You made it!!!
2020 Graduation Remarks by Wilkes Honors College Interim Dean Dr. Timothy Steigenga
I want to welcome our graduating class of 2020 to our first ever online Medallion ceremony. I also want to welcome all the parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings, and other loved ones of our graduates, along with our faculty, staff, alumni, and fellow students.
I always knew that this 20th anniversary graduating class would be special. But who know it would be THIS special? As most of you know, my tag line for this year has been “Twenty Years of Impacting Lives, and We are Just Getting Started.” Little did I know that what we would be starting would be social distancing and remote education.
We have some wonderful speakers lined up for today so I’m going to keep my remarks short and focused on one theme: Resilience. You are a remarkably resilient group of students, and you have lost many things you were planning on over the past 8-10 weeks. Those losses are real, and I want to acknowledge them first and foremost. But I also want to point out that it is out of loss that we build our reliance.
When Sheryl Sandberg spoke at Virginia Tech in 2017 it was just two years after she lost her husband. As she put it, “the most important thing I learned is that we are not born with a certain amount of resilience. It is a muscle and that means we can build it. We build resilience into ourselves. We build resilience into the people we love. And we build it together, as a community.”
I like to believe that although we are apart right now, the best part of the Wilkes Honors College is our remarkable collective and community resilience. We are a small community, but we are bonded together in ways that will hopefully serve us for the rest of our lives.
This year, the Wilkes Honors College lost one of the most beloved members of our faculty and staff, Dr. Dr. Shree Kundalkar. Cancer ended her life but it did not define her life. Shree ensured that instead, her life would be defined by her accomplishments, her professionalism, her care for her students, and her love for her family. Every time I find myself getting down about what we are missing this semester, I think about Shree and how much she absolutely loved her job teaching here at the college. In turn, I remember how lucky I am to have a job like this, working with amazing students like you. My hope for all of you is that you are able to fill your lives with the sort of passion, kindness, and purpose that my colleague Shree did. If you choose to do something that you love and you take the time to serve others while you are doing it, the chances are that you will fulfill this hope many times over.
The other commencement quote that seems particularly apt right now comes from Stephen Colbert’s 2011 graduation speech at Northwestern. Colbert was talking about his stint as an improv actor in Chicago when he got to the serious part of his speech and stated that “life is an improvisation. You have no idea what’s going to happen next and you are mostly just making things up as you go along.” I think that most of us teaching on Zoom or other platforms can attest to the truth of this one. But the larger point is that you shouldn’t be afraid to improvise. Your dreams and passions can and will evolve. In fact, if they don’t you probably aren’t doing it right. Be open to evolving with them. It is the best part of growing up, growing old, and building your resilience.
Finally, I just want to mention how proud I am of all of you. When I go out to brag about this college to potential donors and friends, I always come back to the theme of the American Dream and how this college makes it possible. You represent that dream. And you make all of your faculty here proud to be a part of it.
I’m very pleased to introduce our esteemed graduation speakers for this 2020 Medallion Ceremony:
First, I asked Dr. Christopher Strain to say a few words. For those of you who do not know him, Dr. Strain is our Chair of Social Sciences and Humanities. He is a professor of History and American Studies and an expert on civil rights, hate crime, violence, and the 1960s. Our second speaker was chosen by her classmates as speaker today, Kenzie Waldkoetter. When asked what she loves about the college, Kenzie replied that her “favorite thing about attending the Honors College was the ability to affect the world in a positive way and leave it better than when I came. The faculty and students who teach and study here are the most passionate, kind, and loving people I have ever met.”
Finally, our last speaker is the 2020 Alumni of the Year winner, Dr. Michael Metzner. Michael graduated from the Wilkes Honors College in 2012 from the Wilkes Honors College as a Flagler Scholar with a double concentration in Biological Chemistry and Visual Arts. Dr. Metzner completed the MD program at the University of Central Florida. He has served as the Vice Chairman of the National Committee of Bioethics and Humanities at the American Medical Association-MSS, and continued his post-graduate training as a general surgery resident at the University of Texas San Antonio. In 2017 he was selected as a Medical Communications Fellow for ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, the longest running primetime medical drama in history. He now serves as one of the medical advisors to the show, working full-time with the writers to help develop medical stories.
And last but not least I would like to mention some of the awards our students have won this year.
