sure you have read it also, and I hope you like it as I do. But more than that, I hope you claim its meaning for yourself. The poem was written by a man named William Ernest Henley. He lived from 1849 to 1903. At the age of 12, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone. By age 25, the disease had so infected his leg that he had to have an amputation directly below the knee. From his hospital bed, he wrote this poem.

    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds and shall find me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate,
    I am the captain of my soul.

    “The word Invictus is Latin for undefeated. And yes, we are. We’re undefeated, and we are more than conquerors.

    “I love you, my son, I always will. Keep growing stronger. Write and call whenever you can. Remember what I have taught you: avoid pork and red meat.

    Love, Mom”

    Powerful. I want to dedicate this degree to my mom and all the other moms out there. Truly, we are nothing without our mothers. I want to thank all of my professors at the 5C’s especially Nigel Boyle and Tyee Griffith. I want to thank all of the staff at CRC, Miss Noyes, Principle Weaver, former Warden Tompkins and Warden Pratt. Thank you to the cohort. I look forward to cheering you all as you graduate, and also all the other Inside-Outside students that I’ve learned so much from.

    Again, congratulations to the Class of 2021, and thank you.

  • Senior Presentation - Veronica Martinez '21 with Ralph Zamora '21

    Veronica Martinez is Pitzer’s senior class president who was recently awarded a Fulbright to Spain. Both she and Ralph Zamora are First-Generation college students.

    Victoria MartinezVeronica Martinez: [Transcript verification pending]

    Gracias a todos nuestras familias, mentores, profesores, amigos, amigas—a toda la gente que en si nos ha apoyado en el transcurso de nuestra carrera. Si hay algo que hemos aprendido durante este ultimo año, es ser paciente.   

    If there’s one thing we’ve learned this past year, it’s to be patient.

    Hay que tomemos un segundo para respirar. 

    So, let’s take a moment to just breathe in.

    Hace cuatro años empezamos nuestras vidas en Pitzer. Para los estudientes de primera generacion como yo, fue una de las transicion en nuestras vidas mas dificiles. Pero a lo largo de nuestro tiempo en Pitzer, encontramos nuestro grupo de apoyo, como una estudiante de primera generacion, mejicana, y hablante nativa de español … Gracias ha nuestras familias que han luchado para que tengamos un asiento en Pitzer College.

    I’m now going to have my first-gen peer Ralph Gustavo Zamora share some remarks about his experience as a first-generation student.

    Thanks to all our families, mentors, professors, and friends—all the people who have supported us in our college career. If there is something that we learned this past year, it’s to be patient. Let’s take a moment to breathe. Four years ago, we started our lives at Pitzer. For first-generation students like me, this transition was one of the most difficult of our lives. But throughout time here at Pitzer, we found our support group. Like first-generation students, Mexican students, and native Spanish speakers … Thanks to our families who fought for us to have a seat at Pitzer College.

    I’m now going to have my first gen peer Ralph Gustavo Zamora share some remarks about his experience as a first-generation student.

    Ralph Zamora: Thank you, Veronica, for reminding us to breathe. Now as we breathe, as we sit here, I have to say that I’m thankful for the First Gen team, everybody from public school teachers who pushed me, told me about college, and now I’m here for you to see. I appreciate the infrastructure set in place for me. It’s all the faculty and people who cared about procedures benefiting first-gen seeds. But I can’t forget, I have to thank my mom and my grandma Julie, who kept me on the right path out of trouble. Then I ended up here at the Claremont Colleges, and my knowledge doubled.

    I found out that most kids who end up at places like this are elite, the affluent, and those who ain’t 10 toes deep. I mean, kids like me, it’s helicopters hovering above only 300 feet. At Pitzer, I learned about the police state and how the system got control over the human body’s fate. Learning about yourself, your people, our messages through the academia content was a lot, especially when surrounded by those who ain’t ever had to process the tragic things that happened in our community, and not just on your TV screen for you to read or for you to speak, but truthfully for me and you to see the ways in which we can be a better global and local community. Because when a place like this offers a space-time reality, where rich families and poor families can collaborate on postponing earth’s fatality, then clearly we’re doing something right with this Pitzer thing. And I’ll be the first to say, damn, it feels good to have this Pitzer degree.

