2019 Commencement Address

Curiosity and Humanity: Embracing our ‘Boundless Promise’

Megan Sanders ’19

 

Good afternoon.

It is truly an honor to be with you today to celebrate this momentous accomplishment.

In her final speech as First Lady, Michelle Obama said to us “young people, [don’t be afraid. Be focused.] [Be determined. Be hopeful]…Empower yourself with a good education, then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise.”

Today is a testament that we’ve empowered ourselves with a good education.

But what is our “boundless promise” and how do we build a country worthy of that promise?

Many say our boundless promise is our degree itself because graduating college is supposed to be the automatic package for success. One that, knowing Puget Sound, probably comes perfectly-wrapped with a clean aesthetic and a crisp image of Mount Rainier in the background.

Yet I see our boundless promise not as our degree itself, but rather our courage to do two things: First, to meet each other in our humanity, and second, to be constructive intellectuals.

At Puget Sound, we are taught to be intellectuals, to question everything about the world and the way it could be. But before we ask these difficult questions, we ask questions to meet each other in our humanity. We ask: who are you, not just as I see you or as the world makes you out to be, but as you want to, and needto be seen? How do you identify?

Asking these questions to meet each other in our humanity builds community and further enables us to be constructive intellectuals. Being a constructive intellectual means asking not just how things are and the way they could or should be, but also having the courage and curiosity to ask what role our identities play in perpetuating the systems we deem problematic and holding ourselves accountable to making space for others.

Four years ago, stereotypes led me to believe I would not find a home within the fraternity and sorority community. Yet as a member and as a leader I was met by people who empowered me to be confident in the woman I did not know that I could become. This supportive community allowed me to be a constructive intellectual by asking first how to reconcile problematic histories of white privilege and racism, how to combat lingering traditions of hazing and sexism and how to make our community more accessible to the rest of campus.

After asking these questions, we asked what to do about it. So we brought back an educational summit with workshops on diversity and inclusion in addition to the history of hazing on this campus and how to prevent it. We hosted weeks of discussion about toxic masculinity and how to truly uphold the values of our organizations; and created an Equity, Inclusion, and Justice position in every chapter to continue to ask these deep-rooted questions and break down the barriers to our community. I am proud to have been empowered by people courageous enough to take on these difficult questions. We did not radically solve every inequality, but we met each other in our humanity and empowered each other to redeem a community many deem to be broken as something worthy of changing.

I recognize that my experience at Puget Sound has been different than many of yours, but throughout these four years, I have heard you ask many similar constructive questions. I heard you ask why there are no gender-inclusive bathrooms on campus or how we can create space for Gender and Queer studies, and then I saw you lobby for changes. I heard you ask how we revamp orientation to better support incoming students, how we build supportive community in new ways through the Student Diversity Center and trans and nonbinary housing. I heard you ask how we reconcile financial barriers to books by creating the lending library, and how we raise awareness about sustainability and take action towards divestment.

I heard you ask how we use platforms such as the Race and Pedagogy Institute to critically question our past and engage the Tacoma community in this conversation through the Youth Summit. I heard you ask how to make our sports teams more inclusive and supportive and saw you create programs that combat hazing, address issues of sexual violence and engage with the Tacoma community through service. And I heard you ask important questions to establish mutual accountability between students and the administration to hold each other accountable to ensuring this campus is what we want it to be.

I am honored to have been a part of a class that has laid a foundation for future loggers to build on. We used our boundless promise to build a campus worthy of that promise, worthy of our courage to foster constructive and curious community, and we look forward to seeing how our peers carry on our work.

Our task now, as Michelle Obama said, is to go forth and build a country worthy of that promise. Further, I would add that our project is to build a world worthy of our promise.

I plan to carry out my boundless promise through diplomacy at the global level before I’ll make my way back to the states. Where will you carry out yours?

If we are to affect real social change, we cannot set out to break down every social structure on our own. We must start by meeting others in their humanity, especially those who come from different value systems, beliefs, nationalities, and identities than our own. And yes, I mean political identities, too.

Together, we can then be courageous to build a country and a world worthy of everyone’s promise, not just our own. After all, we have built on the strength of many others to arrive at our boundless promise today.

Thank you to the professors and mentors who have shown us how the world is and challenged us to consider how it could be. Thank you to the friends who remind us that, as my favorite TV character Leslie Knope would say “there’s nothing we can’t do if we work hard, never sleep, and shirk all other responsibilities in our lives.”

Thank you to our families for fostering and believing in our boundless promise.  

I’d like to personally thank my family for fueling my ambition and curiosity. I will change the world for you.

So, Class of 2019. Let us go forth into the world with curiosity and humanity to embrace our boundless promise and build a country and a world worthy of that promise, all the while living each day like the mountain is out! Thank you and congratulations.