FAU Honors Convocation AwardsAlyssa Payne was our University Scholar
Sunil Raju took the University Club Merit Award
Vineet Reddy was named our undergraduate researcher of the year
And for our Wilkes Honors College Medallion Awards:Outstanding First Year student: Breana Hanley
Outstanding Sophomore: Hillary Moran
Outstanding Junior: Ken Kalzcuk
Outstanding Senior: Abby Lenhart
Distinguished Service: Liza Lanzon
Distinguished Community Service: Kenzie Waldkoetter
Outstanding Scholar: Christy LaFlamme
Outstanding Thesis Awards:Jeffrey Turn(Trivigno, Wetterer)
Christy LaFlamme (Chandrasekhar, Trivigno)
Abigail Chavez (Vernon, Duboue)
Dayanna Torres (Claiborne, Carvelli)
Olivia Ducram (Luria, Harrawood)
Amber Davis (Luria, Harrawood)
Makenna King (Moore, O’Brien)
Tracy Vandenbraak (Nur-tegin, McGovern)
Sara Haman (Baima, Lanning)
Katherine Hernandez (Tunick, Baima)
Gianni Croci (Ely, Steigenga)
Emily Heithcock (O’Brien, Jakee)
A Message to the 2020 Graduates of the Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University
If I had been asked a few years ago to give a graduation speech, I would have filled it with pithy wisdom and inspiring quotations, seasoned with funny quips. I would have included lots of motivational platitudes. Aim high. Dream big. Shoot for the stars. Enjoy your successes. Stop and smell the roses.
I might have told you, as actor Pierce Brosnan told the 2019 graduating class at Dickinson College, that you don’t need to be James Bond if you want to save the world. “Our world doesn’t need a lone hero, out to solve things solo,” he said. “We need people from different disciplines and walks of life who are willing to work together, who can rely on one another, who can push forward, united.”
I might have told you, as comedian Tim Minchin told seniors at the University of Western Australia in 2013, to be wary of long-term goals and to be “micro-ambitious.” Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you. You never know where you might wind up and “the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery.”
Or I might have read part of Mary Schmich’s hypothetical commencement speech, originally published in The Chicago Tribune in June 1997, in which she encouraged college graduates to enjoy the power and beauty of your youth, and do one thing every day that scares you, and remember compliments and forget insults, and sing and dance, and most of all to wear sunscreen. This essay, entitled “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young,” is the Commencement Speech that Kurt Vonnegut Never Gave (although he’s often credited with it),available on YouTube as Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen,” and if you haven’t heard it you should.
I would have said these things because you, as some of the brightest young minds of your generation, are the rightful inheritors of this community and nation and world. You are the new intelligentsia. You are the professionals: the future doctors and lawyers and cancer-curing scientists. You are the best of the best. You already understand like Minchin that the idea that the arts and sciences are at odds with one another is a “recent, stupid, and damaging idea,” as he put it. You already know that you don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art and you don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet, and you know that science is neither a body of knowledge nor a system of belief: it is just a term which describes humankind’s incremental acquisition of understanding through observation. You know that science is awesome. You are smart and you get it and you know that—to add to the pile of graduation clichés—the world is your oyster.
These are a few things I would have said if I had been asked to give a graduation speech a few years ago; but, I wasn’t asked to give a graduation speech then, and the truth is, in this here and now, I don’t know what to tell you because the world you inherit is faulty and warped. I could detail what I mean, but I think you already know—all of us do. Socially, politically, environmentally, the world is on fire. We are coping with climate change and pollution and species loss. We face challenges to our democracy. We are struggling with growing economic inequality and the possibility that hard work does not always lead to well-being and fulfillment. Add to these trials a global pandemic—a deadly virus, an invisible killer that requires us to be apart from one another—and it starts to look kinda scary out there, scary enough to give in to the nihilism of the moment if we’re not careful.
And so instead I offer you this bit of unsolicited advice: Have faith and believe. It is a time not only for science and art but also for faith in the notion that things can and will get better if you make it so. Steve Almond calls it being “a fanatical optimist”:
In this climate of calculated cynicism—a cynicism designed to make us feel hopeless—we need to be fanatical in our optimism, in our belief that we can become the subjects of history again, not just the objects… we must place our faith in the fragile belief that our own individual actions as citizens still matter. We have to shake off the modern American temptation to passively consume civic dysfunction as disposable entertainment.
It’s far too simple and easy to throw up your hands and say “Who cares? The system is rigged and the soufflé has fallen and nothing matters.” But that kind of pessimism is now beneath you; you traded it for the diploma in your hand. You have the tools to succeed where others have failed, tools capable of staving off defeatism, tools capable of fixing things.
