RL 2021 Commencement Head's Address

Hello, I’m David Wacks, Professor of Spanish and Head of Romance Languages, and it is an honor to be able to address the graduating seniors of the class of 2021, majors in French, Italian, Spanish, and Romance Languages. I would much prefer to speak to you and your families in person, but I am glad that we are working together to keep the community safe by having this event, once again, virtually.

Before I speak to you, graduates, I would like to take a moment to recognize the important role that family and friends play in the life of a university student. Many of us would not be able to be here today if it were not for the support of our family and friends, and it is fitting that they be recognized for helping us reach this moment. So I say to you, the family members and loved ones of our graduates, thank you as well, for the support you provide for our students in helping them to reach their goals. This moment is for you as well.

Now, graduates, let me congratulate you on what you have managed to achieve in spite of everything that has happened this last year. You have shown tremendous resiliency in achieving your goals in the face of serious challenges: the events of the past year were like nothing else faced by undergraduates in the last few decades: a global pandemic, a transformative movement for racial justice, a contested election and insurrection, an attack on the US Capitol, wildfires ravaging the West and consuming entire communities only miles from our campus and our homes, did I miss anything? It has been quite a year, to say the least. But here you are, you overcame all of it, continued to attend classes remotely, to work while observing COVID protocols, to adjust your social lives to accommodate the new reality, and to get the job done in spite of everything that has made it more and more difficult to do so. I don’t think we will truly be able to understand the impact that this year has had on our lives for some time, but I know that it has shaped us in powerful ways, and that the ability to thrive in this environment will provide you a strong foundation for facing other types of adversity down the road.

As students of the languages and cultures of the Romance-speaking world, you are well equipped to navigate the future. You understand that life takes place in a variety of languages, both in the US and abroad. You have learned that a different language is a different way of seeing the world, and know first-hand the benefits of embracing this diversity both personally and in understanding history, art, politics, religion, and all forms of cultural production.

Some people will ask you:  Romance Languages? What will you do with a degree in French, Italian, Spanish, or Romance Languages. And you can answer: what won’t we do? We can speak to the world in its languages, we can move between groups, languages, countries, cultures, and see the connections between them. We can read and listen with a critical eye, and discern between truth, half-truth, and outright lies. We can tell what information is valid for what purpose, analyze it, and communicate our analysis. We can explain complicated concepts and difficult texts from multiple sources in multiple languages clearly, and effectively, to inform, convince, question, argue, and teach. We have a global mindset, and can see the world here in Oregon, as well as Oregon’s place in the wider world. We are the kind of people that the world needs right now. And we are ready to take our place in it.

So, graduates, congratulations. It has been our pleasure these past few years to walk beside you in your journey as young adults, as scholars, and as fellow humans. Stay in touch with us; we love to hear what you are up to, and cannot wait to see what you will do next. On behalf of the staff and faculty of the Department of Romance Languages, congratulations to the class of 2021!

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