Speakers reflect on importance of striving for change in virtual 2021 Commencement


Photo by Madison Smith

Provost Kathleen Hagerty presents a diploma to a member of the Class of 2020. On Saturday, Northwestern hosted an in-person event to celebrate last year’s graduating class ahead of this year’s commencement.

Jacob Fulton, Summer Editor

Speakers emphasized ways the Class of 2021 can create change in their lives and the lives of those around them during Northwestern’s virtual 2021 Commencement on Monday.

Gwynne Shotwell (McCormick ’86, ’88), the COO and president of SpaceX, was this year’s graduation speaker. Shotwell, who also serves on NU’s Board of Trustees, recounted her career and discussed the importance of educational reforms across the United States. She called on the Class of 2021 to prioritize positive change over personal goals. With the right mindset, she said, success will follow anywhere. 

“Growing up, my friends and colleagues focused on getting ahead with an aside or afterthought that maybe we should do something good for the world,” Shotwell said. “But as I accumulate more life lessons, finding a career where you’re in pursuit of a better world leads to you getting ahead.”

Shotwell also emphasized the importance of taking risks and living with kindness in her speech. She said these steps, coupled with a passion for bettering the lives of those around them, will help graduates achieve greatness and fulfillment no matter what path they take.

Following Shotwell’s speech, 2021 Communication graduate and student commencement speaker Nolan Robinson reflected on the role this year’s graduates have played in shaping the culture of the University.

“Throughout the past few years, Northwestern has grown into what we hoped our collegiate home to be, but sometimes it didn’t give us everything we needed entirely as we needed it,” Robinson said. “Nevertheless, we, the students, the graduating body of scholars, have never failed to be exactly what Northwestern has needed, not only these past few years, but the past 163.”

Robinson cited campus-wide movements like NU Community Not Cops and the graduate workers’ strike as events from the Class of 2021’s time on campus indicating students’ penchant for enacting change at the University. He said this year’s graduates have left their mark on NU, and their impact will be seen for years to come. 

Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement and an honorary degree recipient this year, told graduates internal growth is equally as important as transformation at the institutional and global level.

Burke said her work and activism focuses on healing and self-discovery after trauma — which has become incredibly relevant amid the turmoil of the past year and a half. 

“I hope the students graduating today and those still at Northwestern have experienced that growth,” Burke said. “And I hope the school understands that this growth happens inside and outside of the classroom and to be sure that the students feel safe and they feel heard and they feel helped.”

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Twitter: @jacobnfulton

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