In academia, opinions are decidedly mixed when it comes to commencement ceremonies. It is true that the events can feel protracted, that wearing medieval robes in late spring doesn’t always spell comfort, and that one can only take so much of Sir Edward Elgar’s processional, “Pomp and Circumstance.” On the other hand, the celebrations are incredibly powerful and emotional experiences for many of our graduates and their loved ones. This is particularly true for those who are among the first in their families to go to college — a full third of UCLA’s student body.
To me, graduation season is one of the very best times of the year. And this spring’s ceremonies had special meaning: After two years of virtual and hybrid commencement events, we were finally able to return to our usual in-person sendoffs as we paid homage to the incredible — and unshakeable — class of 2022.
A highlight of this year’s UCLA College commencement ceremony, held in Pauley Pavilion, was a deeply personal keynote address by our young alumna, Katelyn Ohashi ’19. Ohashi took the world by storm with a joyful gymnastics floor routine that earned her a perfect score at the 2019 Collegiate Challenge — and racked up 230 million views on YouTube. But far more than an influential athlete, she has used her gymnastics success as a platform to discuss important issues like body-shaming, sexual assault and cyberbullying. She is a living, walking — and, yes, cartwheeling — exemplar of the values that we strive to impart to our students.
In my own remarks, I spoke of the ways in which a UCLA experience bonds Bruins of many generations together. Campus rituals and traditions — like talking with friends late into the night on the Hill, having an aha moment in a Fiat Lux seminar, doing the eight-clap alongside cheering fans at Bruins games, or stopping by the sculpture garden on a warm spring evening — link each graduating class to those that have come before and to those that will come after.
But for all that our graduates have in common with those of other eras, UCLA students’ experiences are also given texture by the events that take place on campus and in the broader world while they are enrolled. And what this year’s class faced was truly distinctive: a pandemic that took millions of lives and turned society on its head; a litany of racial injustices and the social movements that followed; one of the most polarizing presidential elections in U.S. history; a shocking and brazen siege on the U.S. Capitol building; the troubling invasion of Ukraine; horrific mass shootings throughout the country; and more.
As I told our graduates, all of these experiences — the beautiful and the terrifying — shape us into who we are, how we think, what we value and what we will set off to do in our lives. Our shared experiences, care for one another and foundation as a UCLA community can provide a safety net as we face and endeavor to fix a broken world.
Even for those who do not typically relish commencement ceremonies, I think that this year’s events were profoundly meaningful. Seeing so many energetic young people and proud families on our campus was a reminder of the true power and promise of UCLA — a place that lifts up students of all backgrounds, shepherds their development as people and as scholars, and helps put them on a path toward reshaping the world.