On May 23, the University of Maryland School of Public Policy held its commencement ceremony at the Dekelboum Concert Hall in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Charged with excitement and full of ambition, the class of 2023, made up of 250 graduates, embarked on their journey toward a future brimming with promise, fearlessly forging ahead to tackle critical policy issues and serve as a catalyst for meaningful change.
While referencing the pandemic, Dean Robert Orr addressed the threat to our democracy’s social and political foundations posed by hate, intolerance, extremism and division; the persistent structural inequalities and the work we still have to do. “These students, scholars and policy practitioners before you are changing the world,” remarked Orr. “They knit together ideas, data, analysis, narratives, coalitions, institutions, citizens, leaders, organizations, finances and sheer willpower to ensure the sum of the solutions are not only bigger than the sum of the parts, but bigger than the crises themselves.”
Emily Kombe, the undergraduate student speaker, spoke about the perseverance of SPP students during the pandemic, taking action to overcome challenges and persevering despite fear. “As students of public policy, we knew that now was a time of questions, not of answers,” reflected Kombe. “You asked questions like: ‘If the safest place is at home, what about those who don’t have a home? How do we address the understandable distrust many communities have towards medical and government institutions? With global shortages, who gets the vaccine and who gets to decide?’ You not only asked these questions, but worked hard to find innovative solutions.”
Graduate student speaker Lynn-Marie Edwards MPM ’23 emphasized the diverse backgrounds and various programs of SPP students, and their shared desire to effect positive change in the world through policy. “We now have the foundation to do the work. … As we embark on our individual paths armed with more knowledge, a bit more resilience, and a clearer sense of purpose, let us carry our ‘why’ as we tackle the world’s challenges,” remarked Edwards. “With determination and the support of our communities, we are poised to make a meaningful impact and effect positive change in the world.”
Alumna Kelly Veney Darnell MPM ’93, CEO at Bipartisan Policy Center, passionately addressed the class of 2023, emphasizing the profound significance of this moment. “I want you to understand the importance of who you are sitting in those chairs. You are the most important graduates of this university. … When you consider what is happening in our nation and who will be there to solve our country‘s greatest needs, you are the graduates who understand that policy underlies everything that happens in America, and I don’t mean just federal, state and local politics and policy.”
Continuing her heartfelt speech, Darnell urged graduates to recognize their role in shaping the future, emphasizing the need for inclusive policymaking and addressing the pressing challenges ahead. “We must ensure that we create policy so that every child can thrive and they can all reach their potential no matter who their families are or where they grew up. We also cannot let partisan politics get in the way of creating lasting policy solutions.”
In a poignant conclusion, Darnell issued a critical call to action for the class of 2023. “Are you ready to use your talents to save our democracy and get us back on track? … You will get us there, but you cannot stand on the sidelines. You just can’t. Our country can’t afford it. You can’t depend on someone else to do the work. You’re going to have to get involved. You’re going to have to stay engaged. You must not allow the negativity that permeates the message to win. You must believe in this great experience called America. And you must believe that you are the answer. … It doesn’t matter your political leanings. You are the real hope and you are the generation of action. But most importantly, our country needs you.” With these resonant words, Darnell underscored the profound urgency of their mission and instilled within each graduate the knowledge that they hold the key to a brighter tomorrow.