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By University Relations – Communications

If speeches at the University of Arizona’s 152nd Commencement had served as a collective thesis, two of the main sections would have been devoted to the importance of making connections, especially with individuals of different backgrounds and experiences, and the need to take the type of risks that result in the betterment of self and community.

Much of what was spoken during the ceremony, with more than 4,000 students and 40,000 guests in attendance, was sensitive to the current social, economic and political realities of the U.S. and beyond — and the need for progress toward a more inclusive and just society.

“Progress is not escaping from the past or reaching some perfect future, and your success may not take the shape that you imagine now,” said UA President Ann Weaver Hart. “Rather, progress and success come from our efforts to contribute to a vibrant society and world by accepting and working with divergent viewpoints and experiences, by continuing traditions — but revising them for the present — and by taking what we know and using it in new ways, with new people, and in new situations.”

Speakers addressed uneven access and cuts to higher education, civil rights challenges, political divisions and the nation’s recovery from economic uncertainty.

Graduates — all told, about 6,000 earned UA degrees — were urged to consider how they can engage in action to improve the world.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general and the Commencement keynote speaker, told graduates that three qualities are required to support “rebuilding strong communities and a resilient America,” which he called an “urgent task” for the current generation. The three qualities: empathy, optimism and courage.

Murthy urged the students to live a connected life in which they are not merely checking in via social media but living their experiences with and through others.

He called for connections that help establish and nurture trust, allow people to be their full selves, create a kinship among those of different backgrounds and prevent social isolation.

“It is to recognize that such connections don’t just enrich our lives but they serve as a building block for strong communities and a resilient nation,” Murthy said.

“The great challenge that faces America is that the bonds that hold together our diverse nation are being tested,” he said. “As we grow in diversity in race, religion and viewpoints, the breadth and depth of our connections must also expand and become more inclusive — but that is not always happening.”

Bill Ridenour referenced graduating from the UA, saying “it was a different time 50 years ago.” He said today’s world is a bit more welcoming.

“This is a day of new beginnings,” said Ridenour, of the Arizona Board of Regents, in praising the accomplishments of the graduating class.

“As you go on to new adventures in life, I’d like to offer a bit of advice: Stay curious and keep lifelong learning within your goals. It is through learning that we not only reach the next big scientific breakthrough, but we can make the world a better place through the pursuit of knowledge and broadening horizons.”

Hart evoked the words of Martin Luther King Jr. In addressing an assembly as part of an antiwar speech in 1967, King said people were living with “the fierce urgency of now,” the need to take immediate action for change today.

“The fierce urgency of now comes from our ability to imagine a future that has the capacity to be different from the present,” Hart said, affirming that the feeling of urgency may come in the form of wonder, excitement or opportunity.

“This is what your education here at the University of Arizona has been about,” Hart said. “And whether we are thinking about progress in terms of inclusivity and democracy, or in terms of technological development, scientific understanding or artistic and humanistic achievement, your experiences as students have prepared you to use your yearnings and passions for the good of your home communities, wherever they are or wherever they may be in the future.”

The ceremony was not without humor.

Manny Felix, president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, reminded graduates of the memories they would take with them: making midnight runs to fast-food places such as Taco Bell and Jimmy John’s; coming up with “20 new ways to ask our parents for money”; and rushing the Arizona Stadium field after the football team had defeated No. 2-ranked Oregon.

“College is a constant battle of should I work out, eat, study, socialize or cry?” Felix said in his tongue-in-cheek remarks.

“College is like looking both ways before you cross the street and then getting hit by an airplane. Remember playing Mario Kart on the Nintendo? You thought you werle in first place, then you realized you were looking at the wrong screen and crashing into walls? That’s college. College is soup and we’re a fork.”

Felix also passed along a fundamental message: “Education is our ticket to a better life, and tonight we are all proof of it.”

Wrapping up, he proclaimed: “Viva Los Gatos. Bear Down. Congratulations, graduates. We did it.”

Photography by John de Dios/UANews.