As we made our way through this remarkable school year, the idea of holding an in-person graduation ceremony seemed, for a long time, a fantasy. But as the rise in vaccinations and improving public health made it more apparent that doing so would be a possibility, our joy at being able to gather and celebrate our graduating seniors overwhelmed the tremendous logistic complexities.
The ceremony was held on the morning of May 21—due to the coordination, patience, and heroic efforts by so many at Tulane—with the stage in the end zone and seats for 600 graduates dispersed across the field at Yulman Stadium. President Fitts greeted the students for opening remarks, and then I made my address.
Graduating senior Simenesh Semine, our School of Liberal Arts Student Commencement Speaker, spoke next. You can read more about Simenesh, who won the Felipe Smith, Jr., Award for excellence in Africana Studies, in this issue. We honored writer N.K. Jemisin (’94) with the inaugural School of Liberal Arts Distinguished Alumna Award, and I championed her attention to so many of the key issues of our time —from environmental crisis to resistance to structures of oppression—that echo throughout her speculative fiction epics. To close, graduating senior Joshua Kellner performed an original composition on the keyboard, inspired by New Orleans music and in gratitude to his professors in the jazz studies program.
This final newsletter of the 2020-21 academic year is a supplement to the ceremony itself and celebrates several more extraordinary liberal arts graduates. From data analytics to journalism, graduating seniors such as Lucien Mensah and Juan Alejandro Olarte-Cortes are confronting bias by forging new paths in their fields. And in support of more diverse and personal perspectives, graduating seniors such as Emily Maranets and Sophia Gutierrez are bringing multiple perspectives into each professional decision they make, from the field of publishing, to public health.
The student spotlights featured in this newsletter exemplify the many ways the core values of the School of Liberal Arts— complex thinking, community service, and a global perspective—intersect and guide vital solutions to today’s challenges.
Of course, we wouldn’t be here celebrating the bright light before our graduates without the guidance and lessons from our incredible faculty, supportive friends and family, and a university community that is profoundly agile in adapting to changing times. And as I reflect back on the experience of the past fifteen months, the simple but powerful statement—we are in this together— has never been more meaningful or true. To the Class of 2021, congratulations and good luck! And for all reading this newsletter, may you have a safe, healthy, and restful summer.
Dean and Professor of English