U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin praised the Class of 2022 for its resilience but admonished graduates that "democracy demands your active involvement" at Sunday's Augustana College commencement.
Sen. Durbin, a Democrat from Springfield, speaking at the college's 162nd commencement, said that it's usual for speakers to encourage new graduates to be resilient.
"Class of 2022, you were babies on 9/11. You lived through the century's great recession as grade school students, and you earned your degrees in the middle of a global pandemic," he said. "You don't need a lesson in resilience. You are a lesson in resilience.
"You are part of the best-educated, most diverse generation ever, idealistic, creative, determined. You just don't give up. And thank goodness for that, because you're going to need every bit of it in the world you're going to face.
"To be honest with you, the world's in a bit of a state these days. The planet is overheated, the economy isn't working very well for a lot of people, and democracy is even under fire in this country."
But, the senator said, that means there is important work waiting for these graduates, and a chance for change.
President Steve Bahls, speaking at his last commencement before retiring, also praised the graduates for finishing their degrees in the face of many challenges.
"After learning remotely, after hybrid classes, after masks being on and off, you have persevered," he said.
He told parents that his greatest joy and privilege over the last four years has been to watch students grow "through thick and thin."
"I've noticed three traits in the Class of 2022 that deeply impressed me," he said. "Your commitment to justice, the way you love kindness and the way you give credit to others."
The meaning of courage
Laura Keenan, a communication studies and graphic design major from Elmhurst, Ill., spoke on behalf of the Class of 2022.
"I do hope somewhere in between the busyness of today, the busyness of moving out of your senior homes, and the busyness of transitioning into the 'real world,' you will find a moment to recognize what it took you to get your degree," she said. "I'm talking about the hard work you've put in without even realizing it. Of practicing courage."
Keenan said the original meaning of the word "courage" (from the Latin "cor") was to speak one's mind by telling all one's heart. This definition, she said, means to be vulnerable and to be brave enough to fail.
"If you can learn to embrace uncertainty, and vulnerability, which you all have, you can accomplish anything," she said.
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters were conferred on Sen. Durbin; on Dr. Millicent Knight '82, a trustee of the college; and on President Steve Bahls. The degrees were conferred by Dr. Dave Dehnel, professor of political science; Dr. Dara L. Wegman-Geedey, professor of biology; and Dr. Gregory J. Domski, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and chair of the Faculty Council.
The Class of 2022 includes 508 students from 19 countries and 18 states.