Vassar College Holds their 158th Commencement

By Jennifer L. Warren

POUGHKEEPSIE – Resilience. Resilience. Resilience.

It was a word Vassar College President, Elizabeth Bradley kept revisiting Sunday morning, as she addressed the Class of 2022. Speaking of the constantly shifting pandemic paradigm that the over 600 graduates encountered and creatively adjusted to, Bradley referred to this potent resilience as part of the special defining feature of this year’s class. President Bradley also offered other defining accolades.

“You are all proud, humble and strong, part of something bigger than yourselves,” Bradley reminded this year’s graduates as well as spoke of the violence and inequities that continue to inhabit their realities. She then read aloud a poem, and alluding to its content, added, “Be mindful, don’t be distracted by a need to perform, and always remember to focus on gratitude and what is in front of you.”

Vassar College 2022 graduate, Onyinyech Praise Attah, smiles big following receiving her diploma at Sunday’s 158th Commencement.
Vassar College 2022 graduate, Onyinyech Praise Attah, smiles big following receiving her diploma at Sunday’s 158th Commencement.

What was right in front of graduates was a sunny, warm spring morning, enveloped by family, friends and faculty, and plenty of excitement, positivity and hope. Each one seemed to be heeding Bradley’s further advice of looking around and “noticing everything in its exquisiteness.”

The resilience of each of the graduates during their unique collegiate journeys could be spotted throughout the Outdoor Amphitheater setting. Among them was Aena Khan, Senior Class Council President, who spoke about how she was able to find herself as a result of the openness that the Vassar community offered. Further pointing out the lifelong bonds forged with other students and faculty, Khan expressed her genuine gratitude for her treasured Vassar tenure and all the gifts it offered.

That same Vassar deep connection concept was touched upon by yet another speaker, Stephen Hankins, AAVC President and Trustee, who offered remarks about how critical it is for graduates to keep an ongoing connection with Vassar family. Hankins also relayed the importance that each graduate never forget what he/she learned-in and out of the classroom- while at Vassar.

Following Hankins’ remarks, Emmy-and-Tony-Award –winning actor, writer, producer and director, John Leguizamo, provided the Commencement Address. With his wife a Vassar graduate as well as his son among its 2022 Class, Leguizamo had a multi-layered bond to the campus. Using the trademark humor he is well-known for, Leguizamo, incited immediate laughter from the audience. Retracing his challenging childhood, one that was fought with perseverance and finding life-altering role models such as his first acting coach who inspired him to read voraciously, the entertainer also riddled his words with insightful wisdom.

“Being funny kept me safe from bullying, and I became an artist because artists can express what all others can’t,” recounted Leguizamo, explaining how he began to write and produce on his own-away from others- so he could finally feel like he was being seen for who he was. “I was happy because I found my niche in life, and as long as I was good enough for me, I didn’t need others’ validation.”

Reflecting further on the journeys that now confront the graduates facing him, Leguizamo, spoke of his love for this “great generation” for its ability to embrace inclusion, speak up and be heard.

“Don’t wait in life; be your best self, cause it’s contagious” advised Leguizamo. “We all have a super power, so lean into it, and always remember: you only fail when you stop trying.”

After adding some further gems of wisdom for graduates to carry with them on their post-collegiate travels, Leguizamo added one more pearl.

“Don’t ever forget: We are all one.”

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