Rutgers graduates are met with praise, innovative challenges and light rain showers at 2018's commencement ceremony
Mid-day rain showers could not dampen the spirits of 2018’s graduating class — the largest at Rutgers in more than 250 years.
This Sunday’s commencement ceremony, the eighth to take place at High Point Solutions Stadium, hosted approximately 32,500 attendees and an estimated 18,132 graduates — up from 17,729 last year, according to a press release.
At approximately 10 a.m., students made their way onto the field with 7,040 white seats pointed at the podium where University President Robert L. Barchi delivered his opening remarks.
Barchi commended students on graduating from one of the most prestigious universities in the country and for being the largest and most accomplished class Rutgers has yet to see.
Despite great progress being made at the University, he said there is still much to be done in order to restore equality in America. Barchi referenced social movements and dilemmas that occurred over the past four years — everything from the presence of police brutality and white supremacy to the strength of the #MeToo movement and push for gender inclusivity.
“We need you to challenge old assumptions about gender and show us the path forward,” he said.
Confident that Rutgers instilled them with the necessary tools to succeed, Barchi emphasized that student success comes from looking at the world with an open mind and learning from others. He reiterated that graduates should work to fill this gap, not in their pursuit of money and fortune, in trying to make a difference.
He then awarded two honorary degrees: the first an honorary doctor of Science degree to Risa Lavizzo-Mourey.
Lavizzo-Mourey is the president emerita and former CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and has pushed health initiatives such as creating healthier, more equitable communities, strengthening the integration of health systems and services and ensuring every child in the United States has the opportunity to grow up at a healthy weight during her tenure at RWJF, according to Rutgers Today.
This year’s commencement speaker and Paypal CEO Dan Schulman received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree prior to his speech. Schulman formerly served on the University’s Board of Trustees between 2006 and 2012 with a spot on its Board of Governors from 2008 to 2013, The Daily Targum reported.
Prior to his announcement as this year’s speaker, there was speculation on campus that former Vice President Joe Biden would accept the University’s offer to speak following his “It’s On Us” rally last year — something Schulman poked fun at in his opening remarks.
“I’d like to start my remarks with the question on all of your minds: Why is this guy our commencement speaker? After all, the Class of 2016 got President Obama. Let’s face it, Rutgers should have probably ended all commencement speakers after that. That’s a high bar for anyone to jump over. And this year’s rumored speaker was former Vice President Joe Biden … and yet somehow here I am, in front of all of you,” he said.
Throughout the remainder of his speech Schulman discussed his journey, from being rejected by Rutgers to leading one of the “largest technology companies in the world,” and the implications that technological growth over the next few decades will have on graduates entering the workforce.
“And yet, it’s clear to me, the most profound impacts are still ahead of us. In fact, I think we are going to see more change over the next 10 years than we saw over the last 75 years. And by the time this wave of technological change crashes on shore, all of you in the Class of 2018 will be in the prime of your careers,” he said.
To his point, Schulman discussed how technological advances have grown exponentially over the last three decades — the Apple iPhone X is now 500 times more powerful than one of the first computers launched by IBM. He added that the development of artificial intelligence (AI) will mirror human cognitive function and incite big changes in global economies along with concerns regarding the ethics of technology.
“And yet there is potentially something a little Orwellian about the whole thing,” he said. “While we are creating more and more data, we are also creating ever more powerful machines and devices that are capable of finding, replicating and potentially exploiting this data. We are facing crucial new challenges of access, education and labor. This is the challenge that faces us. We are the generation of human beings who must figure out an ethics of technology.”
These changes, to Schulman, call for a time where people must take responsibility for the rights and respects of others if they are ever to brave the new world. He called on this year’s graduates to lead this change and do away with the idea that social Darwinism and societal well-being can coexist.
“It has become crystal clear to me that businesses can no longer sit on the sidelines, nor can they go it alone without a revitalized public sphere,” he said. “I believe that business has to step up, it has to take an active stance.”
Schulman ended by reiterating that everyone can make a difference, students should not harp on how accurate their next step is and instead should focus on experiential learning and listening as keys to success.
“Shakespeare once said, 'There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.' I believe that. We need to imagine a better world in order to create it. So be optimistic,” he said.
The remainder of the evening featured speeches from University Chancellor Debasish Dutta and former Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) President Evan Covello.
In an interview with the Targum, Schulman said that he wanted his talk to allude to current social issues, his position on them and possible takeaways for students to consider as they step away from the classroom and into the working world.
Diversity among its student population is one of the highlights Schulman said Rutgers exudes as one of the premier educational institutions in the country — a key component in a thriving institution, company and country.
“We can’t be dogmatic about what we are learning. We have to evolve over time because the world is changing so quickly. I think just learning how to not stand still, learning how to just constantly evolve is something Rutgers does a great job at,” he said.
He added that machines are about to get exponentially more powerful and AI will go from specific to general. This begs the question, what value can people bring that machines cannot?
The ability to think innovatively and to understand the criticality of values is for Schulman a great human strength, one that separates them from the machines and is needed from future leaders and citizens.
“The best thing I learned from my college experience was to listen and to learn … Most of us make a move, we learn from it, see what the pros and cons are and make the next move and the next move. You may have an idea that you want to make a difference 10, 15, 20 years from now, you will never be able to map out that exact path towards that … ,” he said.