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Graduates of ͯƵ’s 203rd Commencement Encouraged to Draw From Their Bravery and Commit to a Cause

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Over a weekend of ceremonies, receptions, and other events, ͯƵ celebrated the graduating Class of 2024, which entered ͯƵ during what President Brian W. Casey called “the most inauspicious of times” — on August 23, 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The first thing I learned about you, this class,” Casey told the undergraduates during Saturday’s baccalaureate service, “was that you were brave. Never forget that you were brave . . . You made a hard thing good, together.” A special and popular offering of the weekend was the premiere of ͯƵ Together, a 30-minute film telling the story of the University’s pandemic response and the unusual first semester of the Class of 2024. The documentary was produced by Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee Jeff Sharp ’89. 

The class and their guests also heard inspiring words from an individual who epitomizes the notion of bravery — as he put it himself, “the person that Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, hates more than anybody in the Western world.” In his commencement address on Sunday morning, financier-turned–human-rights activist and author Bill Browder told the story of how he catalyzed the Global Magnitsky Act — international legislation that targets human rights abusers and corrupt individuals. The act honors the legacy of his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison in 2009 after uncovering massive fraud committed by Russian government officials and being arrested, imprisoned without trial, and systematically tortured. 

Such efforts may seem far from the endeavors in which most college graduates would envision themselves becoming involved; yet, Browder posited, “many elements of my story will be elements of your story.” He went on to share four bits of inspirational advice:

  • Prepare for uncertainty and be ready to course correct. “You will never be able to predict what will happen in your life. When I was your age in school, all I cared about was finding a job where I could make a lot of money. I was the least likely person to become a global human rights activist. Life is going to throw all sorts of unexpected curveballs at you. You are going to have to roll with the punches and adapt.”
  • Do not let the cynics drag you down. “I can’t count how many people came to me and told me to keep my head down, not to seek justice, and just carry on with my life. But I could not do that — if I did, it would have poisoned me from inside.” 
  • Tenacity and persistence trump everything in the end. “Perseverance and unwavering commitment can move mountains. There were many people who did not want me to succeed both inside and outside Russia. But they were working Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. I was working all the time. There will be setbacks along the way. But keep pushing forward. Never give up. Never give in.” 
  • Do not go it alone. “Surround yourself with friends and loved ones who share your values and visions and who will believe in you and support you. A network of trusted friends and allies will give you formidable power … Success is a team sport. Embrace people who will help you succeed.”
  • Find Your Sergei Magnitsky — “... the cause, the idea that sets your soul on fire. Commit yourself to it. Focus on it with laser intensity. The next chapter in history is going to be written by you.”

Browder received an honorary doctor of letters degree from ͯƵ, which also conferred honorary degrees to four other eminent individuals: Angela Ferguson, supervisor of the Onondaga Nation Farm and coordinating committee member at Braiding the Sacred; author Mohsin Hamid; Michael J. Herling ’79, P’08,’09,’12, chair, ͯƵ’s Board of Trustees, founding partner at Finn Dixon & Herling LLP; and composer/inventor Tod Machover, Muriel R. Cooper Professor of music and media at the MIT Media Lab.

Class of 2024 Details

Valedictorian: Michael Hanratty of Barkhamsted, Conn.
Summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa 
Economics and political science majors
High honors in political science. 

Salutatorian: Nikoloz Bujiashvili of Tbilisi, Georgia
Summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa
Physics and computer science majors
Honors in computer science

  • 730 undergraduates recognized for earning the AB degree
  • 6 awarded a Master of Arts in Teaching, with distinction
  • 1 awarded a Master of Arts, with distinction
  • 33 elected to Phi Beta Kappa
  • 133 Summa Cum Laude
  • 260 Magna Cum Laude
  • 138 Cum Laude