    Now, like Veronica said, we breathe, and as we breathe, let’s take a moment for ourselves, especially those who just graduated. Let’s breathe. We’re going through it together. Now, I appreciate you hearing what I got to say. It came from my heart, my experience as a first-generation student. We thank everyone who put all that together.

    But what I will say for the Class of 2021, we did it. Let’s make sure that we continue what we had on campus out in the world. And if for whatever reason, if anyone reaches out and we’re from this collective community, that we shake hands and we meet and we do something about this world. I appreciate everyone who I was around. It’s all love for me. Peace to you. Congrats, Class of 2021, we did it! Peace.

  • Alumni Greeting - Michele Siqueiros ’95

    Michele Siquieros is president of Pitzer’s Alumni Board and serves on our Board of Trustees. A 1995 graduate of Pitzer College, Michele received Pitzer’s 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award.

    Michele Siquieros, Alumni Board ChairClass of 2021, you did it in a year and ending that was highly improbable to your college education. You persisted, you kept at it. You didn’t let it stop you from earning this degree. Congratulations. If we’ve learned anything amidst a global health pandemic, is that we need more heroes, more experts, more critical thinkers, more social justice warriors. And so I’m glad to welcome you to the world where you get to be all those things. And as President of the Alumni Board, I’m proud to welcome you to Pitzer College’s Alumni Association. Congratulations. Now go forth and do big, big things.

  • Senior Presentation - Kyle Davis '21

    Kyle Davis, a political studies major, has been a student leader with Pitzer’s Inside-Out prison education.

    Kyle DavisCongratulations, Class of 2021, a class that barely even remembers what Pitzer College looks like. As bad as I want this to be a roast, the truth is, none of my jokes got cleared. So instead, I wholeheartedly am proud of our graduating class. From the adversity that we’ve overcome, to the many hardships that no one knows about, I’m proud of you.

    My name is Kyle Davis, proud son of Francia Rodriguez and Kyle Davis, Sr. I’m the son of powerful and resilient people, and I’m grateful to have them in my life. And for that, I would like to congratulate them, because without them, I would never have made it this far. To my mother, a powerful woman who came to this country at the age of 10 from Colombia, thank you. Thank you for all the sacrifices, the strength and love that you’ve given me. I love you. Thank you, Mama.

    To my father, a resilient man, who although fell into the prison industrial complex, reminds me everyday life is all about second chances. And those who fight for those second chances get them. I love you, Dad.

    I’m so blessed to have gone to this school and to be around such amazing people. I’m also proud to be graduating alongside our Inside-Out classmates who are all amazing and deserve all the praise for such an amazing accomplishment. This year has been rough for a lot of us. COVID has affected all of us in so many different ways and the way that I want to focus on primarily is mental health.

    I’ve always been told to do the right thing. Plan ahead, set a course and follow it. And I was told if I was proactive, any hiccup or road bump that came is easy to overcome. That was true until COVID came and didn’t want to hear anything about that. I felt alone so many times without you guys. I never knew how much I would miss Mead. Nobody misses Mead! Honestly, it forced me to reevaluate myself and the relationships that I held. The beauty was it forced me to evolve, made me lean on my family and allowed me to finally be open emotionally and express all that I had been fearing and keeping in. I asked for help. I was blessed enough to receive it from not only my family but friends and loved ones around the world and around the country. And a lot of them who I met there at Pitzer College, shout out to Lavonne, Apollo, and Cal Freeman, Nadia.

    I challenge you parents, students, loved ones and guardians to allow yourself the support that you need. Live the life that you want to live with the support and love of those around you. I no longer just want to make it in life. I want to make it with all of you. I want us all to be supportive of one another and I want to do it with this class. I truly believe with love and support, we all can live the lives that we were meant to live. There are resources, there are people who can help you. Remember that you are not alone in this new chapter. And although it’s scary and uncertain, your future contains much love, laughs; enjoy. I am pledging to be here for you and hoping that you do the same.

