Congratulations to the Class of 2021!

The Community Studies Program celebrated its graduating class of 2021 the evening of Thursday, June 10 live via Zoom. Check out Professor Andrea Steiner's Faculty Speaker address below. Congratulations, Grads!

June 15, 2021

Thursday, June 10 2021

Hello everybody. It’s a true honor to speak to you on this day of celebration – to parents, grandparents, step-parents, godparents, siblings, partners, friends, and especially to our students. It’s been a journey.

Every year is special; every year particular. This year has been extraordinary – extraordinarily difficult and at the same time, in the oddest most unexpected ways and moments, extraordinarily gratifying. Students, you really have proven yourselves, and you’re not even out of college. I have to start today by acknowledging that this year, we carry such tremendous grief right next to our joy. Nearly 600 thousand dead in the U.S. from COVID, more than 10 percent of them in California alone. We carry sadness next to relief, and -- I have to believe – a certain solidity related to survival and to knowing how much you’re capable of, right next to a more acute sense of fragility than ever before, knowing that in too many ways the pain can be right around the corner. We hold a determination to join the world with integrity and purpose, because even when purpose seems elusive, there’s work to do and people to do it with you, and you, my dear graduates, know this more fully than we’d ever expected you to know it. You have been remarkable in ways that no other cohort has ever had to be. I honor and thank you.

I’m going to speak to you, the students, first.  So much of what I have to say to you today, I can say only because of you; I learned it from you and thank you so much for that. Teaching in a program where the subject is social change, who better to keep those of us working on a college campus current than the people whose moment this is. We are, I am certain, at a tipping point. I truly believe that we’re in the midst of a gender revolution; a revamping and revaluing of all things to do with race, class, indigeneity and equity; a struggle for the planet and its eco-systems; a struggle for democracy. It’s a turbulent time; I can’t read the tea leaves of each day’s news, but I try to and what I’ll bring to you today is simply my encouragement to be part of what you believe in, because it’s needed. Be wise, and don’t hold back. I’ll say more about that later.

There’s a theory in sociology that tries to understand the role of “generations” in social change. The theory compares two different models, and then queers the dichotomy by saying that both are true; nobody has to choose and nobody can choose.  The first idea is “cohort” and the cohort model says à No previous cohort, no group of people coming before you, is like you: the collective you. In order to make your mark, your generation will find new ways of thinking and new ways of being. Each generation has to break with the past, push off against the ones that came before. We see it already. The second idea is “lineage,” and it says that à However distinctly you define yourselves, whatever you see clearly that before was only fog, you’re standing on the shoulders of those who came before you – genetic ancestors, historical ancestors, the activists whose names we know and the ones whose contributions were quieter but no less valuable. You owe your insights and your capabilities to all of them, and you stand in a lineage with them, paving the way for others as they paved the way for you. And both models are true, and almost certainly something new is true too, something we haven’t thought of yet that emerges from the tension between cohort and lineage. Cohort, lineage, and something new.

Each person in this ceremony today has a different story, but in Community Studies we learn that all our stories are connected, both in terms of being implicated in the production or experience of injustice and in the deep gratification that comes when we experience the power of relating authentically, one strange being to another – with ‘radical love’. 

Parents and other supporters: I want you to know that your children – these grown-up and still-growing children -- are going to get jobs; they’re going to get good jobs, and have great careers. I also want to tell you that they’re leaving college with a lot of knowledge. They’ve learned histories and vocabularies, theories and skills, and I’d like to share just a few of these in order to make a point, which is you don’t have to worry about them. You can trust them and their futures.

The wonderful folks who are graduating today know that there’s a difference between equality and equity (which is fairness) – and they know that equity’s a lot harder to measure and harder to achieve, but if you’re choosing it’s probably the more important of the two to understand, and it’s the concept that will inspire the most rigorous thinking and the most careful powerful actions.