So believe in something. Believe in anything. Believe in science. Believe in art. Believe in the restorative power of American democracy. Believe in a higher power. Believe in the universe’s ability to right itself. But most of all believe in yourself. Believe in your studies. Believe in your capabilities as an FAU Honors College alumnus. Believe in the knowledge you have gained and the wisdom you have gleaned. Listen to your conscience and believe in you. Doing so will enable you to make a plan and take action. And that’s what we all need—the Boomers and Gen Xers and Millennials and Gen Zers, all of us. We need your clear minds and keen vision and quick hands to maneuver around the apocalyptic piles of flaming debris in the road. We need you to be relentlessly bright and hopeful, knowing in your bones that things can and will get better if you make it so. We need your confidence and buoyancy and positivity and assurance. You are essential personnel and we need you, all of you. You can and will do great things in this world, in spite of the fact it’s broken, because of the fact it’s broken.
Thank you, Class of 2020, for your fanatic optimism. Be proud of what you have accomplished and what you have yet to accomplish. Good luck and warmest congratulations on your graduation.
Christopher Strain, Ph.D.
Professor of History & American Studies
Chair of Humanities & Social Sciences
Wilkes Honors College, FAU
Distinguished Alumni Message to the 2020 Graduates of the Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University
It was a surreal feeling when I received the call saying I would be recognized as the 2020 Distinguished Alumni for the Honors College, an institution I have loved so much for over a decade, and a community of faculty and staﬀ that had always supported me in any and all of my crazy ideas (which helped me get on the path to accomplish my dreams of uniting my passions in the arts and sciences). As a person who gets to work on a television shows like Grey’s Anatomy, I often try to make time for self-reflection, which also can lead to inspiration. It also gives me the opportunity to make Grey’s Anatomy references- I apologize in advance.
It seems like yesterday that I walked across the stage to get my medallion. I will never forget how since I had a double concentration in biochemistry and art, I ended up with a larger than normal group of professors packed on stage- very much against the current CDC social distancing guidelines- and Professor Lemeh announced to the audience, “It takes a village.”
She was right. Looking back, you realize that so many people throughout your life have an impact on where you are today and where you are going. Whether they are the perfect role model of what you want to be or, alternatively, the person who teaches you who you do not want to be- we can learn from all of those around us. You are lucky to have trained at an institution where professors and administrators are open to having relationships far after graduation and to this day I will pick up the phone and call them for advice. There are friends you have made at the Honors College that are and forever will be “Your Person.” Your Christina Yang. Your McDreamy, or maybe just a McSteamy. Cherish the relationships you have made here, as they will be your colleagues as you venture out in the world. Learn from them and don’t be afraid to ask for advice as we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. Dr. Meredith Grey once said:
We spend our whole lives worrying about the future, planning for the future, trying to predict the future. As if figuring it out will somehow cushion the blow. But the future is always changing. The future is the home of our deepest fears and our wildest hopes. But one thing is certain: When it finally reveals itself, the future is never the way we imagined it.
Looking back at the past decade, if someone asked me what I thought my future would be there is no way I would say being a medical advisor and associate producer on the medical drama I used to watch in high school. I didn’t even know my job existed. When I was graduating from the Honors College and if you asked me what my “5 year plan” was, I would have had my 30 second elevator talk ready. I’d say “I’m going to graduate from medical school and do a residency and fellowship program in pediatric craniofacial surgery as it is the closest area in medicine that unites my love for the arts and medicine”. Fast forward ten years and I get to be part of a team that teaches millions of people around the world some of my favorite medical cases as I get to creatively educate the masses through entertainment. We all have our own path. That path is never predictable and that is what makes life insanely scary but also exciting.
There are two lessons that I hope you hold on to from my remarks. The first, as you enter this next chapter of your life make sure you follow your passion. Despite what you are told is the safe choice, always push yourself to choose what you are most passionate about. Throughout my life I was told I had to choose between the arts and sciences. I couldn’t do them both and I would never succeed until I chose one or the other. I am a testament that choices like those do not need to be made, but instead follow your passion. Second lesson, and probably most important. No one is too important not to be nice. It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO of a company or a janitor who works for that company, both deserve the same respect. I promise you, if you keep in mind that no matter how much you accomplish in your career or how much money you may make, you always treat others with kindness and respect. If you do this you will leave this life much richer than the person who you think has it all.
I leave you today with one last remark from our beloved Dr. Grey. “Knowing is better than wondering, waking is better than sleeping, and even the biggest failure, even the worst, beats the hell out of never trying.” I wish you all the best as you take the next steps in writing your own chapter of your lives. Congratulations on your graduation and I am here to tell you it only gets better from here.
Michael Metzner, M.D.
Associate Producer and Medical Advisor
ABC Studios Grey’s Anatomy and Station 19
Wilkes Honors College, FAU graduate, Class of 2012