    I love you all. Congratulations on an amazing accomplishment. Please don’t take it lightly. And cheers to all of you. Congratulate all of us for this amazing accomplishment of making it through this year. Love you.

  • Introduction of Keynote Speaker - Melvin L. Oliver, President

    It is my distinct honor to introduce Pitzer’s 2021 Commencement Speaker: Congressperson Mondaire Jones. Representing New York’s 17th District, Mondaire Jones serves on the House Judiciary, Education and Labor, and Ethics Committees. In November 2020, he was unanimously elected by his colleagues to be the Freshman Representative to Leadership, making him the youngest member of the Democratic House leadership team. In December, Jones was appointed a Deputy Whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and became a Co-Chair of the LGBTQ Equality Caucus. He earned his undergraduate degree from Stanford University and graduated from Harvard Law School. He is a co-founder of the nonprofit Rising Leaders, Inc. and has previously served on the NAACP’s National Board of Directors and on the board of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Representative Jones is a lifelong advocate for civil rights and civil liberties who recently helped pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act bill in the House.

    Congressperson Jones, thank you for being part of this celebration of Pitzer’s Class of 2021.

  • Keynote Speaker - Mondaire Jones, U.S. Representative (D-NY)

    Congressperson Mondaire Jones (D-NY) represents New York’s 17th District and serves on the House Judiciary, Education and Labor, and Ethics Committees.

    I wish we could be together in person today. But I’m so excited to be with you virtually to celebrate this momentous occasion. And I am so proud of all of you.

    As we celebrate today, I am acutely aware of just how challenging the last year has been for all of us. In addition to a global pandemic and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we confronted the realities of working, learning, dating, and in my case, even running for Congress via Zoom. We missed birthdays, weddings, holidays, sporting events, and so many other special occasions to keep ourselves and the people we love safe.

    But as difficult as the last year has been, it has also shown us the power of any one individual to make a difference. The doctors, nurses, and health care workers who risked their lives day in and day out to keep us healthy and safe; the community organizers who created mutual aid networks to ensure our most vulnerable neighbors were taken care of as the world shut down; the advocates and the activists, including many of you, who brought communities around the globe together in defense of Black lives. These folks didn’t wait for an invitation to take action. They saw a need and they stepped up to the plate.

    My charge to all of you today is to do the same; to step up and step into the world. Do not wait to do good things. Everything you’ve learned at Pitzer, inside and outside of the classroom, has prepared you for this moment. And our world needs your gifts, your ideas, your leadership, and your impatience now more than ever. This isn’t always easy.

    As a 33-year-old member of Congress, I know all too well how dismissive folks can be of young people until they are no longer dismissive, until we prove our skeptics wrong. Powerful people in this country are betting everything on the idea that we won’t rise to the occasion to overcome the challenges that our nation faces. But I’ve seen firsthand what young people can accomplish when we refuse to let other people tell us what to do.

    When I ran for Congress, I can’t tell you how many people told me I couldn’t do it. They told me that I wasn’t old enough, that I was too inexperienced, that my ideas were too forward-thinking for my district, that I should wait my turn. The whole political establishment counted me out before I won my election in a landslide. For a young, openly gay Black guy who grew up thinking it was a sin to be my authentic self and never seeing anyone in elected office who was like me, I spent most of my life believing I could not get elected to Congress. So, the feedback I described was especially hard to hear. But every time the going got tough, I reminded myself what had motivated me to launch my campaign in the first place. I saw a world on fire, a nation facing existential crises. And I knew that if we were ever going to put out that fire, people like me, people like us would have to step up and lead with the sense of urgency that has come to define our generation.

    So that’s exactly what I did. And I’m grateful that a groundswell of young people in my community stepped up to the plate alongside me. As the COVID-19 pandemic descended upon us, laying bare the inequities that are inherent in so many of our systems, healthcare, education, our criminal legal system, you name it, we refused to despair. That group of young people, many of them not even old enough to vote, shared a vision of a more equitable and just future. And they fought tooth and nail to help bring that future about. There were six- and seven-year-olds who drew postcards to help me get elected.

