Before and After

Remarks at the Virtual Conferring of Degrees by President Nathan O. Hatch on May 18, 2020

Greetings! Welcome to the Conferring of Degrees ceremony for the Wake Forest University Class of 2020. It is my great pleasure to celebrate this group of graduating students today. Thank you all – graduates, families, friends, members of the Wake Forest community – for joining us.

With all my heart, I wish we could be together here on Hearn Plaza. And I do anticipate the coming day when we can gather – one and all – and take note of the full range your accomplishments. And we will do so with all the appropriate bells and whistles.

But today we gather virtually to formally confer your degrees. That in itself is an important moment for each of you and for the University as a whole. Please stay with us until the end of the ceremony because, Class of 2020, we have a few surprises in store.

In history, we often mark significant events by comparing what happened before a particular moment with what happened afterward. We acknowledge major changes by speaking of them in terms of “before” and “after.” Before the American Revolution. After the Great Depression. Before World War II. After September 11th. We commemorate moments in our personal lives the same way. Before college. After having children. Before moving across the country. After landing a dream job.

Before and after. It’s a dividing line; an indicator of change; a measure of transformation.

Class of 2020, today you are experiencing two before and after moments. First, we are celebrating you earning your Wake Forest degrees. You have spent the last several years preparing for the world that awaits you – pursuing your passions, building your knowledge and honing your unique skills. It is my hope that after being at Wake Forest, you know what it means to take risks and challenge yourselves. To cherish the meaningful relationships with people who support and uplift you. To value the opinions and perspectives of those who are different from you. To understand the joy of serving those who need you. And with a deep sense of responsibility, to look forward to being leaders of character for your generation.

Before today, you were students. After today, you are alumni. But through it all and forever to come, you are Wake Foresters. And that distinction is one that unites tens of thousands across distance and time.

The global pandemic that keeps us apart today is another before and after moment that all of us are experiencing together.

I imagine that COVID-19 will be marked as a dividing line. We will remember what it was like before we were asked to keep a safe distance from one another. And we will be responsible for shaping the world after recovering from this global crisis. But we are still in between this before and after, and that means, we have the uncommon gift of both reflection and anticipation.

In just a few short months, this crisis has prepared you – our future leaders – in ways no typical education could. Because of our circumstances, you have learned to be remarkably flexible and resilient. You have redefined what it means to connect with one another. You know what it is to reconsider priorities and reorient your focus, to determine what is truly important and what matters most. You have embraced ambiguity fearlessly, adapted to circumstances quickly, and pushed the bounds of creativity to find solutions we never knew we needed.

Class of 2020, because of these unprecedented times we are living in, you are uniquely equipped to face the challenges of today and those still to come. Your current experience, trying as it may be, has tempered you to understand and to lead a world recovering from this pandemic. That world, whatever exactly it looks like, needs you as instruments of good will and beacons of hope.

Congratulations, graduates. As you walk confidently into your next adventure, know that you have our very best wishes and our abiding affection.

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