President’s Posts

Michael Rao, Ph.D.


VCU celebrated the many accomplishments of the Class of 2021 with a virtual universitywide commencement ceremony this weekend. It’s an honor to welcome over 5,200 graduates to the VCU Alumni family. Below, is my speech to VCU Class of 2021. GO RAMS!

It is a privilege to bring my warmest greetings to the entire VCU Ram Family! I’m honored to join you in celebrating this awesome life changing achievement: Your graduation from Virginia Commonwealth University. We’re cheering for you from around the globe.

You’ve worked really hard to make it to this day,  and I know you realize the magnitude of this life changing accomplishment. You’re probably feeling a mix of emotions. You’ve experienced more as students at VCU than almost anyone living now can say they’ve experienced.

Your junior and senior years were full of unbelievable challenges — challenges that we, as a people around the world, desperately need to address if we’re truly intent on having a society where all members of humanity can thrive and reach their full potential.  One where our collective wisdom recognizes that when ALL human beings do well, each of us do well! 

Almost a century ago the world experienced a decline in the economy that had a devastating impact on the lives of people around the globe — the Great Depression. Photojournalist Dorothea Lange travelled the U.S. for the Farm Security Administration to document and add humanity to those experiencing unimaginable struggle and loss. Here’s what she said:   “I many times encountered courage, real courage. Undeniable courage. I’ve heard it said that that was the highest quality of the human animal. And I have learned to recognize it when I see it.”

As we’ve experienced the unimaginable since last March, we’ve also encountered your undeniable courage. We’re in awe of the depth of your care for each other as you experienced major world events during your time with VCU.

With that in mind, I know you join me in thanking your parents, brothers, sisters and all of your beloved family members and friends for helping you on your journey. Each of them share in your tremendous success and we honor them today by saying “Thank you!”

Your legacy as the VCU Class of 2021 is complex and not something any of us had imagined. I admire your courage and patience as you pivoted virtually to learn and connect.  There was also the sudden, dramatic change to everyday tasks.

The adjustment was rocky but you’re society’s leaders and your advocacy for VCU is tremendously influential. Your great questions and calls to action during an exceptionally difficult time is making a difference at the university and in the community.

You’ll carry this energy out in the world with you — it will affect many people, including our brothers and sisters who don’t have as much of a voice. 

At VCU’s new student convocation a few years ago, I talked about how you would graduate from a place that embraces discovery, collaboration and dealing with the difficult. I spoke of our duty to face the difficult with tenacity and the knowledge that we’re members of a supportive university community.

Today, you’re still the exceptional human beings I addressed as new students. You’re ready to solve problems that others cannot. You’ll move humanity to new and higher places that we might not have been able to imagine a few years ago. 

In a time of uncertainty, one thing is clear: You’ll change the world in ways we can’t yet imagine.

You’ll use what all you have learned as VCU students — now VCU graduates —  combined with your strong voice to advocate for ALL of humanity. You know that when we all do well, each of us does well. Continue to engage and work with leaders to ensure voices are heard and needs are met. Don’t stop asking thoughtful questions and using your professional skills to press for better.

And remember that you also improve the world by the civil, respectful and professional way you engage with those around you — especially those with whom you disagree. That respect empowers inclusion, allowing diversity of thought and perspective to flourish.

As has famously been said: “The future is not a gift, it is an achievement.”

We honor your achievement, which is the bright future that became a reality for you through your hard work and vision.

You’re a VCU Ram for Life — you will be successful at this and everything else you pursue!

And, please come back and visit your university. Be sure to stop by the Ram Horns like you did when you first came to VCU. And always remember that you are a beloved member of the VCU Ram Family.

Congratulations, VCU Class of 2021!

Categories 21st-Century University, Community, Diversity, Periodic update, To VCU