Anthony Comeau '19 at Commencement 2019

Jun 3 2019

"President Hamilton, Chancellor Yu, Vice Chancellor Lehman, respected faculty, distinguished guests, family members, friends and fellow members of the Class of 2019, welcome! 欢迎!Bienvenidos! Bienvenues! As-salamu alaykum! Dobro pozhalovat!

To the world, Shanghai is sleek skyscrapers next to crimson shikumen, but for us, Shanghai is the first laughs of orientation week. Shanghai is your first bite of Jinqiao street food. Shanghai is the first time you picked up your textbooks, and the first time you wanted to put them down forever. Shanghai is a place of inquiry where we’ve asked questions like: what are the limits of patriotism? What is economic development? What is culture destiny? Can we fit three more people into this elevator? Was this electric outlet intended to function? 天啊,怎么又要考试了[translation: What?! Another test!]? Who are all these new people?!

Shanghai is where we’ve danced, sang KTV, where we’ve laughed, cried, and––gay or straight––Shanghai is where we’ve loved. All this, these places and moments of life have been our campus—in addition to our Century Avenue academic building.

On the first floor of the AB, there is a bronze colored plaque. It’s written in Classical Chinese and tells the story of our founding. One line reads:

Today, when all the world is as a village, old things are ending one after another, and new things are beginning one by one. Those whom NYU Shanghai has educated, we hope that you will go on to become scholars for the world.

I studied this plaque for my Chinese class once. In that same class my teacher explained a phrase I feel embodies our foundational spirit: 玉不琢,不成器,人不学,不知义。It means: “if jade is not polished, it cannot become useful; if people do not study, they will not know their duty to others.

For us, living out the values of a 21st century liberal arts education has meant polishing ourselves in and beyond the classroom. And NYU Shanghai’s particular goal of global understanding has meant questioning the very idea of “the other.” We live at a time of seemingly mutually exclusive positions: Are you a patriot or a globalist? With us or against us? 你要这里吃还是打包? [Translation: Do you want to eat in or take out?]

From the mundane everyday waimai [Delivery food] to the mind boggling complexities of 5G & AI—this world is full of potential, yet the pace and uncertainty of change threatens us with instability. So easily, we forget we come from a long line of ancestors. These ancestors faced the same questions as we do—how do we give our lives meaning? What is a “job” anyway?


As time ticks on, by what measure could we say NYU Shanghai students have been successful in meeting our institutional ideals? There are many metrics we could adopt, but I say, in the end, the most important of them all are... donations from alumni... no... they’re interpersonal connections—people.

Freshman and sophomore year, my Chinese roommate and I had these white board posters stuck to our walls. Whenever we encountered an interesting word I could learn in Chinese or he could in English, we wrote them down. By the end of two years, our walls were covered with complex concepts from 三观 [Translation: The Three Philosophies], the devil’s advocate, the banality of evil—to the more colloquial—thicc, yaaas queen, 666, and 那就算了 [Translation: Forget about it then].

These words and ideas came out of laughter, debate, even a pressure to defend some group or label we hold. And whether turning a tight corner on the shuttle bus, studying away, going out in Puxi, or ordering bubble tea, these little conversations reflect our larger world.

For all the frustration, we students are the evidence that engagement is worthwhile. We students navigate languages and worlds guided by our teachers of all kinds: 三人行, 必有我师焉。[Translation: When three are walking together, I am sure to find teachers among them]

As graduates sitting here today, we celebrate our accomplishments, but we also recognize the parents, professors, friends, supervisors, 阿姨s, and aunties that have shaped us—whether with a “gentle benevolence” of Mengzi or the straightening board of administration.

Author David Mitchell once wrote that “from womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” Now...ask any mother in the audience and I bet she’ll agree—birthing our future is a lot to go through, especially with climate change and biotech advancements to boot. Historian Noah Harari warns us that in our era, our identities have the potential to be reduced to mere...GPAs...uh, mega-data that is...mined by forces beyond our control.

So yes, we are bound to others. But as young adults, we must also know and face ourselves. Anthony Appiah reminds us: 'Your community shapes you; you help shape others; you help shape yourself.'

In this glowing city here today, I propose an ideal for us young graduates: to find a golden mean between the individual and the collective; to carve for and out of ourselves a beautiful piece of jade, and to take the interpersonal connections of NYU Shanghai and let them guide us in becoming lifelong learners for ourselves, our nations, and the world.

Congratulations, Class of 2019! We made it. Thank you! 感谢大家!" 


More speeches from the ceremony:

NYU President Andrew Hamilton
Chancellor Yu Lizhong
Vice Chancellor Jeffrey Lehman
Provost Joanna Waley Cohen
Peggy Yu Yu, Commencement Speaker
Qu Jiayun '19