David Brooks to ASU graduates: 'Keep showing up'

New York Times op-ed columnist urges newest Sun Devil alumni to build relationships to help heal society

graduate in cap and gown and commencement making a pitchfork sign in front of fireworks

The Arizona State University undergraduate commencement ceremony made its triumphant return to Sun Devil Stadium on Monday evening, where political analyst and New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks told the crowd of more than 30,000 graduates and guests that being there to deliver the commencement speech was “one of the greatest honors” of his life.

“This is a university of the people,” he said. “This is the university America needs most.”

Brooks, whom ASU President Michael Crow introduced as one of the leading public intellectuals in the U.S., was conferred with an honorary doctorate of humane letters for significant contributions to his field and society at large. His current work focuses on social fragmentation and what people can do to create a community of relationship and purpose.

He took students through what he called a journey of their future emotional life, saying that their spiritual and emotional health in the decades ahead would be directly proportional to how much love they pour into the people around them, and that the greatest gift they can give their country is emotional courage.

“I ask you, keep showing up all the way; fight hatred with vulnerability,” Brooks said. “Vulnerability is the only way we have in this country and world to build relationships, and relationships are the only way we have to experience joy — it is the only way we have to heal our broken society.”

Crow reminded the graduates and their families of the mission of ASU, to be an institution that measures itself by those it includes, rather than those it excludes.

“One of things going forward in our society is that we have to find ways to reach more people, engage more people to drive our democracy forward … to make the fruits of our democracy — the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness — available to everyone,” he said.

Photos from undergraduate commencement:

Matthew Bogue, who was receiving his bachelor’s in communication and media studies from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said he was there Monday evening because the Starbucks College Achievement Plan allowed him to pursue his dream of a college degree when he otherwise might not have been able to.

“It takes everybody the amount of time it takes them,” Bogue said. “I turn 30 in a few months. It’s never too late.”

More: The best photos from spring 2019 convocations

Political science graduate Jennifer Dardas, 33, echoed that sentiment. A mother of three, she has already secured a job with the U.S. Department of State.

“You can do anything you set your mind to,” she said. 

Nearly 11,000 bachelor’s degrees were conferred at the ceremony, more than 500 of whom were Starbucks College Achievement Plan graduates, more than 2,000 of whom were online students and roughly 54% of whom are Arizona residents.

Earlier in the day, approximately 4,800 graduate students received their master’s degrees at a ceremony at Wells Fargo Arena.

Photos from Graduate Commencement:

Scenes from Graduate Commencement:

Video by Jordan Currier/ASU

This commencement season, ASU graduates represent scores of countries countries and all 50 states, completing degrees in more than 300 programs.

It also marks the graduation of the first cohort of Public Service Academy students. Approximately 130 students graduated from the academy, which was launched in 2015 to develop the leaders of tomorrow who are prepared to find solutions for society’s biggest challenges and create a culture of service by leveraging and combining military and civilian experiences.

ASU is the only public university in the nation with such an academy, and its mission reflects Brooks' message to students that our success in life should be measures by “the way our souls sing when we succeed at helping people in need.”

Crow implored graduates to take the theme of the evening’s ceremony to heart, and to go forth with the skills they have acquired through their education and make a difference in the world.

“Do not sit back and watch,” he said. “Do not sit back and complain. Do not whine. Take responsibility. Take action. Congratulations, graduates.”

Top photo: A graduate throws up a pitchfork as fireworks launch to celebrate the undergraduate student commencement on May 6 at Sun Devil Stadium. Photo by Nicole Neri/ASU

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