APPLETON – For the first time in four years, Lawrence University got to celebrate its graduating class Sunday on the Main Hall Green without pouring rain or a pandemic changing plans.
And not only were the almost 350 members of the class of 2022 and their loved ones able to gather together for the ceremonial day, but they were washed over with wise words from Lawrence faulty, their peers and a heroic commencement speaker.
Anthony Mackie, who portrays Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, gave a commencement speech filled with stories about his own life and inspiration for each graduate to write their own stories from this point on.
“No matter what field your degree is, you are an artist. You are a creator of thought and movements. You are the voice, eyes and ears of a generation. You will effect change,” he said. “You now have the credentials to dictate your path, not for it to be dictated to you. Your story will be full of twists and turns.”
As Mackie recounted his own lineage, saying his grandfather being a sharecropper and his father being a roofer allowed him to become an actor, he encouraged the graduates to thank their families and loved ones for being the “angels in plain sight” that got them to where they are today.
But the future, he told them, is for them to write. Quoting the former professional boxer Mike Tyson, Mackie told the class of 2022 that they “will get punched in the mouth.” They will experience lows and failure in life, but I have reminded them that they aren’t quitters. They worked hard to get to this point and setbacks are an opportunity to run faster in the race of life.
“Young people, your time is now,” he said.
At 7 years old, Mackie wanted to be a paleontologist. He devoured hours of the Discovery Channel and searched for dinosaur bones in the backyard of his New Orleans home. His dreams of him changed when he read Shakespeare in high school, he said. He became the “theater nerd” who other kids poked fun at for wearing tights and leotards in plays. But, he said, he’d found his calling from him. He was happy.
Although he found his calling at a young age, it wasn’t instant success for Mackie. He said he worked on 75 projects before he was in his first Marvel movie.
Failure, he said, shows that you’re trying.
“The quill is in your hand and you have the power to write whatever story you see fit. Push the limits, be bold, courageous,” he said. “And every time you’re punched in the mouth, come up with another plan.”
Mackie also received an honorary doctorate degree at Sunday’s ceremony.
Lawrence’s 173rd commencement ceremony also included a speech from one of the graduates, Jessica Toncler. Professors were recognized and awarded for excellence in teaching and honorary degrees were given to five retiring faculty members.
Mackie’s connection to Lawrence is through university President Laurie Carter, who he said had his back and advocated for him when he didn’t know which way was up. When Carter was on the leadership team at The Juilliard School in New York City, she mentored Mackie, who was a student at the time.
This year’s commencement was the first one the newly inaugurated Carter. Just as much as the students were shaped by their liberal arts education and opportunities afforded by Lawrence, she said, the class of 2022 equally left its mark on the university.
“You inspire me and you give me hope for the future,” she told the graduates.