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Summer Commencement Highlights Changing World and Importance of Empathy

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Matt Meyer



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Wide shot of DU summer commencement

Gratitude was at the heart of the University of Denver’s 2023 Summer Commencement Ceremony on Saturday at Magness Arena.

After a land acknowledgement, then a welcoming of graduates from Provost Mary Clark, Chancellor Jeremy Haefner highlighted the smaller, more intimate nature of the summer commencement ceremony. Some graduates needed more time on a thesis, chose the date because of work conflicts, or so family could attend. Sometimes life just gets in the way.

This materialized into a journey of gratitude, where Haefner pointed out how faculty, staff and—most importantly, he said—loved ones supported the efforts of each graduate.

“I hope, when you look back on this chapter in your life, you remember it as one in which you grew, rose to challenges and made new friends,” the chancellor said. “I hope you remember it as one in which you found confidence, compassion and a lifelong love of learning.”

In total, there were 675 candidates for summer graduation and more than 300 attended the ceremony. The vast majority of those present received master’s degrees, but 57 doctoral degrees from a wide variety of programs were also awarded.

Commencement speaker Vivek Choudhury, dean of the Daniels College of Business, carried the theme of gratitude through his speech, sprinkling in perseverance, agility and ample amounts of humor. He quoted Dolly Parton and Yogi Berra alongside John Wooden, and Robert Frost, highlighting the need to persevere in a world that is rarely straightforward.

Graduates are entering what Choudhury called a “VUCA world.” First used at the US Army War College in 1987, it stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

“Some of the predictions out there say that more than 50% of the jobs you will be doing in 10 years don’t even exist yet,” he said. “Whether the number is 40% or 60% or 80%, there’s no doubt that in your careers you will need to pivot more than once. It will not be enough to respond to change. You will need to anticipate change and, ideally, to initiate change. You will need to embrace the principles of curiosity, lifelong learning and constant innovation.”

He also touched on the importance of failure and empathy. Michael Jordan has missed more than 9,000 shots and knows that he fell short 26 times when trusted to take the game-winning shot.

Those failures are important, Choudhury said, because they build resilience.

“Madeleine Albright perfectly explained what can happen when we allowed fear of failure to take root,” he said, quoting the former U.S. Secretary of State whose father, Josef Korbel, was the founder, former dean and namesake of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. “She said, ‘We might have the right intentions, but instead of acting, we decide to wait and keeping waiting until we run out of untils. Then it’s too late.’

“Remember that not making a choice is also a choice. Do your best not to give in to the paralysis that comes with many of life’s big decisions. You will not regret the success you achieve or the lessons you learn.”

Above all, Choudhury said he hopes graduates strive to build a better world.

“As newly minted graduates, you are the future leaders who will shape the world we all live in,” he said. “As you do, I hope you’ll remember the mission statement of DU, ‘a great private university dedicated to the public good.’

“I hope you’ll remember all the individuals who won’t have a say in shaping the world they live in. I hope you will endeavor to create a world where prosperity is widely shared.”

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