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As the summer progresses and a new semester is about to begin, we’re still all in our feelings, reflecting on our 2020 virtual commencement—and our thoughts are with the newly minted graduates poised to create positive change in the world. Held on Sunday, June 7th, the event was a chance for our community to celebrate the accomplishments of our new group of changemaking alumni, while acknowledging a global pandemic and protests of police brutality. This was our first time hosting a virtual commencement, and we were glad to have the chance to connect midst of shelter-in-place orders. We’re also excited for the next group of students starting their first semester. We hope they’ll enjoy some of these words of inspiration and encouragement from the outgoing class!

PGS President Liz Maw opened the ceremony with a moment of silence for George Floyd and others who’ve lost their lives due to police violence, as well as the pandemic, which has claimed the lives of too many healthcare workers, vulnerable seniors, and communities of color. “While we at Presidio recognize this pain, we also continually challenge ourselves to find progress, solutions, and hope. We hold both pain and hope in order to both feel more, do more, and do better,” Liz said.

At Presidio Graduate School, our graduates are uniquely prepared to tackle systemic problems and benefit from a network of peers determined to change the world for the better. You can see our talented 2020 graduates in our virtual yearbook and discover their interests, accomplishments, and links to connect.

Student speeches were profoundly moving and inspirational

Antoinette West, an MBA graduate who will be returning to Presidio Graduate School for her MPA in the fall, spoke of her family values. She acknowledged that while many of the graduates’ lives had been “skaken to the core,” they needed to take time to center themselves as well as stand up for what is right.

In ending her remarks, Antoinette said, “…as we continue our journey outside of Presidio Graduate School and to an unknown future, I hope you remember these values. To the class of 2020, and all others here today, remember: when you start to feel anxious, or fearful, just do your best and have fun. When things start to feel too big: don’t sweat the small stuff. Live with no regrets, and try something new. Do your work. ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ And please, for those that came before, and those that will come after, be a good ancestor.”

MBA graduate Alfredo Gonzalez Valenzuela delivered his powerful speech with his family behind him. He encouraged students not to be silent in this time where dissenting voices are being heard loud and clear.

“Tomorrow you will have a choice. To feel overwhelmed, or propel your feelings into action. The future starts with commitment. It starts with character, it starts with action. Dreams and reality are opposites. Action synthesizes them. You see, tomorrow is the same as today. At Presidio Graduate School, we are not in the business of becoming Wall Street elite. We are in the business of changing our economy. Yes, tomorrow you will feel overwhelmed, but in the palm of your hand you will have a community of changemakers. It is in collectives that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism.”
PGS 2020 Virtual Commencement

Eva Auchincloss Award for Academic Excellence in Scholarship, Leadership, and Creative Thinking

After our faculty finished reading appreciations for each student, we celebrated this year’s award recipients.

The Eva Auchincloss Award for Academic Excellence in Scholarship, Leadership, and Creative Thinking was awarded to Antoinette West. The award is selected by PGS faculty and is based on quality and quantity of scholarship, outstanding leadership in the classroom, and creative thinking.

Professor Dariush Rafindejad said this about Antoinette: “During her journey at Presidio, Antoinette researched the injustice of Black land loss in the South and developed innovative solutions through education, legal, and forestry support…Standing on her ancestor’s shoulders, Antoinette continues to stand up against racial inequality.”

Antoinette noted in her acceptance speech, “I was honored to receive this award, especially because most of my academic work centered on a topic that I deeply care about called heirs property. Presidio Graduate School gave me the opportunity to understand the social, environmental, and economic impact of heirs property through research projects across my MPA and MBA courses. My research has led to making connections with community leaders and academics across the country passionate about this work. I’m so thankful to have an arc of inquiry that is leading to real improvements to my family’s property.”

Antoinette pledged her donation between the Black Futures Lab and BLACK GIRLS ROCK!, two causes that empower and educate Black communities.

Suzanne Farver Spirit Award

Next, Tessa Johnson-Verburg was named the recipient of the Suzanne Farver Spirit Award. This award honors a student chosen by graduating students who exemplifies Presidio Graduate School’s core values, actively engages with the PGS community, and contributes to the learning environment through active engagement within and outside of the classroom.

In presenting the award, Suzanne Farver said, “Tessa’s positive and friendly attitude and respectfully inquisitive approach has impressed her student colleagues as well as our faculty. She has demonstrated exceptional leadership in our community and served as a Student Representative…Her vital contributions to building community and equity at PGS are greatly appreciated and will have a lasting impact in our community.”

Tessa donated the monetary prize to the Forest Preserve Foundation in Chicago. She said of being selected by her fellow students, “I am so honored by their nominations and thankful for the ability to use this award to donate to a cause I care deeply about.”

She went on to say, “It’s more apparent than ever that sustainability must be anti-racist. It’s critical that green spaces can be accessible to all, and work being done through this org is helping to make that happen.”

An important call to action for us all

Robert Bartolucci, member of the PGS Alumni Association Board of Directors and teaching assistant for the Operations and Supply Chain Management course, closed out the virtual commencement ceremony with a rousing call for the new alumni to rely on each other.

“As I speak, we face the battle of not just our lifetimes, but of generations who will walk on this earth after us. It’s a battle interlaced with systematic racism and sexism; access inequality to food, education, and basic human rights; and a warming atmosphere. In our PGS community, we are privileged to be surrounded by like-minded allies like yourselves, who refuse to turn a blind eye to these challenges, no matter how difficult they seem….

“As you continue your work in sustaining and regenerating life on earth, there will be forces around you that promote unlimited growth at the expense of many. To that I say, just as you did when you decided to enroll, challenge the status quo. Stand your ground and remain rooted in what you believe in. But also step outside of your comfort zone, because being too rooted in what you believe in will only tell you so much of the story.”

Congratulations to our graduates! We know that together, you will change the world. All the best, Class of 2020!

Inspired by what you read here? Consider joining a future cohort!

About the Author / Julie Cosenza

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