College of Community and Public Affairs Commencement 2022: Embracing new challenges, being a ’useful set of ears’
Be open to the new and unfamiliar. Don’t be afraid to create your own opportunities to make positive change in the world. And most importantly, “be a useful set of ears.”
These messages helped send off nearly 300 students who received their master’s or bachelor’s degrees from the College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA) at a May 21 Commencement ceremony in the Binghamton University Events Center. In addition to opening remarks from Dean Laura Bronstein, graduates heard from University President Harvey Stenger and Provost Donald Neiman.
Two speakers representing the graduating Class of 2022 also took to the podium: Julia Saltzman spoke for master’s students and Ian Ouma spoke on behalf of graduating bachelor’s students.
Saltzman urged graduates to prioritize listening over their own self-assertions or value-laden judgments, especially as so many of them enter professional fields engaging with diverse and dynamic environments.
“Be open to conversations that are uncomfortable or unfamiliar, and do not shy away from conflict,” said Saltzman, who graduated with her master’s degree in public administration. “Engage in dialogue that challenges your assumptions about other people, other cultures or other parts of the world. But most importantly, be a useful set of ears.”
Dean Laura Bronstein, who opened the ceremony, described the last couple of years as “unprecedented” because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said students faced the unexpected challenge of working to earn their degrees during a time characterized by heightened uncertainty, loss and anxiety.
Yet here you are, Bronstein proudly told CCPA graduates.
“We need some of you working to address the systemic bias and oppression that is part of the fabric of the institutions where we live and work, we need some of you listening to and holding the hands of children as they grieve the loss of parents and beloved grandparents, we need others of you leading organizations that work for gun control, fight for human rights, feed the hungry and house the homeless,” Bronstein said. “We need you in our government, in our schools, in our universities and in our hospitals. We need you everywhere.”
Ouma, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in human development, said he submitted his application to CCPA not anticipating he would even be accepted.
“I thought to myself, what does someone like me –– young, Black, an immigrant and gay do in college? This was a real, constant, self-imposed thought that sought to undermine my very existence and at the same time question my gutsiness and right to pursue higher education,” Ouma said.
But it became clear after arriving, he said, that CCPA was an accepting place to learn. Ouma praised how CCPA programs focused on enabling students like him to explore different “nooks and crannies” through different learning methods outside the classroom.
“We’ve been exposed to information and experiences from different backgrounds that we were never quite aware of given how multifaceted and unique our identities are,” Ouma said. “We have also been allowed to fully voice our concerns, amplifying some of the core values we stand for and wish to project into the world, making it just and habitable.”
Bronstein told graduates this world needs their unique contributions now, more than ever. Quoting President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she said, “One thing is sure. We have to do something. We have to do the best we know how at the moment.”
Bronstein said she could think of no other group better prepared than this one.
Dean Laura Bronstein’s full Commencement remarks
Each year the deans are invited to say a few words to our graduates. I always try to focus on something both meaningful and congratulatory. Given the events of recent months, including the horrific act in the name of white supremacy in our own state just a week ago, this year I want to underscore the crucial, difficult work that you, our CCPA graduates are now prepared to undertake at this particularly challenging time in the world.
The racially-motivated murders in Buffalo last weekend have far-reaching reverberations, especially in our own community where the shooter lived. Incidents like these stir CCPA students to give up careers where you might make more money, to devote yourselves to work that makes the world a more just and peaceful place, especially for those most in need. Today, that list of those in need is escalating. We experience more hate crimes, see women’s rights under attack, witness increasing disparities in access to quality healthcare and education, while a senseless war targeting hospitals and civilians plays out on the other side of the ocean. And all of this occurs amidst a worldwide pandemic.
Those of you before me graduating from CCPA know that making a difference in any of these areas takes passion, will, hard work and expertise applied on multiple fronts. We need some of you working to address the systemic bias and oppression that is part of the fabric of the institutions where we live and work, we need some of you listening to and holding the hands of children as they grieve the loss of parents and beloved grandparents, we need others of you leading organizations that work for gun control, fight for human rights, feed the hungry and house the homeless. We need you in our government, in our schools, in our universities and in our hospitals. We need you everywhere.
Being dean of the college of community and public affairs comes with a mandate that I take seriously. I am unspeakably proud of those of you graduating today who pledge your careers to make us all better, and I give you my pledge to do all I can today and, in the coming days, to support you in that most critical of efforts. You are my reason for hope. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you do, for who you are and for entrusting us with your education. I am grateful and honored to serve as your dean. As you go out and do your work, remember the words of the great social worker, Dr. Dorothy Height, “If the times aren’t ripe, you have to ripen the times”! Congratulations and Godspeed.