Commencing Into The Unknown

California Governor Gavin Newsom ’89 was the surprise speaker at the virtual conferring of degrees for the Class of 2020.

The word commencement signifies a beginning. An initiation or inception. The start of something new. So it’s curious that it’s used to mark the end of something so big: college and, in a sense, childhood. But it does work if you consider that medieval scholars at the world’s earliest universities treated graduation as a literal commencement into a new life as masters, or teachers of the next generation.

Perhaps no group exemplifies this concept of commencement more than the Class of 2020. They finished their college career virtually, away from each other and campus, and are entering into an unknown future in a world reeling from a deadly pandemic, shaken economy, and cultural reckoning for long-running racial injustices. However they choose to meet this moment will set the standard for years to come.

This need for strong leadership is what California Governor Gavin Newsom ’89 focused on in his surprise address to Santa Clara University’s virtual undergraduate celebration and conferring of degrees on June 13, 2020. Leadership is not a paradigm of command and control, he said. “It’s about creating conditions where people can live their lives out loud.”

In the video stream that also featured past Broncos like Janet Napolitano ’79, Steven Nash ’96, and Brandi Chastain ’91 sharing congratulatory messages, Newsom urged SCU’s 1,400 graduates to “do more and do better.”

“We live in a culture that has long valued power and dominance and aggression over empathy, care, and collaboration,” he said. But that’s not leading with “moral authority,” which recognizes that when one group—one part of the whole—suffers, we all suffer.

As Newsom has learned first-hand this year, making difficult decisions to shut down the state multiple times in attempts to curb the spread of COVID-19 and keep vulnerable populations safe, leading with heart is not always the most popular path to walk. But Broncos understand. he said, that “we’re all better off when we’re all better off…it’s a recognition that we’re all in this together.”

It’s not going to be easy, he told the SCU Class of 2020, but they’re ready to begin.

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