They know that health and health care are not the same thing, but that without access to good -quality health care for all, a basic sense of safety and solidarity is forfeited, and population health will suffer as a result. We have lived this with COVID. They also know that health is a product of all sorts of things that have nothing to do with doctors – things like housing and clean water and ending gun violence and stopping the persecution of immigrants and the killing of black men.

They know that in a still-neoliberal time, there’s an over-emphasis on individuality to the point that people are blamed or valorized for things that have relatively little to do with them; and at the same time, they know that individual agency, the ‘power of one,’ is really what life comes down to for each one of us, every day. I think of those small steps to speak up or hold back so that somebody else can speak, to show up, to change a habit or contribute where we see an opening, to stand against hate, where we do things even though we’re tired or sad or angry because they’re important to get done, where we sometimes say no because our effectiveness depends on it – these are little ‘profiles in courage’ and, families – chosen and genetic-- these students know that life is a series of such small acts of personal courage, even as they remember to challenge big seemingly immovable social structures and institutions. They will change them.

The students know that “empowerment” is a tricky concept – that nobody can “empower” another person, and yet that a lot of their work will be in fields where they hope to make it easier for others to realize their own power to work for their dreams, to make a difference in their communities – and to feel good about themselves.

They know that “community” is a tricky idea too, that communities can keep people out as much as bringing them in; and yet they’ve become skillful at participating in – and often in inventing – communities that learn together, help one another, and make it possible to work for what they care about most. That’s never been more obvious than during this pandemic.

They know that “helping” is very tricky, especially if the people and communities you’re helping haven’t asked for your help or haven’t asked for the kind of help you’re offering, and yet they know in their bones that helping is what they’re all about. 

In other words, they know complexity and that’s why you don’t have to worry. Graduates, you know how to hold these contradictions and others, and not be paralyzed by them. Are you able to leave UCSC with less fear and more hope? Maybe, maybe not. These are difficult times. But I think you leave with a clearer sense of what things you don’t have to fear, and what things are really scary, and with a less naïve kind of hope than when you started the program. And that gives me less fear and more hope for the future. So I’m back to thanking you again.

You know, when I was first invited to speak today, I did what any good academic would do: I began with research. I turned to the internet! Then I turned within, to consider this past year and what I could possibly say that you don’t already know and often know better than I do. Finally, I thought, we will turn to each other, and that’s what this ceremony is about today.

Here’s some of what I found online. I found out how many words there are in a 10-15-minute talk – that was useful. I listened to other graduation speeches, some of them really wonderful, but they didn’t have much to offer here, for us. I heard lots of famous people tell stories about the silly jobs they’ve had on their way to success, and they told these stories in order to let students know that you have to make an effort, that this is what the real world is like. But you don’t need those stories. You know all about hard work, about being accountable, and doing what it takes. You don’t need silly job stories.

Another theme was to tell everyone to make friends with failure. But nobody can major in social change and social justice without knowing way too much about failure. This work is so hard. You know that, and you know that even a little progress is progress. And finally, the speakers routinely advised students to network, and to reach out for support all along the way.  Well, come on – this program’s called Community Studies. You know the value of friendship and connection, and you know it really well.

There was one thing I read that I’d like to share with you. It’s something Ariana Huffington said, and I'm quoting now. She said: “What’s going to happen now is this: The world is going to grab you by the hand and tell you, “this is important” and “this is important” and “this is what you have to care about” and –she said—you must yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “no, this is important, this is what I have to do.”

Please stay interested in the world and in people who are not you, in lives that are not yours. Listen to each other, and do it with unconditional positive regard, with all the kindness you have. Get your facts and look at them critically. And do what you can, knowing it will be more than you imagine yourself to be capable of.

Human beings want to be seen – not embellished, not fuzzied up, just seen as we are in all our identities, all our communities, all our truths. The sculptor Louise Nevelson said, “The whole of life on earth is a recognition.” We find our life force in recognizing something for what it is, for seeing someone for who they are, and for being seen for who we are. Today, dear graduates, we –all your people in this zoom space and beyond -- recognize YOU.

Congratulations, Community Studies Class of 2021!


-Professor Andrea Steiner