The Charles and Jill Fischer Provost at the University of Notre Dame, Marie Lynn Miranda, encouraged members of the class of 2021 to respond with love in the face of uncertainty during the Graduate School’s annual commencement ceremony Saturday (May 22) at Notre Dame Stadium.
As principal speaker for the event, Miranda told the 237 doctoral degree recipients and 419 master’s degree recipients, “As much as I want to highlight the importance of the expertise you have developed, I also want to make the point that you will face situations in the years ahead when you will not have relevant expertise, you will have no evidence basis to rely upon, your intellect will not be able to supply a needed answer. In those situations, I would like to suggest to you that you respond with love.
“Expertise is really good, expertise is really important, expertise can help you see the world differently, expertise can help you change the world, expertise is powerful,” Miranda said. “But love, love always wins.”
A professor of applied and computational mathematics and statistics and a leading scholar in the area of children’s environmental health, Miranda was elected provost in July of last year, tapped to succeed Thomas Burish.
Since then, she has worked with leaders across campus to further the academic mission and protect the health and safety of all students, faculty and staff, as well as the broader community, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Saturday’s event capped the end of an extraordinary year for the Graduate School community, marked not only by the pandemic, but by widespread social and political unrest, economic uncertainty and the increasing threat of climate change both here and around the globe.
“These past many months have been challenging. Even in the best of times, earning a master’s or doctorate is difficult work,” Miranda said. “Doing it during a pandemic, separated from others by masks and distance, operating under a compressed academic calendar, living under the threat of a COVID infection, all while the nation is experiencing the extreme racial, social and political divisiveness that have characterized our country, facing the growing threat of global climate change and an uncertain economic future, we are in the midst of what one might call a polyvalent crisis.”
Fortunately, she said, “People like you who are willing to put in deep concentrated single-minded effort are creating the pathways that will lead us out of this polyvalent crisis, and you are helping to ensure that we will emerge a better, more just and more compassionate society.”
Miranda peppered her remarks with humor, calling her academic gown a “bat robe” and joking about her typical aversion to “ceremony or the hoopla that tends to accompany milestone events.”
She concluded, “Commencement speeches are perhaps best known for being completely forgettable, but maybe you could just remember this: The lady in the bat robe says what you have done and will do is a big deal. Your expertise, when coupled with Notre Dame’s values of love and community, makes us confident and hopeful about the future you will create.
“My warmest congratulations to all of you.”
As host of the event, Laura Carlson, associate vice president, provost and dean of the Graduate School, thanked Miranda for her “inspiring” and “heroic” leadership over the past year and encouraged those in attendance, including students, faculty, staff, and select family and friends, to join her in offering Miranda a “resounding and very much overdue welcome” to Notre Dame.
Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., in his charge to the class, said, “We hope you will use the advantages of the education you received here to serve the common good. We hope you will use your talents and your skills not simply to serve your own interests, but to care for the neediest and create a more just society. We hope you acquired here not only the knowledge to make a good living but the wisdom to live a good life.”
Referring to a statement by Pope Francis that “we must never forget that true power, at whatever level, is service,” he concluded, “My hope for each of you is that you find and direct your learning and effort to serve.”
For more on Commencement Weekend, including a schedule of events and links to live and recorded webcasts, visit commencement.nd.edu.