Commencement 2024 - Dean Brian Edwards

Dean Brian Edwards at commencement 2024

The 2024 Liberal Arts graduation ceremony was particularly special. Over the past six years that I have served as dean, I have cherished every opportunity to come together en masse to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduating seniors. We did so again this year in Yulman Stadium on the third Friday in May in front of an estimated 5,000 guests.

The day prior, we honored our graduating MA, MFA and PhD recipients at Fogelman Area in a ceremony that is distinguished by the tradition of faculty personally hooding their advisees. I love this manifestation of the mentoring relationship of our graduate faculty to their students, and the way it suggests the continuities across generations of scholars. From my spot onstage, I could see the pride our faculty have in their students as they came up to receive their hoods and diplomas. Throughout both ceremonies, I could not stop smiling as I greeted and congratulated each of our graduates.

This year’s undergraduate ceremony had an additional resonance. The majority of the Class of 2024 graduated high school in the first months of the Covid-19, and did not have the joy of celebrating that transition in person. I began my remarks by stating: “This class knows better than any other that a graduation ceremony is not to be taken for granted.” When I added, “You deserve this,” the crowd roared in appreciation.

Four years of college is typically a time of personal transformation, both intellectual and social, as students expand their understanding of the world we live in and prepare to enter fully into adulthood. But these past four years have seen global transformation that has affected us all. Technologies have changed, industries have transformed, our climate has gotten more tempestuous.

Why did the pandemic shutdowns change the world so much? Neuroscientists teach us that our brains can become rewired in a matter of months. We got used to aspects of life that took over during the pandemic, even those we initially hated. Things that were unusual just a few months earlier now seemed normal. We binge watched, we doom scrolled, we Zoom roomed. Our divisions sometimes seemed greater than what we had in common as humans. Domestic and global politics have been especially fraught since then. It’s hard not to feel that there is a connection between the gloom of the pandemic years and the tensions in many quarters of life.

As an educator, I remain an optimist. To me, the liberal arts mission has never been more important. You’ve heard me say frequently that a liberal arts education is the best training for the careers and challenges of the future. I believe more than ever that those core skills of creative problem solving, communication, collaboration, discourse, and dialogue are what will get us through. The “wicked problems” we are facing need people who can balance complexity, who can appreciate competing understandings of shared challenges. In politics and in business alike, we need subtle thinkers and strong communicators. We need an understanding of alternative histories — both those that are understood and those that have been suppressed or repressed. We need to listen to one another with respect and find common ground.

The challenges of the present and the near future may seem heightened, but we have been through fraught periods of history before. As we enter the summer months, let’s look back with gratitude and celebration of the many achievements of our graduates and faculty and recognize the work that they have done in this amazing period of history. For when we celebrate them—when we celebrate you—we are placing a bet on the values that will guide us on the longer arc of history.

I hope that this summer is restful and restorative for all, wherever it may take you. Congratulations to the Class of 2024 and to all those in the Tulane community who helped support you on your journey!

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Brian T. Edwards, Dean and Professor
Tulane School of Liberal Arts

Video below of Dean Brian Edwards address on May 17, 2024 at the School of Liberal Arts Commencement Ceremony.