During the 2021 Adler University Commencement Ceremony, held on October 24, doctoral graduate Eddie D. Burks addressed 2020 and 2021 graduates with his speech about upholding Adler’s social justice mission in their respective fields. Burks emphasized the importance of this commitment and standing tall in our demand for equality, equity and inclusion. Read Burk’s entire speech below.
What an incredible and unprecedented year we’ve survived as students in our last year at Adler. We encountered more challenges than we anticipated and some of us even second-guessed our purpose and goals. COVID-19 became like a dictator, changing our ways of life, forcing us apart, taking loved ones from us, and causing many of us to feel helpless and even at times hopeless. To those of us who lost loved ones to COVID complications, my heart goes out to you and your families and ask us all to pause for a moment of silence to acknowledge them. (silence) I also want to acknowledge every essential worker who assisted and aided us during the height of the pandemic. Your commitment to working the front lines, from hospitals to grocery stores, helped sustain our lives as we navigated the complicated and unpredictable waves of the pandemic. Thank you (clap). And to our family, friends, and loved ones who became our critical supports, without your help, this moment would not be possible. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you. (clap).
And as I look out into this crowd, I am looking at the most phenomenal of people, the most fearless of leaders, and the most courageous of dynamic change agents. We are all truly deserving of this moment and this achievement. I am honored and proud to take my place among you. We will forever be known as the pandemic cohort! We made it! Even after asking ourselves “Why am I doing this?” “What is all of this for?” or even thinking about giving up, we didn’t. We were persistent and dedicated to the process, and now, we can boldly say, “I AM THAT _____!” Yeah, you fill in the blank. Now, let’s give ourselves a round of applause.
You know on an occasion like this, we hear the common phrase “the real work starts now!” But what about our 2-, 5-, and 7-year commitments to this process and the tens of thousands of dollars spent to invest in our careers? Not to mention the countless sleepless nights we endured to finish deadlines, barely finding time for ourselves as we attempted to balance our social, personal, academic, and work life. No! The real work doesn’t start now. It already started. It started the day we decided to stop hiding in the shadows as bystanders to the social injustices happening around us. The day we decided to stop being afraid to speak up and became that unapologetic voice of reason. The day we decided to stand up to our oppressors, demanding equality, equity, inclusion, and justice. And the day we decided that taking risk over comfort was a hard road worth traveling to cultivate a just society were no person feels unsafe, voiceless, invisible, and devalued.
And we know the work was not easy. Our courses tested our beliefs and understanding. Our social interactions questioned our perspectives. Our qualifying examinations and training experiences interrogated our knowledge, insight, and awareness. And each client, athlete, student, classmate, colleague, professor, policymaker, staff, and stranger who shared their social and systemic iniquities with us taught us how to recognize and transform discomfort into the catalyst for change that moves us to action without hesitation. Talking about our work, Wow! Look at us. Who would have thought what we endured fitted us perfectly for the regalia we’re wearing right now?
Accountability. That word is our testament to our work, uniting us and our passions to the common goal of social justice, a fight that led us to Adler University. At Adler, everyone is accountable to upholding the social justice mission of the university, from our administration down to each one of us. That’s what I remember and value most about my time here at Adler. We learned how to vehemently commit ourselves to changing the systems we embed to produce good in the world. This would be an impossible actionable without the help of our professors and supervisors who poured into us from the education, training, service, and capstone experiences they oversaw, which masterfully nurtured the “change agent” into our personhood. So, we must take this time to thank our professors and respective supervisors for their dedication and commitment to our work. (clap)
We are ready to engage in more work, the work most dear to our hearts, and more than ever before, the time is now for us. So, as we embark on our respective journeys, let us continue to sharpen and enact this tool (gesture to self), to carry out our commitment to social justice, which forever binds us as Adler alum. Let us continue to celebrate and respect our diversity and differences in ways that create space for our existence. Let us reconnect to our humanity, our sameness, to hold each other accountable to the vital roles we play in cultivating a just society. And let us continue to let the memory of our work here at Adler cast a presence of calm over us, activating us to firmly plant our feet on the ground when met with challenges in our justice endeavors. We have a high level of quality education consisting of scholarship and performance that imprints unwavering integrity into the fibers of our being. We know what we are. We know whose we are. And we damn sure know what we’re doing. We are the change we want to see in this world. And to quote one of our professors, Dr. Monica F. Boyd-Layne, “And we all know if nothing changes, then nothing changes.” Again, Congratulations! We are now graduates of Adler University.