Kirsten Caron stands in graduation cap and robe with black banner background which reads, "change"

Unprecedented: Commencement student address

Unprecedented.

How many times have we heard that word in the last year? I’m just a bit older than most of you and I can tell you I’ve heard it more in the last 12 months alone than in all my previous years combined! I’m a psychology major. Wait, no. Now I need to get used to saying that I have a B.S. in Psychology. There’s a saying we use a lot in psychology: Neurons that fire together, wire together. What that means is our brains make associations between things. Not always accurately, mind you. (No pun intended). Here’s an example that most of us have experienced. You’re a kid. One day you’re eating a banana. And it’s so delicious. You love bananas. Maybe you even have a second banana, it was so good! A bit later, you puke absolutely everywhere. Fast forward to today and you hate bananas. “Bananas make me barf!”

Neurons that fire together, wire together.

But what really happened when you were a kid was that you had already contracted a flu bug. Or maybe you were in the car eating that banana and you actually experienced motion sickness. The banana did not, in fact, make you sick at all. I feel the same way about the word “unprecedented.” Over the last year, I have come to dread seeing or hearing that word. It conjured fear. Violence. Loss. Illness. Uncertainty. Death. Today, I want to break that association. I want to rewire our neurons. I want to take that word back.

Unprecedented.

All of us navigated the tumultuous ocean of life and continued. We changed course to adapt with the raging storm and believed we would get through it—even when we could no longer see the stars above our heads and lost the maps that charted our course. We were resilient and hopeful. We listened and lifted each other up. We found voices that had been previously drowned out or unsure and raised them to call for much-needed change in our society.

Unprecedented.

Many of us found ourselves cut off from our support systems. Many of us took care of family members who were ill and some of us even became ill ourselves. Many of us lost our jobs. Faced food and housing insecurity. Some of us tried to learn to facilitate online learning for our children. Far too many of us lost loved ones.

Unprecedented.

Despite all these challenges-we are here. I know it wasn’t easy. I know there were days, and maybe months, many of us wanted to give up. Too often the raging waves of life threatened to overwhelm us and drag us down to murky depths. Yet, we fought our way back to the surface. And that fight isn’t romantic or glamorous. We kick our way upward with the everyday acts of trying, listening, and learning.

Unprecedented.

We earned so much more than a degree today. We earned the knowledge that whatever comes our way, we can meet it all with the adaptability and bravery and the sheer determination we have exercised over the past year. So, take a deep breath. Enjoy this view. But we must not forget what we have learned about the world and ourselves because the journey isn’t over. Whether we go on to graduate school, a career, travel, charity work, relationships, raising a family, or all of the above- each of us must carry everything we have learned and use it to facilitate effective, positive change.

There will be more storms. More uncertainty. More loss. But there will also be more change. More unity. More love.

Because, class of 2021, we are unprecedented.

Learn more about Kirsten Caron here.

Media Contacts

Morgan Aguilarcommunications specialist, University of Utah Communications