Richmond Times-Dispatch: 2022 graduates are primed to be compassionate leaders and protectors of freedom

Richmond Times-Dispatch: 2022 graduates are primed to be compassionate leaders and protectors of freedom


Earlier this month, we honored and celebrated the Class of 2022 at Marymount University through our 71st annual commencement ceremonies. These graduates have had quite the journey — starting their higher education in a much simpler time, experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic in the middle of their collegiate studies, and now graduating and embarking on their future careers when life is starting to feel just a little more normal once again.

They are leaving campus and entering the “real world” at an unprecedented time in history. No matter what happens next in regard to COVID-19, our nation and the world have reached a pivotal point.

Domestically, we as Americans seem to be more divided than ever as increasing political polarization continues to threaten the very nature and existence of our democracy. Internationally, we have watched as an aggressive and unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine sparked a conflict, resulting in the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II.

But as the late Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” And we see that light through the Ukrainian people.

In the United States, we always have had freedom, and we sometimes might take it for granted. But now, we are seeing how Ukrainians are willing to give up their lives in defense of their homeland and their hard-earned freedoms. Their courageousness and steadfastness against overwhelming odds has been nothing short of inspirational.

This resonates with me because of my own family’s escape from Cuba. We, too, were going to lose our freedom — and possibly our lives — because of Fidel Castro’s revolution. When I was just 8 months old, I fled with my family to Puerto Rico and we faced many challenges. However, we found freedom once again, and that’s a feeling we never wanted to give up.

Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to petition — not everyone in the world is lucky enough to have access to these fundamental rights. But we do, and after receiving a values-based education, the Class of 2022 is ready to go out into the world as compassionate leaders and protectors of freedom in whatever fields they choose.

In my own experience, I have learned that compassionate leaders must always try to walk in the shoes of others to better understand what they are experiencing at a much deeper level. They also must take action to bring about real and lasting change by tapping into their wisdom and the wisdom of others — using their collective resources to change minds, reverse unjust policies and raise the consciousness of others.

Finally, they need to understand how to motivate others to succeed in meeting goals. At higher education institutions across the country, it is our duty to prepare the next generation to be effective as compassionate leaders.

Members of this graduating class also have been prepared to lead through circumstances outside our direct control, as they have been resilient in the face of COVID-19. They’ve adapted to all of the changing conditions, shown up to class against a backdrop of uncertainty, while all the way supporting themselves and each other. Despite the pandemic’s disproportionate impacts on so many groups of people, they still managed to excel in the classroom, in their internships and in their extracurricular activities.

There were so many questions we all had about the pandemic when it started: How long will this last? How long would it take to find a vaccine? When can life be normal again?

As we traversed the pandemic together, we had to collectively discover what was needed to reach a day like commencement. Members of the Class of 2022 were tested in their subjects of study, while being tested by the pandemic — and they succeeded. Their resilience has been an inspiration for the rest of us, and they are the hope for our future.

Click here to read President Becerra’s op-ed on the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s website.