Commencement 2024 Speech

Tulane President Fitts Unified Commencement Speech 2024

At this time, I’d like to take the opportunity to offer my own personal reflections on the remarkable Class of 2024.

I hardly know where to begin. There’s so much I want to thank you for.

Thank you for believing in us!

You came to Tulane in the midst of a global pandemic.

Other institutions said it couldn’t be done— you couldn’t possibly bring students back to campus.

But you endured the tests, the masks, and the distancing that made a community possible.

Thank you for your perseverance!

If COVID wasn’t enough of a challenge, along came Hurricane Ida.

Many of you earning graduate degrees today arrived in New Orleans in August 2021,

Only to be displaced weeks later in Ida’s aftermath.

And then came Omicron!

At that point, you really started to wonder when life in the so-called “Big Easy” was going to start to feel that way.

But you didn’t quit!

You hadn’t just found a home at Tulane—

You made a home at Tulane.

So I also want to thank you for your spirit, your enthusiasm, and your character.

You made it clear: there is no other class as tough or as talented as the Class of 2024.

Tonight is in honor of you.

Take a moment and look around.

You are surrounded by people who love and support you. And that’s not a coincidence.

The reason? While tonight is undoubtedly a celebration, it is also a finale.

And transitions are hard! Even happy ones.

But they’re easier with the support of people who love us.

It’s why we gather for weddings— and yes, also commencement ceremonies.

While transitions are hard, they can ultimately be beautiful.

In some ways, it might not feel like much of a change at all.

You began your Tulane journey in a time of global tumult… and you are ending your Tulane journey in much the same way.

Hard questions, polarized politics, and an uncertain future dominate both public discourse and private conversations.

In a frustrated moment—

And I know there have been many—

You might be tempted to think, “Why me? Why can’t this just be easy?”

It’s a common question, one that we see reflected back in conversations about “quiet quitting,” and the popularity of escapist social media.

But as you leave here tonight, I hope you do not wish for an easy future.

I hope you do not “quiet quit” just as you embark on this next great adventure.

And I hope you are up to the challenge of seeing your life, and the world, as a dynamic opportunity.

It’s a chance to be more than you ever dreamed possible.

Robert F. Kennedy Sr. gave a graduation speech about liberty, inclusiveness, and civil rights in 1966.

He quoted a famous ancient curse which says, “may you live in interesting times.”

We live in pretty interesting times, don’t we?

As Senator Kennedy pointed out, “interesting times” are challenging.

But they are also when change happens— when critical thinking happens— when possibilities move from ambition to action.

His thesis is right: times of struggle and strife are also times of creation and collaboration.

Times like this have given us scientific breakthroughs, from space travel to vaccines.

They have opened hearts and minds, building bridges across differences.

They have created art across a variety of media, from new musical genres to experimental cinema, from groundbreaking novels to sculpture that redefines what it means to be beautiful.

Class of 2024, you have already navigated your share of interesting times.

But I firmly believe the lessons you learned here at Tulane will help you make the most of this blessing, disguised as a curse.

At Convocation in 2020— most certainly an interesting time— I shared a line from a Mary Oliver poem.

It asks: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

It’s a great question— even if you are still looking for the answer.

But as you pass through the stadium gates tonight as a Tulane graduate, I hope you’ll keep that challenge in mind.

And when you think about your plans for your one wild and precious life, I hope you’ll think big— and I hope you make it interesting.

Tulane taught you to be audacious— to think outside the box— to achieve breakthroughs in research, service, and understanding.

Your ambitions should be similarly bold.

It’s not about earning a living; it’s about earning respect.

Don’t be complacent; cultivate curiosity.

Get used to saying, “I don’t know, but I want to learn.”

Don’t lose your enthusiasm for life and its wild and precious possibilities.

Class of 2024, I have no doubt you will make the most of these interesting times— and all the interesting times that lie ahead.

You’ve already set a standard for courage, clarity and purpose.

And I can’t wait to see what you will do next.

Congratulations—I am so proud of you.

Let’s hear it for the class of 2024!