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Words of advice for the Class of 2020

Recognizing that commencement ceremonies for colleges -- and high schools -- have been cancelled across the country, we asked a selection of authors, poets, and filmmakers to share advice for the Class of 2020 who are beginning their adult lives in a time of pandemic.

After reading these selections, please share your own words of advice -- or commencement address --- as a comment below.

A message from Paul Grondahl

Director, NYS Writers Institute

This is not the way we wanted your story to end, University at Albany’s Class of 2020.

Nobody saw this surreal plot twist coming and now the coronavirus pandemic has irrevocably disrupted your final semester at UAlbany, along with altering all of our narratives in many ways.

We at the Writers Institute want you to know we are sorry that public health mandates regarding Covid-19 forced postponement of your commencement ceremony.

We hope that it is possible for you and your families to return safely to campus for an in-person graduation celebration in the fall. That remains undetermined.

In the meantime, we wanted to offer you our heartfelt congratulations on your accomplishment. You did it. You finished. You graduated. You earned your diploma. We are very proud of you. You deserve to celebrate. Share your success with family and friends who supported you along the way.

As you contemplate the next stage of your journey, we wanted to share some words of encouragement, advice and helpful insight from some wonderful writer friends of ours. Some are UAlbany alumni. Many have come to campus as visiting writers and have talked to students in their classrooms, offered small craft talks and held large audiences spellbound at public readings. Perhaps you met some of them.

We asked these writers to share their thoughts with you, our UAlbany graduating seniors.

We hope that you take away something useful, thought-provoking and perhaps even inspirational from these collected remarks.

We wish you all the best as you go forth as UAlbany alumni. We hope that you will come back to campus to visit us. Stay connected to UAlbany. You will always be welcome here. We will forever remember you.

Stay safe and healthy out there. And don’t forget the sunscreen.

We are #OneUAlbany. You are now #OneOfTheGreats

Go Great Danes! Unleash your greatness on the world.

Paul Grondahl


Alicia Ostriker, New York State Poet

Author of more than 10 poetry collections, including The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog.

“I would like to tell the graduating class of 2020 to learn about the past and learn that this moment, which seems to overwhelm us so much, is distressing and disastrous, but it’s not the end of the world. There have been moments before and there will be moments again that will seem as horrendous as this one now does.

There is a line I like from poet Allen Ginsberg who said,

‘Imagine the past. Remember the future.’

I think the best thing young people can do is to read the literature and the history of the past. Recognize that this moment is part of a vast continuum and that will help encourage and inspire them to play some part in that vast continuum.

Try to pay less attention to your devices and television and do not go along with the crowd.”

Nikki Giovanni

American poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator. Named as one of Oprah Winfrey's 25 "Living Legends."

“Congratulations Graduates!

As you go forward into a world that desperately needs strength and truth we, the previous generation, wish you well. You may not be able to change this world but you must be sure, at a time of lies and disease, you don’t let the world change you.

There is nothing to be afraid of. The color of your skin neither gives you an advantage nor a disadvantage. Listen to the best of yourself. The sun will rise, the moon will set; you will fall in and out of love. Life is a good idea. Choose it over all other choices.”

Marc Guggenheim

Comic book writer, novelist and writer-producer of “Arrow” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” and other films and TV shows. UAlbany alumnus Class of ’92.

“I’m a big Billy Joel fan and I like he quote he used, although he didn’t create it. ‘In an age of incompetence, being competent makes you remarkable.’ Whether you go into the work force or go onto graduate school, how you conduct yourself is really important. Being professional and the best person you can be sets you apart from everybody else.

The way to succeed is always going that extra mile, always delivering more. It’s not about being competitive, but about being competent as Billy Joel said.

It’s the little things. If I deliver a script, I always make sure to proofread it carefully so there are no typos. It’s little things like that that really add up. A strong work ethic is always helpful, too.”