Welcome back to Brown! It is so great to have all of you—finally—here on College Hill!

This is a much happier sight than the last time I saw many of you together here.

It was painful to have you leave campus in a rush in March of 2020. I remember seeing clusters of students on the Main Green, hugging and saying goodbye. There were some tears, and also some very real and understandable anxiety about the health of your families and about your futures. There was so much uncertainty. 

Then, two years ago, about to this day, I formally bestowed your degrees. Although it was a beautiful day, it was not a normal graduation. There was no campus dance, no march through the gates, no long goodbyes with dear friends.

As for the Commencement ceremony itself—I spoke to you from my house – addressing a laptop that was propped on a chair that I’d placed on top of my dining room table.

And you were dispersed, across the country and around the world. A number of you were still living in apartments in Providence. I learned later that some of you came to the College Green with your laptops to watch the ceremony. Many of you were home with your families, preparing to search for, or start, remote jobs or attend remote graduate programs.

We all did our best given the circumstances, but it was not as it should have been. It felt wrong.

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Now, you could ask yourself, why should it really matter? In truth, the tradition of a graduation ceremony has no bearing on your lives after college. Yes, you had a remote graduation, but it was legitimate. From that day onwards, you were able to update your CVs and LinkedIn profiles, and begin your lives as college graduates.

I sometimes hear people talk about a college degree as simply a credential—a piece of paper that lets you capitalize on an investment in education. And if that was truly all that it was about, a Zoom ceremony would have been more than enough.

But I believe that your time at Brown gave you so much more than a credential.

The very fact that all of you are here today…that you traveled from across the country and around the globe, bringing parents and family members back to campus…tells me that you agree. You felt that coming back to Brown, to do this right, was important and meaningful.

Your return fills me with joy, because it tells me that the time you spent at Brown was significant and impactful for each of you.

*  *  *

You came to Brown as younger versions of yourselves, eager to grow and live and learn and love in ways that transcended a simple piece of paper. And your hopes were borne out.

It was here that you opened your minds to new knowledge and new ways of knowing, with professors who became your mentors.

It was here that you honed your skills, as artists, entrepreneurs, athletes, scientists, writers, researchers, and activists.

It was here that you made friends who are among the best you ever had, and ever will have.

It was here that you created and were part of a strong community – both on this campus and in the city of Providence.

It was here that you grew into the smart, thoughtful, creative, socially-conscious and civic-minded people that you are now.

And that deserves an in-person celebration. Clearly, you all agree!

*  *  *

That leads me to a question for each of you: what brought you back here today? Why after some 730 days in the “real world” did you feel it was important to come back to Brown, put on a cap and gown, and march down the hill to this historic church?

There are probably lots of reasons. You missed your friends and your mentors. You never got that cap and gown selfie with your roommates. You’ve spent the last two years dreaming about your last meal at the Ratty.

Whatever your reasons are, I suspect they are all grounded in the same feeling of belonging and community that you found on this campus.

Looking out at your today, I know that you’re all at very different places in your post-college lives. Maybe you’re in a graduate program that really excites you, but you’re still uncertain about your career path. Maybe you’ve landed a job that challenges you but you wonder how you’ll advance.  

Or maybe you’re feeling even less certain. You started a graduate program and you’re thinking you made a big mistake. You landed a job you thought you wanted, but it’s not as fulfilling as you’d hoped.

No matter what your experience, I hope that while you are back “home” at Brown this weekend, you’re able to reconnect with the trusted friends who ground you, and give you advice and perspective when you need it.

T.S. Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

I hope that what we do together this weekend—the traditions and ceremonies, the reconnection with friends, and the re-conferral of your degrees—reaffirms the meaning and value of your time at Brown.

Tomorrow, you’ll march through the gates again as alumni of the Great Class of 2020! I hope you return many times over the course of your lives as active and engaged alumni – as T.S. Eliot said, arriving where you started.

The Brown community is a place where you will always be welcomed, and always find love.

Now, I would like to re-confer your degrees.

And no, you cannot update your LinkedIn profiles to say that you have two degrees from Brown!