NYU podium with 2021 Commencement logo projected behind it

While continuing COVID-19 safety considerations kept us from gathering in person this spring to celebrate this year's grads in the traditional ways, virtual Commencement festivities took a variety of creative and moving forms, with many graduation ceremonies including heartfelt messsages to the Class of 2021 from prominent figures in NYU community and beyond. The All-Unversity Commencement boasted remarks from NYU Law's Deborah Archer, national president of the ACLU, as well as actor and alum Daniel Dae Kim, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and others, while school and cultural graduations featured everybody from Anthony Fauci, the face of the national pandemic response, to Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram—along with our own impressive students and faculty. We've collected some of their words of wisdom below.

All-University Commencement

Deborah Archer, NYU Law Professor and ACLU President


"There is no problem in this world, no crisis, no injustice, that we cannot solve together. If history tells us anything, it is that the impossible is possible. Your accomplishments today are proof of that fact. There’s a saying in the Black community that we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams. And I believe that and I have felt that so many times. Each and every one of you should feel that powerfully today. You have achieved things that your ancestors would never have imagined. You are the dreams of those who have fought so that this world could be more free, so that I could be in this place and have the opportunity to serve. So that you could be in this place and have an opportunity to lead. YOU are proof that the impossible is possible."

College of Arts and Science

Karen Silvera ('89), member, CAS Dean’s Advisory Council


"The expectations of what was possible, the answers you thought you had, or the advice that you thought was applicable is most likely no longer true. Instead, we the adults are now looking to you as the generation that will arrange the pieces to make things fit better. You will be the leaders of figuring out a better way of doing things."

College of Dentistry

Vera Tang (DDS '00), clinical assistant professor of periodontology and implant dentistry, NYU College of Dentistry


"Unexpected, unprecedented, unheard of—all of these have become habitual phrases over the last year as you have all navigated one of the hardest times in your life, both professionally and personally. As dentists, with every tool in place, every appointment scheduled, and every second of your day crunched for time between the clinic and home, I have found that it's the unexpected that gives our life purpose and direction."

Gallatin School of Individualized Study

Adam Mosseri (Gallatin '05), Head of Instagram

"Being encouraged and even forced to define my own path, not necessarily fall into a pre-existing category or story or narrative, I thought was really tough, actually, but really exciting and interesting when I was back in school and I brought that to all that I do and I encourage you to do the same."

Graduate School of Arts and Science

Paul Mensah (M.S. '21)


"Take everything that you've learned, all of the skills you've that built upon and all the things that've you've learned about yourself and apply that in meaningful and effective way as you embark on any journey ahead of you."

Grossman School of Medicine

Robert I. Grossman, MD, chief executive officer of NYU Langone Health and dean of NYU Grossman School of Medicine


"We are here today to celebrate your graduation as a student and the commencement of your medical career, a feat you accomplished under the duress of a pandemic, in a city that bore the brunt of the blitz, and at an institution that was strained beyond its capacity."

Leonard L. Stern School of Business (Graduate)

Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., President and CEO, TIAA (retired)


"Envision your career as more of a climbing wall than a ladder. Be a continuous learner, and embrace change and the opportunities that it brings."

Leonard L. Stern School of Business (Undergraduate)

Adam Mosseri (Gallatin '05), Head of Instagram


"The key is to be clear about what you want but also be willing to put in the work to go out and get it."

"Times of great change accelerate trends, which in turn creates opportunities."

"Be honest with yourself, both in what you're good at and in what you love to do."

Liberal Studies

Fanny Yayi Bondje ('21)


"One thing that I've learned is that people who love you—truly care and want the best for you—don't love you in spite of your imperfections but through them."

NYU Abu Dhabi

Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s First Elected Female Head of State and Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize


"As ambassadors of NYU Abu Dhabi, you have a duty to represent its commitment to inclusion, cohesion, and change. Therefore I urge you to set out to achieve the highest levels of your professions and to continue to distinguish yourselves as change-makers. Never settle for what the existing conditions around you may be knowing you can change it for the better."

NYU Shanghai

Dr. Zhang Wenhong, infectious disease expert leading Shanghai’s response to COVID-19


"I believe that in the future, we will definitely encounter greater challenges of uncertainty. Cooperation and sacrifice are still our weapons to overcome all difficulties. The spirit of cooperation and teamwork cultivated by New York University Shanghai will become the fundamental power for you to overcome all difficulties in the future."

Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service

Israel Rocha Jr. (EMPA '18), Health CEO, Cook County, Illinois


"Today every day we see our community grow more divided. We use technology to talk at each other and not to each other….This approach has allowed technology algorithms to screen our news and shape our politics. My request to you: help us remember our humanity. Find ways to help us understand one another. Help us find the beauty in our differences. Help us listen and not react. Be the catalyst that leads to the disempowerment of fear and hate."

Rory Meyers College of Nursing

U.S. Congresswoman Lauren Underwood of Illinois


"My hope for you as you begin your careers is that the spirit of service that drew you into nursing will stay with you and will carry you through the hard days ahead – because as our nation has seen throughout this pandemic, there will undoubtably be hard days. But your passion for helping others, particularly the most vulnerable, is a light that will help you see in the dark."

