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‘The ways of this world must change’
"We get to be on the front lines of building new bridges and creating a new way of life."
August 23rd, 2021 | School for International Training, SIT Graduate Institute
Following is a transcript of the commencement speech by student speaker Danielle Purvis on August 21, 2021. Dani graduated with an MA in Climate Change and Global Sustainability.
Being asked to be a commencement speaker is a great honor. But I have the unique opportunity to make meaning out of one of the most bizarre and intense experiences of my life, and I’m guessing for those of you who are getting a few more letters behind your name today or celebrating your accomplishments from August 2020, this has been a bizarre and intense experience for you too.
I think the formula of a commencement speech includes some focus on the future, a call to action or an inspirational speech about stepping into the world. But since most people have been fixated on the future since March 2020, and many of us entering the job market are totally fixated on our near futures, I thought it would be nice to reflect on the past year.
It requires true commitment and grit to complete a master’s degree, and many of us chose global graduate programs that also involve full immersions into new communities and cultures with new languages and new challenges. The rest of us chose hybrid programs that required us to fit graduate school into our busy lives while we continued working our jobs and taking care of our families.
On top of the typical challenges of a graduate degree, the Class of 2021 completed their degrees entirely or almost entirely during a global pandemic. My cohort, for instance, experienced a lock down, then an evacuation, and then a lock down and an evacuation. We spent half of our field methods courses quarantined in our rooms, looking at the field on Google Earth. For the class of 2020, you finished what is arguably the most intense and rigorous portion of your master’s degrees while the world was shutting down and life as we know it completely stopped. You kept going.
Sometimes I think I shouldn’t have completed this degree during a global pandemic, but now I’m really appreciative of the unique perspectives the experience has given me. In my first master’s program in public health, I remember sitting in lecture halls in the US talking about case studies of other countries whose healthcare systems collapsed, how crises could sow distrust and mixed messaging, how natural disasters could destroy any progress a country made toward rebuilding infrastructure or providing life-saving services.
I’ve learned more from spending this year in other countries, seeing firsthand how a country must make hard decisions to close their borders to protect the health of their people or to keep their borders open to sustain their economies and keep their people fed, how a country’s limited resources can be stretched even more thinly during crises, and how easily systems fail, especially for countries that were already struggling.
Yet, I’ve learned more from spending this year in other countries, seeing firsthand how a country must make hard decisions to close their borders to protect the health of their people or to keep their borders open to sustain their economies and keep their people fed, how a country’s limited resources can be stretched even more thinly during crises, and how easily systems fail, especially for countries that were already struggling.
I have also experienced many beautiful personal and shared moments in this year. I got to see Iceland without tourists, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In 2020, we had the largest global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since World War II. In spite of our challenges and limitations, we’ve prevailed, just as much of the world does, with flexibility, creative solutions, community building, and hope.
I am completing this experience with a blend of gratitude for the resources available to me and a commitment to see these bountiful resources distributed as equitably as possible. I am completing this experience with a global lens of how we are inextricably connected to each other and to our natural environment. And I know, more than ever before, that the ways of this world are unsustainable and must change, and that we get to be on the front lines of building new bridges and creating a new way of life. If you are ever daunted by this challenge, I hope you will be motivated and inspired by your classmates, your mentors, and most importantly, yourself.
I am completing this experience with a global lens of how we are inextricably connected to each other and to our natural environment.
Our accomplishments are, in part, a credit to our incredible family members, friends, and support networks that stayed behind and held down our forts, like my fiancé tuning in from Georgia right now. Or those who stayed by our sides when we needed it the most, like my parents who have spent the majority of their vacation in Vermont making me food and entertaining themselves while I worked. Many of us put some part of our lives aside to complete our degrees, and our most gracious and loving support networks took care of those parts of our lives. So thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Maybe some of you need a new goal to work toward and are invigorated by a future of possibilities. Maybe some of you prefer to reflect on the accomplishments of your past. But every graduate at this commencement – and everyone who’s been by our sides – should appreciate this moment right now and celebrate our incredible achievements. It’s a real honor to celebrate with you today, and I know we will accomplish great things in the future!