Keynote speaker’s message to graduates: ‘Now is your time!’

November 06, 2018

Michelle Asha Cooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, was the keynote speaker for the College of Education’s spring commencement ceremony. Following are excerpts from her address.

I am delighted to deliver this year’s commencement address because seeing individuals make it to and through college is at the heart, the very essence, of what I do for a living. At the Institute for Higher Education Policy, we seek to inform policy discussions that help students enter and complete college. We envision a world where all people can reach their full potential by participating and succeeding in education. In other words, we believe in you! We believe that “you,” Penn State’s Class of 2018, armed with your degree in hand, have what you need to reach your life goals.

Graduates turning tassels

Excited graduates turn their tassels to signify their achievement at College of Education spring commencement, May 6, 2018.

IMAGE: Annemarie Mountz

You have reached an important milestone in your life. And, I stand here along with the faculty and administrators of this wonderful institution, honored and privileged to celebrate this accomplishment.

I also want to take a moment to acknowledge the families and friends of today’s graduates. Each of you have a significant role in today’s celebration. You have been actively involved in your loved one’s educational journey and have truly helped them to reach this day. So, to all of the friends and family members, I salute you. Today, is your day, too!

In preparation for today’s speech, I reflected on the graduations I’ve attended. And over the years, I’ve attended many, several of which were my own. And what I realized is that I don’t remember much about the commencement speaker. I may remember a name; but I don’t remember a face; honestly, I don’t remember much about any of them. This remembrance – or maybe I should say lack of remembrance – is a bit unsettling as I stand before you because I realize that in about two hours, you might not remember me either or anything that I will say.

In anticipation of that, I am simply going to cut to the chase and tell you what I want you to remember – and I really do hope you remember it. So here it is – my message to you today, Class of 2018, is simple – I want you to know that now is your time!

*****

The world that greets you is one filled with both chaos and great opportunity. We are living in an increasingly diverse, interconnected, yet unequal world. To combat the inequities of our society, we need people who are ready, willing and able to fix the problems that plague our society. People who are actively engaged in making their communities, this world a better place. People who are not afraid to lock arms in solidarity against racist, sexist, xenophobic and other forces that seek to erode our democracy and civic values.

Now is the time for radical, transformative change.

It is a fact that nearly 20 percent of Pennsylvania’s children live in poverty. These kids’ day-to-day lives are marked by financial, housing and food insecurity. Many are struggling in schools every single day. These students live all across this state and can be found in each and every community. But the communities most affected by poverty can be found in the rural and urban parts of the state.

The gap in funding between public schools in the poorest and most affluent communities has grown in the last decade. In schools today, we track students, sort them, and stratify them along the lines of income and race. We have created a system of haves and have nots. Right here in Pennsylvania, our schools are struggling; our students are struggling, and these longstanding inequities did not emerge overnight.

More than 300 graduating students, their families and friends heard inspiring words from commencement speaker Michelle Asha Cooper at College of Education commencement exercises held May 6, 2018, in the Bryce Jordan Center on the Penn State University Park campus.

More than 300 graduating students, their families and friends heard inspiring words from commencement speaker Michelle Asha Cooper at College of Education commencement exercises held May 6, 2018, in the Bryce Jordan Center on the Penn State University Park campus.

IMAGE: Annemarie Mountz

It is also a fact that school safety is a top issue for parents and educators. The safety of our schools should not be a choice. It should not be a political issue or a sensationalized issue. It’s an absolute necessity. The same way our sons and daughters should have good schools, they should also have safe schools. We must take steps to make sure that violent crimes in our schools stop now. We also need to bring an end to hate crimes. In communities and schools, hate crimes are increasing, and the majority of these incidents are motivated by bias against race and sexual orientation, followed by religion, gender and disability.

Here’s another fact: 25 percent of children and young adults have been victim of cyberbullying. 25 percent – that’s one in four people. While social media offers many benefits, like increased access to real-time information and the ability to develop more robust social connections and networks, it also can be quite divisive.

We are all-too-familiar with the vulgar tone of politics, the daily news, and celebrity twitter and Instagram rants. Social media, in general, has become a breeding ground for hate, terrorism and all manner of uncivil behavior. People hide behind their keyboards and type shocking, cruel and appalling things to people they don’t even know. Things they would never say face-to-face. These uncivil behaviors begin online, but they quickly spill over into our schools and communities.

Now is the time to reverse these trends. There is chaos in this world, but there is also the opportunity for change. Radical, transformative change.

Now is your time!

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 06, 2018