    And we were up against tough odds. The son of a billionaire who spent many millions of dollars trying to defeat us, two state legislators, a former senior Defense Department official, a nonprofit board chair, and the list goes on. But because of the young people of Westchester and Rockland counties, I had the best team a billion dollars could not buy. And my story is not unique.

    The fact is the story of America has always been the story of young people doing extraordinary things. While we often hear about George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, many of our nation’s founding fathers and mothers weren’t much older than all of you when they set out to change the course of history. Now, they were far from perfect, but they set our nation on a centuries-long pursuit of a more perfect union, a pursuit that continues to this day.

    And it was that promise of a more perfect union that inspired young civil rights activists, including the late great John Lewis to organize and mobilize for civil rights and voting rights. John Lewis was just 25 years old when he led his famous march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to secure voting rights for Black Americans in what would become known as Bloody Sunday. The images from that march helped inspire passage of the Voting Rights Act two months later, which changed the course of our nation’s history and made our union more perfect in the process.

    Martin Luther King was just 26 years old when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which is now regarded as the first large-scale event against racial segregation in the United States. And that, of course, began when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Harriet Tubman was 28 when she made her first trip on the Underground Railroad.

    Today, you and your peers are building on this legacy of leadership. From March for Our Lives, a movement to end the gun violence epidemic in America, to the Sunrise Movement leadership in the fight to solve our climate crisis, young people are doing the work to ensure our nation actually lives up to the values we espouse.

    I ask you today to see yourselves in this struggle because our future depends on it. As we work to build back better from the challenges of the last year, we need you. Don’t wait for permission to lead. The only permission you need is your own because it is clear that you can do it. The American Revolution, the Underground Railroad, the civil rights movement, the success of these projects was not preordained. The young people who led them were not simply destined for greatness at birth. They had to take that first step. They saw injustice, and they got to work.

    I’m reminded of the words of another stellar young leader, our nation’s Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, who taught us all that there is always light in the world if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be. Pitzer, in a time with so much darkness, I urge you to be the light, to put your gifts and talents to use and to make our nation and our world just a little bit more perfect than you found it. If you do, I am confident that there is no limit to what you can accomplish and what our world can become.

    So, congratulations, Pitzer Class of 2021. You did it. Now it’s time to get to work.

  • Conferring of Degrees - Allen Omoto, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty

    The Dean of Faculty presents the Class to the President with the following words:

    “And now, Mister President, upon recommendation of the faculty, and with the approval of the Board of Trustees, I have the honor to present the candidates here today, together with those who are absent, who having completed all the requirements, are to receive the degree Bachelor of Arts.”

    The President confers degrees:

     “By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees, I confer upon you the degree, Bachelor of Arts.”

  • Charge to the Class of 2021 - Melvin L. Oliver, President

    Pitzer tradition says that it is now time for me to give you your charge. As Pitzer College students who possess immense confidence, unabashed individuality, strong ideas on practically every social issue, and boundless enthusiasm, providing a charge to you is probably pointless. But tradition cannot be overlooked. Let me give it a try!

    We all experienced this past year a major disruption to our way of life that threatened both our lives and our loved ones’ lives. For me, it forced me to reevaluate what was truly important. I came to a simple conclusion that focused my energy and resolve; what was most important to me was my love for family, friends and all those important in my life. As the novelist, essayist James Baldwin wrote:

    “I use the word “Love”…not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”

    I want to challenge you to not forget that “love” is life’s most important gift that we can give and receive. We can only be the best we can be in our journey, in our quest, with the energy, warmth and grace we receive from the love of others. We can only give our best to others when we love them unconditionally but not uncritically, when we support them so that they can pursue their dreams and grow. In this year of the pandemic, you did that beautifully for your families and fellow Pitzer community members.

    As Pitzer graduates, I charge you to go out and make the world a better place. But do it with love, the love that brings light to darkness, the love that buries hate, the love that transforms enemies into friends, the love that gives grace to those who struggle. And today, and into the future, we will need love more than ever.

    My friends, I present to you the Class of 2021.