June 16, 2023

Chancellor Howard Gillman's Remarks at 2023 Commencement

What a thrill it is to be with all of you today as we celebrate the UC Irvine Class of 2023!

This amazing graduating class will forever be remembered as one of the most resilient and responsive and determined classes we have ever had the privilege of knowing.  Many of these wonderful students joined us before COVID transformed our world.  They had to adapt and persist through challenges that no previous class had to face, and they fought back to get to this day. Incredible!

And graduates, consider your journey:  all those years, of dreaming, aspiring, planning, so many long days and late nights, historic challenges to overcome, an epic journey, a very high mountaintop to climb … and here you are!  Take a moment to appreciate the magnitude of your accomplishment.  On behalf of the entire UCI community, I offer you my most heartfelt congratulations.

In the course of time you will reflect on many different aspects of these years:  

the time you spent with friends;

the setbacks that you pushed through;

the classes, professors, and experiences that helped you better understand important questions, or that deepened your sense of purpose, or that triggered new passions.

You will remember having the best mascot of any college or university [Zot! Zot! Zot!];

you will remember the scramble for peter stickers; 

overnights at the Gateway Center;

boba on Ring Road.

People often think about commencement exercises as marking an ending, but of course, to commence is to begin, so this day marks the first day of the rest of your life.  As you prepare for your “commencement” from here, I hope you will also carry with you, not just the wonderful memories and the new knowledge and the hard-earned expertise, but also some of the spirit of the community we built together. 

When we were at our best, we made decisions about how to relate to one another, which if applied outside our community could improve our world.

We offered each other relationships of mutual respect, in the hope that others would do the same.

We exhibited a willingness, even an eagerness, to listen to people with different backgrounds and opinions than our own, so that we might better understand the experiences and perspectives of others.

We responded to disagreement, not with invective or name-calling, but by deepening our conversations and marshaling (when we could) even better arguments and better evidence.

We accepted that most differences of opinion were legitimate, even helpful to us, and did not take the mere fact of disagreement as the basis for declaring someone an enemy.

We stood ready to acknowledge when we were wrong.

We treated every day as a chance to learn something new.

And maybe most importantly, ...

... we cared about the truth.

As you commence with your wonderful, promising lives, please, especially, care about the truth.   

I emphasize this because, in our society, truth is under assault, on many fronts.  Politicians and their allies try to delegitimize or marginalize independent truth-tellers or dismiss inconvenient facts.  Too many people trap themselves in information echo-chambers devoted to flattering their existing opinions, right or wrong.

So, please, stand for the truth, and defend the people who are doing their best to speak the truth, even when it is inconvenient or unpopular.  Support those who model the power of independent thought against the coercions of mass opinion, the expectations of political loyalty, or the hysteria of the twitter mobs.

In particular, be on guard against the dogmatists, ideologues, and extremists who believe they are entitled to say anything in order to advance their cause. 

Protest yourself and our society with the lessons you have learned here about serious thought, informed opinion, evidence-based reasoning, critical analysis, and clarity of expression. 

If you do so then it is my sincere hope that you will think of UCI as having cultivated and enriched your mind and spirit, as having prepared you for your ongoing development as a free and educated human being, and as having empowered you to push the world a little more toward the light – for as you know, the great motto of the University of California is Fiat Lux, Let There Be Light.

You are the light and the hope of the world.  We are hopeful for the future because we know we can count on you.