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Class of 2023 Speech - Susan Visconte

Congratulations! Today is a celebration of your achievements, a commemoration of your growth, and an appreciation of this turning point. Because today marks the turn from what was to what will be. And you’ve done the hard work to arrive at this point. You’ve thrived in a time that was tumultuous, and you’ve succeeded in a time that was uncertain. You’ve acquired an impressive education and invaluable experiences. You’re here—we’re here—to celebrate all that you’ve accomplished and all that’s ahead. After your many years of hard, hard, work, you are equipped and empowered for the good, good work ahead.

But what is good, good work? And how will you choose it and live it?

Almost one year ago I stood in front of a door inside a women’s maximum-security prison. As they disengaged the door’s locking mechanism it made a crashing sound—like weights being dropped on a gym floor—metal on metal. Slowly, the heavy doors began to creep open. And that sound—the sound of the grinding mechanical gears—well, it cut through the silence. And I stood in the gap, waiting. Waiting until the grinding sound stopped so that the silence could return. Yet when it arrived, it felt jarring and it felt final.

But see, I arrived at this door by way of the front door. And later that evening I would leave the same way. You could say I was there as a visitor. Or you could say I was there as a volunteer. But really, I was there as someone who cared about people that had gone from being part of society—like you and me—to being property of the government. I was there as someone that cared about the women that wouldn’t leave by way of the front door.

Yet I was uncomfortable. I had over a decade of experience building community with people in the throes of poverty, but I didn’t have one minute of experience building community with people imprisoned. I imagined that the experiences of these women were completely different than what I had experienced as a child, as a daughter, and as a friend. For many of them, it was horrors experienced, and horrors committed. I had full recognition of that. Justice would be done and a punishment would be served. No excuses.

Yet, in the midst of it all, I was captivated. Not by the atrocities, but by the similarities. The similarities between me and them. The similarities that were much deeper than the surface. We each wanted to be seen, to be heard, to be known. We each sought out connection and community. We each had hopes and dreams that persevered. The thread of humanity tied us together and shifted the conversation from volunteer and property of the government to me and them.

And in this space, I received. I received a deeper understanding of how to listen without judgement, how to empathize with an open heart, how to share with vulnerability, and how to encourage with authenticity. And it is these things that tie into the thread of humanity. It is these things that are the throughline to good, good work.

See, over the years, as you do your work—no matter your industry, no matter your company, and no matter your role—you will find yourself in countless moments where you’re across the table from someone. It will be you and them. And the fantastic conversation on industry dynamics, and new ventures, and expertise and excellence in your discipline will be of great importance—yet beneath it all it will be you and them. Wanting to be seen, to be heard, to be known. You and them seeking connection and community. You and them with hopes and dreams.

And it will be in these moments that you will be grateful that you made a commitment at this turning point. A commitment to take the time to continually receive a deeper understanding of humanity—from whomever that may be—so that you can deepen your ability to listen without judgement, empathize with an open heart, share with vulnerability, and encourage with authenticity. So that you can do good, good work.

On that night almost one year ago, I left by way of the front door. I left changed. I had given with all of my heart and somehow received so much more as I returned to talk with them again and again over the course of this year. I hope the women I meet feel the same. We had rediscovered the beauty and the power of humanity. Me and them.

As you leave tonight by way of the front door and step into all that’s ahead tomorrow—as you turn from what was to what will be—make the commitment to discover humanity time and time again. Find people for you to continually give to and to receive from. Make the commitment to deepen and extend the good work that you are already prepared to do in your career by bringing into it all that you’ve received. Our world and our communities need your good, good work. Thank you.

The College of Engineering and Computing

The College of Engineering and Computing