TUgether Celebrating the Class of 2020 Speech

Tulane President Fitts "TUgether Celebrating the Class of 2020" Speech

Tulane University class of 2020! 

I’m coming to you live from the LBC.

I hope you’ve got your sunglasses on – and after those moving performances, your handkerchief ready.

Today, we celebrate you. We celebrate your achievements—which are many. We celebrate your hard work—which is admirable, and will serve you well. And we celebrate your uniqueness.

After all, in 186 years, we’ve had a lot of ceremonies and celebrations—but we’ve never had one quite like this.  

In some ways, there’s never been a class more dedicated to the founding principles of our university.  

Tulane was born to fight a yellow fever pandemic.  

Today, we are all doing our part in the fight against COVID-19, in ways both large and small. Our infectious disease researchers are working on the nation’s most promising treatments.  Our School of Medicine is running hundreds of diagnostic tests every day—tests that will help stop the spread of the virus.  

We’re all part of the social distancing solution. Every day, we’re taking steps to beat the pandemic—and every day, we get a little closer.   

But we aren’t there yet. And unfortunately, that means we can’t be physically together today. It’s not what any of us wanted or planned. But this is still Tulane, and this is still New Orleans.

Resilience is who we are. Reinvention is what we do.  

As the New Orleans Pelicans say, “we won’t bow down.”

We will find a way to celebrate together, even if we have to be apart.    

Class of 2020, it is literally not the same here without you.  

Broadway and The Fly are quiet. The LBC is almost empty. Even the potholes seem a little bit lonely. Once-familiar places feel like another planet.  

But believe it or not, this strange new phase is a remarkable time to begin your next great adventure.  

John F. Kennedy famously said, “The ancient Chinese used two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger--but recognize the opportunity.”

The danger of the COVID-19 pandemic is well-established – but it also offers opportunities.

Right now, all across the country, people are taking the opportunity to applaud healthcare providers, food service workers, and other essential personnel. Or taking the opportunity to donate lifesaving plasma. Or taking the opportunity to organize meal delivery for their neighbors.  

This crisis has given us the opportunity to help—to innovate—to care. Now is the time to seize it.  


Class of 2020, this is your legacy.  

You are not defined by fear and isolation—you are defined by compassion and possibility.  

Tulane is where you started. From here, where you go is boundless.  

You have the opportunity to define your values, and chart a course that follows them. You have the opportunity to serve your community. You have the opportunity to step up, to stand up, for those who cannot. You have the opportunity to find the cure—or prevent the next pandemic.

COVID-19 is going to change the world. But you have the opportunity to decide how it changes. And I am fully confident you will change it for the better.

I am already so proud of you—and I miss you all so much.

But I’m not the only one. There are so many others—let’s hear from some of them now.

Wow—what a wellspring of love and support! The world recognizes that you are the next generation of leaders.

Tulane has changed you, and you have forever changed Tulane – and the world.

I started the Heroes & Helpers initiative to recognize the many Tulanians on the front lines of the global fight against COVID-19.

The many submissions we received have been a source of comfort and hope for a brighter, safer future. Let’s take a moment to highlight a small sample of the incredible Heroes & Helpers from the class of 2020.

First, we have Michael Antoine, who is graduating with a Master’s in Homeland Security Studies – his second degree from the School of Professional Advancement. Michael serves as Deputy Director at the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Orleans, Michael worked in concert with the police chief, fire chief and director of EMS to enforce the city’s stay-at-home order. Michael and his team ensured that our first responders had the proper amount of PPE to support and sustain the health and safety of the New Orleans community. He’s a true hero – and I’m so proud to count him as a member of the Tulane family.

I also want to recognize TEMS, the Tulane Emergency Medical Service group—led by seventeen of our graduating seniors. Despite a stay-at-home order, our TEMS students remained in New Orleans—volunteering on 12-hour shifts in city ambulances. The resilience and compassion demonstrated by this group of graduates is extraordinary, and on behalf of the entire Tulane community—thank you, thank you.

Thank you to all of the Heroes and Helpers in the class of 2020!

Now, you’ve heard from me – and from the many friends who hold the Tulane family close to their hearts. But this is a celebration of your academic accomplishments, so let’s turn this over to the impresario of Tulane’s academic experience— Our provost, Robin Forman.

Wow—what a joy to hear from all of you. I wish I could give each of you a virtual hug. You are going to do great things. I also want to give a virtual hug to your parents and families, who have been so much a part of your success.

Now, we have some incredibly talented friends who wanted to share their gifts with you, and they brought some special guests. Let me introduce the ambassadors for New Orleans rock and soul – and owners of the world famous Tipitina’s – Galactic! 

If you’re wondering who was in the Elvis costume, that is your esteemed Dean of Architecture, Iñaki Alday.

I want to thank Robert and the members of Galactic, Anjelika Joseph, and David Shaw from The Revivalists for coming together with such creativity, energy and love.

After all, New Orleans is the home of the jazz funeral. Even when there is loss, and even when there is pain—there is always a reason to dance.

Finding comfort in times of crisis, finding courage in the fog of fear — these lessons are gifts from Tulane and New Orleans that you will take with you for the rest of your life. It’s in your bloodstream from every po-boy, every Mardi Gras throw, and every spontaneous second line.

We are a city with a waterproof soul. We are a city that embraces the eccentric. We are a city of history, and heartbreak, and hope.

And we are going to be here with open arms when you come back to see us again.  

Class of 2020—you will always remember this moment—the good, the bad, and the surreal.  

People all over the world are thinking of you, and wishing you the best. You are already part of a global movement—and now you’re just getting started.  

All of us at Tulane are so proud to be a part of your story.  And we can’t wait to honor you—in person—soon.  

Now, as you can tell by my fancy regalia, we’ve saved the most important part for last…

Class of 2020 – I hereby confer your degrees with all appropriate honors, rights, privileges, and responsibilities.  

You may now switch your virtual tassel to the left side of your cap.

Now, everyone grab your confetti stick. And make sure you don’t point it at anyone!

Let’s end this ceremony the only way we know how.

On three, Roll Wave…


1…2…3…Roll Wave!  

Congratulations, Tulane class of 2020!