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Faculty voice: Presentation of candidates

May 11, 2022 - Anna Pegler-Gordon, Ph.D.

Anna Pegler-Gordon is a professor of Asian American history in James Madison College and the Asian Pacific American Studies Program and the Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Teaching Program. The following is repurposed from Pegler-Gordon's speech delivered as she presented graduation candidates at MSU's Wharton Center during James Madison College's Spring 2022 Commencement.

Anna Pedler-Gordon speaks at the podium at Wharton Center during Commencement

Class of 2022, congratulations to you … and your families! It is so great to be with you in person … and online!

Here we are at this pivot point in your lives. This gathering, this ceremony, this moment in the ceremony when you will walk across the stage is a hinge on which your lives turn.

We have spent a good amount of time today looking forward. You have heard a lot of good advice. And we hope that you carry that advice with you. We, the faculty, have high hopes for you. We look forward to following you as you leave James Madison College and Michigan State University and go out into the broader world.

We have also spent a good amount of time looking back. As you know, I am a historian of public policy, so I love looking back and thinking about how the past has shaped the present. I’d like to take a moment to revisit some of our guiding questions from your first class at James Madison College, Introduction to Public Affairs, or MC201. And I’d like you to think about how these questions and your answers to these questions have shaped you over these last four years.

  • What are the tensions between individual liberty and the common good?
  • What happens when different groups claim conflicting rights or freedoms, sometimes in the most foundational spaces: the land on which we live or the bodies which we inhabit?
  • In what ways do formal universal ideals of equal citizenship overlook questions of social class, race and gender?
  • Does globalization challenge national citizenship? Does it support a more transnational cosmopolitan citizenship? Or does it intensify national affiliations?
  • Is the entire concept of citizenship at odds with the belief that all human beings have fundamental human rights?

Throughout your time at James Madison College, we have asked you these kinds of vital questions. The questions may differ from major to major, but they share the same essential goals. We ask you to think deeply about the world and your place in it. And we ask you to think about how to make the world in which you live more like the world in which you want to live. And not only to think but also to act. We have asked a lot from you!

I hope you continue to think about these big questions, to revisit them, and to think about how your answers change over time. But before I go, I’d like to ask you a few more questions from MC201.

How does a ragtag group of graduates in need of a shower
Somehow learn of global superpowers?
How do you emerge victorious from the quagmire?

[And let’s face it, during these last four years, at many times, it has been a quagmire]
Leave the college waving your flag of learning higher?

How did you not become undone in 201?

Reading Tocqueville and the Federalists when you had just begun

You got a lot farther by working a lot harder
By being a bit smarter
By being a self-starter

And. Turns out we have a secret weapon!
A faculty you know and love who’s unafraid to step in!
We’re constantly confusin’, confoundin’ you with our questions
Ev’ryone give it up for your favorite professors!

Candidates of James Madison

Diplomas are waiting on the stage for you

If you join us right now, together you’ll be alumni

Oh, Candidates of James Madison

You have family that will cheer for you
If we manage to get this right

You’ll be alumni by early light

Now, will the candidates please rise.

Dean Thies, on behalf of the faculty, I present to you the candidates for the degree of Bachelor of Arts from James Madison College and Michigan State University!