Faculty Commencement Speakers to Encourage Graduating Seniors to Keep Learning

Two UC Davis students in graduation stoles in front of the colorful DOCO sign in downtown Sacramento.
UC Davis students Julliet Hill and Emmanuel Fonesca sport their graduation stoles in front of the DOCO sign outside Sacramento's Golden 1 Center, where undergraduate commencement will be held in five ceremonies, June 16-18. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Most graduating seniors will have submitted final assignments and finished exams just days before their commencement, but the learning isn’t over.


Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Mary Croughan is encouraging faculty to attend at least one of the undergraduate ceremonies. Sign up here by Friday, June 2.

That’s the message from a few of the academics with big hearts for undergraduates who, as faculty speakers, will address the graduating class at the five undergraduate ceremonies at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, June 16 to 18.

Kristin Kiesel, an associate professor of teaching in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, or CA&ES, is one of the three speakers Dateline connected with about their assignment.

‘Stay curious and open-minded’

Kiesel said she wants to encourage graduates to “stay curious and open-minded, embrace failures and celebrate successes when continuing to chase their dreams.

Kristin Kiesel headshot, UC Davis faculty
Kristin Kiesel

“Despite still having more questions than answers, I believe with all my heart that practicing engaged inclusivity in education, the joy of learning with and from each other are crucial to finding much-needed solutions to the pressing problems of our time,” she said in an email interview. She will speak at the 9 a.m. ceremony on Saturday, June 17.

Kiesel is one of the inaugural Community-Engaged Learning Faculty Fellows and the architect of her department’s new Diversity and Inclusion in Research, Education and Career Training, or DIRECT program, which exposes students to research early on and creates a greater sense of belonging.

She said her speech preparation is inspired by her experience serving undergraduates from diverse backgrounds and identities during these past years. “Their openly shared stories, resilience and eagerness to learn allowed me to find new meaning and keeps reminding me how deeply I care about them and want them to succeed,” she added.

‘Outstanding educators’

Amber Boydstun headshot, UC Davis faculty
Amber Boydstun
Gwen Arnold headshot, UC Davis faculty
Gwen Arnold
Stephen Robinson headshot, UC Davis faculty
Stephen Robinson
Steven Luck headshot, UC Davis faculty
Steven Luck

Other faculty speakers are:

  • 2 p.m. Friday, June 16 — Amber Boydstun, professor and director of graduate studies for the Department of Political Science in the College of Letters and Science
  • 2 p.m. Saturday, June 17 — Gwen Arnold, associate professor of environmental science and policy in CA&ES
  • 9 a.m. Sunday, June 18 — Stephen Robinson, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the College of Engineering
  • 2 p.m. Sunday, June 18 — Steven Luck, distinguished professor of psychology in LS and a core faculty member at the Center for Mind and Brain

Chancellor Gary S. May invited the faculty members to speak at commencement. The commencement advisory committee recommended them from among a list of about 30 faculty members identified as “outstanding educators” by college leaders.

‘One of the joys of my life’

Luck said he plans to focus his remarks on getting the students to think about how UC Davis has taught them how to learn, which is a skill they will use for the rest of their lives.

“Working with undergraduate students is one of the joys of my life,” he said when asked how they were part of this academic career.

Luck teaches the introductory psychology course to approximately 800 students every fall. “I love to be the one to introduce my field to a large number of students,” he said. “I just love their energy.”

About 10 years ago Luck co-founded ASPIRE, an undergraduate research program designed to get students into labs during their first or second year. There are currently 29 students and 50 faculty labs in the program. Luck said he has about 15 students working in his own lab each year and holds a weekly undergraduate-only meeting so that he can spend quality time with them.

Simultaneous truths

Excited about the opportunity to speak at commencement, Boydstun said it has been a challenge to figure out what to say. “There are so many things I’d like to share with our graduating students, so many hard-learned lessons I’d like to pass on to them,” she said.

But Boydstun has settled on the most important thing she’s learned: the concept of simultaneous truths. “Often in life, there are two truths that coexist but that seem to be in tension with each other,” she said. “Understanding and recognizing the concept of simultaneous truths can help us try to make room in our minds for the fact that both things can be true at the same time.”

Boydstun, who researches the interaction between media and politics and how different media portrayals of the same policy issue can lead citizens and policymakers to respond in different ways, offered an example.

“When we think of climate change, political polarization, ongoing violence, the world can seem really bleak,” she said. “And it is simultaneously true that we are living in one of the most exciting and promising times in human history, with astounding scientific breakthroughs and the ability to travel to places and connect with people in other parts of the world in ways that previous generations could only dream of.”

Boydstun’s conclusion should challenge and inspire graduating students. “Both of those things are true at the same time: Our world seems really bleak, and our world is amazing,” she said.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg will speak by way of a recorded video to all five undergraduate ceremonies, and each ceremony will hear from a member of the graduating class.

Read more about commencement and guest speakers.

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