2020 Anthropology Graduation Virtual Celebration

Remarks from Prof. Catherine Fennell, Undergraduate Thesis Co-Professor Seminar:

I'd like to congratulate the graduates today, but I also want to thank them. I worked with some of you in your first anthropology class, some of you in your last, some in both. I've seen you in big lectures, in small seminars, in office hours. You always brought your unfailing smarts and curiosity to each of these places. That has made teaching you over the past four years an absolute pleasure. Thank you for that. Yet I also want to thank you for reminding me of something critical at a bleak moment. When the pandemic started sweeping through New York and scattered our students all over the world, I started hearing doubt from friends and from acquaintances that students would or even should come to class: Why bother? they said. Don't they know it doesn't matter anymore? That world they were getting ready for is now gone? Yet you kept coming to class, you kept thinking, you kept asking questions. You kept pushing me and one another and all of us together to answer them. This reminded me that hard questions and hard situations are precisely the moments that demand careful thinking, not easy answers. These moments demand that we interrogate how we relate to our world, as well as the people and things in it. They demand the kinds of conversations that will allow us to make something else of our world, and of each other. Your ideas matter. Yet so does the work you've done together to push and refine your ideas because that work can be the foundation of the world to come. I want to thank you for taking that work so seriously. Congratulations again.

Remarks from Prof. Lila Abu-Lughod, Undergraduate Thesis Co-Professor 2019-2020

It is a thrill for me to follow David and Cassie in toasting this special graduating class of anthropologists, even if it has to be in this unique forum. And I want to thank Audra Simpson our inspiring Director of Undergraduate Studies and Courtney Hooper for giving us the will to forge ahead with this virtual celebration of you.

What I wanted to say to the students is that you have changed my life, and opened up my horizons to include so many worlds I didn’t know about. I had the honor this year of joining the intellectual journey of those students who took on the challenge of the senior thesis seminar. I led it in the fall before handing them over to my wonderful colleague Cassie Fennell in January.  

But I will never forget you.  This is my favorite kind of teaching because it is actually what I call Teaching/Learning. I loved working with this group of exceptional students as they worked together and individually to articulate what it was that moved them about this world we live in. And what it was they wanted to understand deeply. I learned from each of them, as I’ll describe. But I also learned from them collectively because of the fantastic intellectual generosity they showed each other and the admirable way they built a real community. Their camaraderie is just the kind that—when it happens--keeps us all going as scholars.

I feel lucky to have been part of it because they reaffirmed my belief in our discipline’s unique perspective on the world, and its ethical stance toward it.  Each in their own way was  committed to the ethics and politics of a discipline that is critical of the many forms that the violence of power takes. And they helped each other hone their ethnographic sensibilities—listening and learning from others, attentive to the world. They also worked hard to write well, so they could share what they had realized with others.

Remarks from Naye Idriss (CC ’20) and Jane Poss (CC ’20):

Were we celebrating in person, we would, we assume, be located in the Anthropology Grad Student Lounge, under that looming quote, “It is a Durkheimian, and Freudian, maxim that the ancestors do live among us; they are embedded in our thoughts, they motivate us, they limit us, they restrain us, they shape our view of reality, they endow us with the language in which we speak of the world and ourselves...we may not follow the paths set by the ancestors, but our deviations have been conditioned by them.”

And we are reminded every time we see the quote (or now imagine it, so well conditioned are we) that we are in the home that started this discipline. It is a home of brilliant anthropologists from whom we continue to learn, such as Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, Margaret Mead, oh, and Franz Boas…. But we also know that this is a department that today is at the forefront of changing what anthropology even means. We don’t just deviate here; we learn to push the boundaries of the discipline daily.

It is a privilege to have grown in, and with, a department filled with faculty, staff, graduate students, and fellow undergraduates who approach their work carefully, inquisitively, and forcefully. Learning to be reflexive, to think of the life of words, to question just about everything, and to situate the knowledge we come to learn: in this time, we come to value our major or concentration all the more. How we live in relation to the world and each other becomes an ever more urgent question as each crisis builds upon the last, and as we set out to face them, we are grateful for the tools we’ve acquired in this department.

Many of us tell stories about how anthropology came at us unexpectedly. I came to anthropology intending to be a lawyer, and wanted to build strong writing skills, but ended up falling in love with anthropology from my very first classes.

I, for one, hadn’t intended to major in Anthro (I was a neuro major for two, long years) but then took one course with Prof. Nadia, and one with Prof. Audra, and then another one with each, and just couldn't stop. Like many of my peers, I have been lucky to be deeply impacted and inspired by every single one of the teachers who taught me here.

However, people committed to this discipline don’t stay confined in the department. Fictional story writers gained more literary richness from their anthropology courses than any literature or language course offered; archeologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, earth scientists, visual artists, performers, computer scientists all converged on our classrooms. And taking the lessons outside the classroom, this department’s students and professors supported campus and community activism. A core value our professors imparted to always think about the position of our work and how our work contributes to global solidarity, to decolonizing, to unsettling the commons, to creatively, committedly imagining and working towards the shattering of this world and the building of another. To learn to think and live and grow in the uncertain has become the slogan of our generation. And today we celebrate the end of our time in such a fantastic academic department, that often feels like a home, and cherishes the friends and the teachers whose words, love, and intelligence will accompany us for the rest of our lives.