School of Global Public Health

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases


"The expertise, energy, passion, and commitment you soon will bring to the world amid COVID-19 come at a most opportune time. Rarely before has the world so badly needed the skills inherent in the many disciplines represented by this class."

School of Law

Bridget McCormack ('91), Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court


"This is an exciting time to be graduating law school. As a result of the pandemic, we have seen more change in the profession in the last 14 months than in my entire career. And at the same time, we are reckoning with questions of race and access to justice more significantly than ever in my career. The combination of these has us at a critical inflection point for the institutions and policies that make up our systems of justice."

School of Professional Studies

Madeline McIntosh, CEO Penguin Random House


"The period of crisis is transitioning into a period of transformation, one that provides the ideal circumstances for new leaders to emerge in all professions and work together to build a stronger foundation for society going forward."

Silver School of Social Work

Elisha Mudley (MSW ’21)

Elisha Mudley wearing a graduation cap. Text that reads: "Graduates, the world has never needed us more."

“This year has turned us inside out, and as I sit here with you all here today, my peers, my extraordinary, inspiring peers, I can’t help but feel filled with a newer, more profound kind of hope. Pride, resilience and hope. I’ve watched you all carry one another through the last two years—more or less, depending on your MSW pathway—and carry me through my last two years and it feels surreal and blissful to say to you, we made it...We’ve crawled up the branches, we’ve built our nests and now it’s time for us to take flight. Graduates, the world has never needed us more. To the class of 2021, congratulations and happy graduation.”

Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

Tarika Barrett (PhD '10), CEO, Girls Who Code and NYU Steinhardt 2021 Dorothy Height Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient


"Dorothy Height was an extraordinary leader, but her power to make change wasn't hers alone. It came from an entire thriving community of activists, advocates, and ordinary people who believed in the cause of social justice and who are still carrying her work forward even today. So I'd like to dedicate this award to the community and to all of you who aren't content to wait around until the time is ripe. This work will outlast all of us, just as it outlasted Dorothy Height. But I can't imagine a greater, living legacy. And I'm so thrilled and so honored to be a part of this community that's helping to keep it alive."

Tandon School of Engineering

Ruth D. Lyle (PhD '98), Principal Technical Patent Architect at NVIDIA


"Take these great relationships from Tandon with you moving forward… Be courageous, be collaborative, and be generous. The problems that we face—that the world faces—will need generous people with insights, with the ability to think out of the box, with vision."

Tisch School of the Arts

Chandra Wilson ('91), actress and director


During a pandemic, you still managed to create films, and write—even if you had to move in together and create a pod in Bed-Stuy. You danced in masks and invited us to watch online, you made theater but for the camera. Even with everybody looking like the chick from Wonder Woman with the masks, Urinetown was excellent theater. Performed with excellence. Directed and designed with excellence. There is no such thing as an unconquerable obstacle. You've proven that."

"These obstacles to art made you get back to what brought you to the arts in the first place—in its most simplistic form, your initial purpose for pursuing art, the thing that motivated and inspired your talent. The thing about your art that first made you smile. Remembering what that is will be the cornerstone to your individual journeys going forward as graduates."

APID/A Graduation

Alex Lee, Assemblymember for California's 25th Assembly District


“But let’s remember that when our family faced war, famine, poverty, and uncertainty, they looked into the future for us and manifested new worlds out of their love, even though they had no vision of what it would look like in actuality when they got here. And even though those hardships didn’t end when they came here, they fought. And that’s what I want you to do. I want you to fight for your future as well.”

Black Graduation

Shelley Worrell, Creator of IamcaribBeing


"Once you know your fit, hold on to it and stay perceptive on how it can manifest."

"No one could understand how a first generation daughter of afro Indo immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago, who did not go to an ivy league school, and did not have a trust fund, could quit her job .... If you had the most expensive shoes in the world and they hurt your feet, would you still wear them?"

Latine Graduation

Carolina Contreras, CEO of Miss Rizos Salon

"You dont have to be fearless, you just have to learn to do it afraid."

"Growing up I remember walking into the toy section of my local stores and never seeing dolls brown like me. I watched telenovelas desde siempre and noticed that none of the protagonistas looked like me. I was in love with disney princesses and only to realize that none of them had my kinks, my curls, and my coils.

"I turned my pain into power... Your thoughts really truly become your reality so please take the time to fill it with affirmations and with manifestations of all the amazing things you want to do."

Lavender Graduation

Chris Mosier (Steinhardt '12), athlete, activist, and founder of transathlete.com


"One of the beautiful things about challenges, about disruptions, is that we must innovate. It is in these moments of challenge and hardship that we see who we truly are, and we catch a glimmer of what we are truly capable of. In times like this we have the opportunity to shake up the system. We have the opportunity to ask ourselves, 'Why?' To demand change. This is what excites me."

Native Graduation

Students recognized: Sinéad Pauahi Nora Kailihiaokamālamalamaonalani Anae and Paige Carmen Kakeh'niiosta Cook

Zoom screenshot of photo collage of Sinéad Pauahi Nora Kailihiaokamālamalamaonalani Anae

Zoom screenshot of photo collage of Paige Carmen Kakeh'niiosta Cook