Reflections on Graduation

By Aaron Wodin-Schwartz

My fellow graduates: “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, today is your answer.” Well, maybe not quite. But still, our graduation marks an important moment, as we turn the page on a formative chapter of our lives. Though for the most part we have commenced our professional aspirations and our careers, after today many of us will take full flight, never to return to the academic nest. So before you leave, make sure to take a final stroll around the grounds to take it all in and remember this place with a fondness.

Let us reflect on these past years.

When we started here, the economy was booming, Barack Obama was barely a twinkle in the electorate’s eye, and Pluto was still a planet. Times sure have changed. And throughout it all, we have studied hard and voraciously consumed the knowledge presented us in the classroom, by our peers, and in the workplace. We have also worked hard, both at our jobs and in our classes. In doing so, we have truly taken advantage of the opportunities we’ve earned for ourselves in Washington. This work will serve us well in our future aspirations. We have also become involved in the DC way of life, understanding its dynamics and its character and appreciating all that is has to offer. Many will stay here and others will move on to new places, but we will always remember and understand this city well.

Let us also reflect on what it means to be a graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs. We are now graduates of one of the world’s elite institutions for the study of international politics, economy, and relations. Many of us will go on to be leaders in our respective fields: from the halls of government to the front lines of underdevelopment; from consultancies the world over to the best think-tanks in Washington. As you go out into the world, you will bear the Elliott School name proudly. It will earn you respect from colleagues and superiors, and as alumni you will expect the school to maintain and grow its considerable reputation.

So we are all rightfully proud, and everyone here is proud. But let us remember to always keep at hand some of the lessons we have learned here. The rigorous analysis required of our academic work will always serve us well in our careers, whether it’s moderating yours or an institution’s view or raising and discarding competing points of view to strengthen your argument. The ability to think critically and challenge existing knowledge will make you leaders wherever you go. And most importantly, the friendships and personal connections that we have forged over the past couple of years will continue to nourish our careers and our souls. We must cherish and preserve them as we move on to even bigger and better things.

So as we turn the page on this chapter and bid adieu for now, let me leave you with this simple entreaty: Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Aaron is graduating from the Elliott School of International Affairs with an M.A. in Latin American and Hemispheric Studies. He has worked for the past two years as the program assistant for the Latin American and Hemispheric Studies Program, and is finalizing his plans as a class of 2009 Presidential Management Fellow finalist.

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