Thinking Out Loud: Ode to our graduates

To the Case Western Reserve University Community:

I’m so proud to have been part of yesterday’s commencement ceremonies. What a beautiful and festive occasion. When I tell you that this year’s commencement was very special, it counts for something, because I’m not exactly new to the magic of graduation ceremonies. I have had the honor and pleasure of hosting 31 commencement ceremonies—14 as dean of the Weatherhead School of Management, 16 as president of Tulane University, and one as interim president of CWRU this year.

I have greatly enjoyed every single one of the 31 ceremonies, but there are two that will always stand out in my mind. The first was in New Orleans in 2005, several months after the great tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and the second particularly memorable commencement is the one we just celebrated here at Case Western Reserve.

Here is why:

1. Our graduates are unique because they finished their time on campus during a time of crisis. Their willingness to show up when needed and help others who could not help themselves gives them special status in my book. I witnessed this extraordinary empathy, selflessness, and community spirit in the aftermath of Katrina and again during the pandemic here at CWRU. 

Dear graduates, you all realized that life is about doing something that is greater than yourself and demonstrated how deeply you care about the well-being of others. As I’ve told students and anyone who will listen many times before: No one will ever remember you for what you did for yourself, they will only remember you for what you did for others.

2. This year’s graduates are more ready to make the pivot from college to the next chapter of their lives than regular graduating classes. Commencement is a day of mixed emotions filled with happiness and excitement, but also some sadness and anxiety. New beginnings can be intimidating, but our graduates this year clearly have what it takes to deal with change and adjust to a new world.

Dear graduates, you all proved during the pandemic that you are strong and adaptable. Resilience emerges when we face adversity. You are going to be alright—no matter any uncertainties or setbacks you may face in your next chapter. And do not worry if you haven’t figured out a clear pathway yet. It will eventually come to you if you follow your passion, stay open to new challenges, and learn and grow as each year goes by. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.

3. What also makes this year’s commencement extra special relates to the future of our country and world: Our graduates are our future. While this is true for graduates in any given year, it rings especially true when we have recently experienced a collapse of the world as we know it and have been reminded that we cannot take anything for granted. The future can look bleak in times of chaos and despair, but it is in fact bright—because of exceptional people like our graduates.

Dear graduates, I’m counting on your values, character, and goodness to tackle the issues that plague our country and world. Whether it’s systemic racism, a public health crisis, or climate change, among many more issues that need to be solved, you have the intellectual and human capacity to tackle complex problems and bring about positive change.

I’m grateful for everything this year’s graduates have brought to CWRU during their time here. I trust they will use their knowledge and the experiences they made on this campus and in the Cleveland community to not just imagine but actively create a better world. 

Let’s enjoy this joyous and hopeful moment and wish our graduates well! Congratulations again, graduates! We are very proud of each and every one of you.

Keep thinking, have a great life, and take care,

Cursive signature that reads "Scott" for Case Western Reserve Interim President Scott Cowen