On Friday, June 11, we held our second virtual graduation celebration with our graduates, faculty, family, and friends. While we wish we could have celebrated in person, it was lovely to see our students celebrating their graduation with friends and family supporting them on Zoom. Congratulations to the sixty-five Bachelor of Arts graduates, and the three Doctorate of Philosophy graduates of the class of 2021!
Our ceremony this year also included our graduation alumnus speaker, Judge Salvador Mendoza Jr., B.A. 1994, U.S. District Judge in the Eastern District of Washington. Judge Mendoza reflected back on his time as a philosophy student at UW and how he hesitated at taking his first philosophy class. Sharing how after just one class with Professor Ron Moore; who opened the class with a discussion on what is justice and equity, what is right, and how do we decide; he knew he wanted to become a philosophy major. He recalled how when he told his parents, his mother’s response was, “Qué diablos es la
Judge Mendoza encouraged the graduates to be inspired by their coursework, professors, and the philosophers they have studied. He challenged them “to not be tethered by fear and the expectations that people have for you. Instead, be guided by those exact principles that you have learned while earning your Philosophy degree at the University of Washington. Be inspired by great thinkers, such as Martin Luther King Jr. had been, and then you, yourself can be an inspiration for others.” He congratulated the graduates on their hard work and their families for supporting them.
Our department chair, Andrea Woody, also reflected upon our students’ time in the department and offered hopes for their future:
I hope that graduates of our program see in philosophy both a deep respect for the history of human thought and a constant desire to think more deeply, to ask questions, and to be skeptical of first impressions. We value tradition, even as we aim to challenge it. We still ask our students to read Aristotle, because his ethical writings hold such insight into the nature of human flourishing and the development of personal virtue and character. We read Descartes’ Meditations to strip ourselves of the security of believing the world is exactly as it appears to us, and because it offers deep lessons on the nature of mind, embodiment, and personal perspective. But we also grapple with the conditions of contemporary human culture. Our students think about the ethical challenges raised by climate change and immigration. They grapple with persistent barriers to a genuinely democratic political system and outline principles for equitable distribution of vaccines in our local communities and across the globe. They ponder whether public funds should support artwork that some citizens find offensive, and what symbols should grace our public spaces. They contemplate the impact of Facebook and video games. Through it all, they struggle to make sense of concepts that ground all human thought, truth, friendship, respect, and justice.
I believe the skills and habits that our students cultivate in their classes, will serve them well, no matter what they choose to do after they leave this university. Philosophy teaches us to think logically, to write well, and to argue persuasively. It builds expectations that asking for reasons is a sign of respect, and that engaging with other viewpoints, even one's quite different from our own, will enrich our understanding. It brings responsibility to be agents for justice and civility. When we recognize the substantial challenges faced by our local, national, and global communities, the need for these skills and habits could not be more evident. So, to all our graduates today, I urge you to nurture and indeed further develop the skills that you will take from your time here with us. And to look for ways, both large and small, to use your training and your knowledge for the greater good. Our world needs exactly what you have to offer.
Even though our celebration was virtual, we were able to continue our tradition of a faculty toast to the graduates, led by Professor Conor Mayo-Wilson, who reflected on all the philosophical skills the students had learned including the ability to ask the hard questions, like what should I do now, and not despair when they asked it, but rather ask further questions like what do I value, and what obligations come with the privilege of having a college degree. He praised our students for not only learning to ask those questions but for also learning to think critically about their answers to them. We are so proud of our students as they head out to this new phase of their life and we look forward to seeing what they will bring to the world. Congratulations to all our graduates!