Chancellor Martin’s message to the Class of 2022

Chancellor Andrew D. Martin urged students to build a life of integrity during his Commencement remarks. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

Chancellor Andrew D. Martin delivered his message to the Class of 2022 at Washington University in St. Louis during the Friday, May 20, Commencement ceremony on Francis Olympic Field.

Below are Martin’s prepared remarks to the graduates.

What do you want to be when you grow up? I was asked that question a lot as a kid. I imagine you were, too, as most precocious children are. Well, at the risk of bursting anyone’s bubble, a recent survey of two-thousand American adults showed that 67 percent of children’s dreams remain unfulfilled. 

Bummer, right? Turns out, the market can only support so many professional athletes, movie stars, marine biologists and superheroes.

While I can’t accurately say I am one of the lucky 33 percent, I did get close. By the time I was in third grade, I was pretty well set on becoming a lawyer, and law school was still the plan during my high school years. 

And here we are in 2022. I’m a certified grown-up, a political scientist and a university chancellor. I didn’t go to law school, but I served as vice dean of one nearby. 

Now, Washington University has a proud history of long-tenured chancellors, and I wholeheartedly plan to keep that tradition alive. But the truth is, life is unpredictable. Things could change tomorrow, and even if I were no longer Chancellor Martin, I would still be … me. 

No matter what you become, you will still be you. So the best question is not what do you want to be, but who do you want to be?

It’s the difference between putting your energy into cultivating an identity, and instead putting it into building a life of integrity. And it’s a question for a lifetime. 

Who do you want to be? 

Whether or not you find and achieve a professional calling, each one of you will need to ask yourself this question again and again, as your circumstances change, as you change and as the world changes.

And boy, does the world change. You, the class of 2022, know this better than anyone. What you think you know today could be proven wrong tomorrow. Things like: Campus will reopen in a few weeks after we flatten the curve. We don’t talk about Bruno. Bennifer is over.  

You may be questioning things of even greater importance. Are my rights protected? Is it safe for me to shop here, worship here, raise kids here? Can society come together to turn this planet around? Who’s in charge, and who can be trusted? How do I move forward into my future when I am still mourning the past?

Class of 2022, you are being asked to take your next step toward a life of meaning on ground that won’t stop shaking. You may be tired of developing resilience; however, I firmly believe you have persevered through storms that have made you more ready than you know for the opportunities before you.

And if you’re about to leap into the job market, you will likely have significantly more opportunities than any graduates in recent history. But the market you’re entering reflects the tremors you may be feeling. 

Whether you call it the Great Resignation, the Great Reshuffle or the Great Aspiration, by any name, the pandemic has prompted many people to rethink what they want out of life, and therefore, what they want out of their jobs. They’re leaving behind identity and making moves toward integrity.

In response, your future workplaces are likely going through a cultural reckoning as the workforce begins to resist the expectation that we sacrifice our physical and mental health in order to serve a company or institution and earn a paycheck. 

Working people and employers are also asking themselves, “Who do we want to be?”

As such, the Class of 2022 has a unique opportunity to build professional habits that reflect all of what matters to you, and to advance an important cultural shift. I’ll be the first to admit, the establishment is resistant to change … but right now, in this regard, they are listening. 

To make the most of it, you need to be ready to define yourself beyond your professional ambitions. Because you will have to. At some point, if you lose a job, have a health problem, choose to raise children full-time, or retire, you will no longer be what you were, but you will still be who you are.

When the pandemic hit, in a sense, that happened to all of us. The world stopped. 

For a time — and for some of you it may have felt like forever — we were no longer what we were. We were stuck with who we were. We had to struggle with the most basic questions. How shall I spend my time? What is most important to me? Family? Friends? Achievement? Perhaps some of you found better answers.

You brought your whole self to WashU. Of course you brought your transcripts and your achievements, your ambitions and your extra-long sheets. And whether you knew it on first-year move-in day, you also brought your family’s expectations. You brought cultural customs and biases. You may have even brought some doubts about whether you belong here.

As you reflect on your years at WashU, I know you will likely feel sadness at what was lost in the pandemic. But I hope that experience may have left you with something valuable. I hope you’ve replaced the weight of academic or professional expectations — yours and others’ — with a deeper sense of self and a broader perspective of the world. Add that to all the other things I hope have happened for you here.

As you pack your bags in preparation for your next move, make room for the knowledge you’ve earned. The friendships you’ve built. The support of a worldwide network of alumni to which you now belong. Your passion for justice. And, your determination to, as Gandhi said, be the change you wish to see in the world. You’ll need all that where you’re going.

And as I send you on your way, I wish you the determination, stamina and optimism of a professional athlete. 

I hope, like a movie star, you do your work with imagination and sensitivity. 

Like a marine biologist, I encourage you to get your feet wet frequently, and occasionally dare to take a deep dive. 

And like a superhero, I hope you recognize the unique power that’s inside you, nurture it and use it for good — not evil — no matter who or what you become when you grow up.

Thank you, and heartiest congratulations, Class of 2022! Please visit us often.

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