For those of us who are academics, Commencement is the high point of the academic year. We pay tribute to the talent, hard work and resourcefulness of both our students and ourselves. This year, on a beautiful sunny Saturday, CCBC celebrated 2,700 graduates. Although not all 2,700 attended the event, an impressive sea of 800 caps and gowns filled the vastness of a graduation tent filled with 5,000 cheering family members and friends. This heartwarming display captured the spirit and the energy of the graduating class of 2024. Whether they become astronauts or rock stars, nurses or cyber sleuths, they are now ready to make their mark on the world.

Nonetheless, it was hard to prepare for this year’s Commencement ceremony without being mindful of the world’s cares. With campus demonstrations and protests figuring large in news coverage of university commencements, many of us prepared for some form of protest on our own campuses. Although it is unlikely that many ceremonies experienced more than a few mortarboard messages, a silent gesture of backs turned to speakers, or a shout or flag display on the stage, being ready — just in case — was more important than being wrong.

A recent New York Times article “Harvard Should Say Less, Maybe All Schools Should” spoke of the need for universities to remain silent on world issues, advice we in the community college world largely already practice. For most of us the woes of the world are a bridge too far: our cares are the issues of our communities.

Community based and welcoming of all who come to our campuses, we are aware of how little the actions or words of any single campus might influence world issues. Our gift to our communities is that of a safe haven in which all may come to study, work and learn. Largely apolitical, we could not imagine taking positions that would pit one group of students or employees against another, ultimately turning one group into villains and another into heroes. With policies in place to protect free speech and peaceful protest, rather than deter, we try to model behavior that teaches students how to articulate a point of view, how to debate, and how to disagree through respectful discourse.

As Commencement begins each year, I request a moment of silence to enable each of us — in our own way — to reflect upon our individual blessings. This year I included a sentence acknowledging our gratitude for being able to gather safely when so many in the world cannot. For just a few moments, before we awarded a diploma or tossed a cap in the air, we created a quiet space to hold close all those affected by war and conflict: the displaced, the hungry, the injured, the dead, the missing, and the many from all sides who have lost loved ones. We cannot choose favorites when so many across the globe are in pain. Instead, we turn towards a collective hope for a world where peace prevails and newly minted graduates can bring their hopes and skills to fruition, no matter their ancestry or country of origin.

Our community colleges revel both in our tradition of diversity and our fundamental rootedness in our communities. We are proud to have played a role in shaping the lives of those we have educated. At CCBC, we have a strong belief that “Every One of Us Counts” … and we do! But, because words are ephemeral, quickly forgotten, we also believe in Taking Actions That Matter because actions have the power to change the future for generations.

In the end we are all just people, striving for a better life, a better world for ourselves and our children. Our graduating classes are microcosms of the communities we serve. This spring, hundreds of thousands of students from community colleges across the country reached up to move their tassels from right to left, ensuring that they are now ready to become stewards of the earth. With luck, they will eventually do a better job of creating a peaceable kingdom than we have done. And in some way, this might just be some small part of the point that the Harvard faculty were intending to make, i.e., focus on educating the next generation of leaders rather than attempting to practice or to influence statesmanship.