'Democracy is at stake,' Simon's Rock grads told

Teen Vogue political writer Lauren Duca calls upon graduates at Bard College at Simon's Rock

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GREAT BARRINGTON — "Stop asking for permission; it's all up to you."

That was the advice from Lauren Duca at the commencement ceremonies at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington on Saturday morning.

It was a sunny day with temperatures in the high 60s. Graduates and family members gathered under a large tent in the center of campus to celebrate.

Duca, 26, is a columnist and editor for the magazine Teen Vogue. She writes "Thigh High Politics," a political column for the magazine. The column explains politics in the Trump era to the magazine's readers — mostly young women.

Duca was chosen to give the keynote speech at the commencement, Provost Ian Bickford told The Eagle, because of her success in her profession at a young age.

"She fully embodies and promotes the ethos that Simon's Rock has always sustained," Bickford said.

Simon's Rock accepts students at an early age. Most incoming freshmen haven't finished high school. The college awards an associate degree to all eligible students whether they continue their studies at the college or elsewhere.

About 100 graduates walked with an associate degree and around 50 received baccalaureates. The energy was high in the tent as Duca addressed the crowd, telling the graduates to follow their passions and work hard.

Duca directed her remarks squarely at the graduating class seated in front of the stage. Graduation is a huge accomplishment, she said, but that's no reason to rest.

"External signifiers of success have never determined who you are," said Duca.

Students should take their energy and passion and create the person they know they are meant to be, she continued, and thereby effect change in the world. And, Duca said, effecting change is a responsibility.

"Expressing yourself in this toxic moment can be terribly vulnerable," Duca told the crowd, "but democracy is at stake, so I'd really urge you to get over it."

Associate degree class speaker Juliette Kelly Coleman also sounded a note of hope in the future during her remarks. Simon's Rock has taught her to look outside herself and see other perspectives, Coleman told the crowd. That openness to the ideas and beliefs of others is essential for creating change, she said.

"With this understanding,"said Coleman, "we can achieve compassion, and through compassion, we can accomplish change."

Hyojun Yu, the baccalaureate speaker, used his story of struggle and triumph to illustrate how the college helps students and prepares them for the wider world. As a gay man of Korean heritage, Yu became acutely aware of the discrimination that many LGBTQ+ people face in his family's native country of South Korea. His time at Simon's Rock played a pivotal role in developing his passion for academics and social justice.

Graduates should take their experiences from Simon's Rock and go forward into the world ready to carve out space if necessary, said Yu.

"We represent the next generation of leaders," Yu said. "So if we cannot find a space like this again, please, let us follow in the footsteps of [school founder] Betty Hall and use our privilege and power to create one!"

Duca sent the students off into the world with a rallying cry to be genuine and to follow their dreams. That path cannot only lead to success, she said, but also to personal fulfillment.

"The force of life is in the doing, the making, and the becoming," Duca said. "If you can go through those dynamic processes in a way that is unapologetically ambitious and true to yourself, you will be better at the thing you want to be good at, and maybe even a little bit happy sometimes."

Reach staff writer Eoin Higgins at 413-496-6236 or @BE_EoinHiggins.


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