Welcome: Commencement 2024

President Garry W. Jenkins offered this welcome at Commencement on May 26, 2024.

Though you have experienced the end of high school, and most of college, in the context of very particular challenges, you have turned outward, not inward. And you have recognized the value of community, and devised new ways to establish and strengthen it.

In short, you have GRIT. Your parents and grandparents (and aunts, uncles, and friends from my generation and older who are here) will remember a classic bit of television history when Lou Grant (an older/senior mentor) tells a young, early-in-her-career Mary Richards, “You have spunk…. I hate spunk!” Well, I don’t hate grit. I love grit.  

By “grit” I mean a kind of perseverance, a stick-to-itive-ness, an ability to adapt to circumstances and keep pushing forward. To put an even finer point on it, I mean what the psychologist Angela Duckworth outlines in her seminal work on the topic:

  • Grit means passion and perseverance for long-term goals.
  • Grit means having an “ultimate concern”—a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do.
  • Grit is a key to success, just as talent and luck are.

While “grit” is not technically one of the MOIs or GECs you were required to take at Bates, or an official barometer of your performance, it is unquestionably a component of the skill set you have built up over these past four years. 

In health care, patients have long depended on the grit of individual doctors and nurses. If I need a lawyer to help solve a complex problem, you bet I hope that they have grit. To discover the undiscovered or produce something of beauty, you have to have grit. It takes grit to remove stubborn institutional and structural barriers that undermine equality and belonging. I want any professionals I work with to relentlessly push for improvement and excellence and find the means to transcend the inevitable roadblocks that one encounters in life and inside organizations. All of that takes grit.  

If you want to take your Bates degree and become an author or shape public policy on thorny issues.  You will need grit.

If you want to use technology to solve complex problems or found a startup, one day, that serves unmet needs.  It’s not going to be an easy road, you’ll need a healthy dose of grit and perseverance to see it to success.

But don’t think of grit as an on/off switch. Either you have it or you don’t. Instead, think of it as a muscle. Something you have to maintain or might even strengthen over time. You have a head start from your life experience, but you can continue to grow and improve it. This is important because I think most successful people will tell you that grit is a critical piece of success. Sure, talent helps, intelligence helps, but effort (especially in the face of headwinds and challenges) is almost always part of the story. Lean into this grit; this resolve and resiliency you’ve developed. Practice and further cultivate your ability and stamina to take on challenges as you encounter them, to adjust to changed circumstances, to make the best of less-than-ideal situations, to regroup when you are knocked off your planned course. To persevere… To be sure, grit alone isn’t a magic cure-all. But combined with passion and purpose—dare I say, purposeful work—grit can be a powerful secret weapon. 

When you look back on your time at Bates, I hope you will remember that:

  • Your success was hard earned.  
  • You enriched this college and the broader community through your creativity, your engagement, and your intrepid spirits.
  • You made connections that will last a lifetime.
  • And that you are forever a part of Bates, and Bates is forever a part of you.

Each of you has the capacity to contribute to organizations, communities, disciplines, and industries. To do that, stay on your path—the one right for you, not someone else. Stay committed to a lifetime of learning, stay healthy and tend to your well-being, stay engaged in the issues that matter most to you. Take good care of yourselves, your families, your friends, and your institutions (including your alma mater). 

The world needs you. And I am so proud of all the ways I know you will meet those needs. All of us—your Bates family—we are so very proud of you.  

Now: Enough from me. It is not lost on me—on any of us gathered here to celebrate you today—that this may be the first “real” graduation ceremony you have had. Covid robbed many of you of the experience of walking across the stage, receiving a real diploma from a real person, and hugging and cheering with your families and friends and classmates. 

So let’s make this one count, shall we?