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Op Eds

Lessons for the Journey Ahead

By Courtesy of Sumbul Siddiqui
By Sumbul Siddiqui, Contributing Opinion Writer
Sumbul Siddiqui is the mayor of Cambridge, Mass.

Congratulations, Class of 2021! You have endured the most difficult year with grace, humility, and patience. Over the past year, you’ve developed skills to persevere and thrive. These new skills, along with the resiliency you’ve demonstrated, will take you far in the next chapters of your lives and careers. As you begin embarking on your next journey, it’s important to sit in this moment and celebrate everything you have achieved and overcome this year. This is your moment to cherish. It is also a moment of reflection.

This year has taught us many important lessons. While I hope you carry all of these lessons with you moving forward, there are a certain few that are critical to navigating the world you are entering.

First, go together and lean on one another. One of the hardest lessons to learn for many people, myself included for a long time, is that you don’t have to do the work alone. That can mean many things: It can mean keeping your community close, being part of a larger network, and collaborating with others to achieve personal and professional goals. I couldn’t have pursued my dreams alone. I was lucky to have family, chosen family, and a wider community supporting me during each step as I maneuvered through high school and eventually law school. Now, asking for help and working across departments and sectors has helped me during my time as mayor. For all the things I wanted to achieve during my first term as mayor, my team at the City of Cambridge helped create pathways for those passions to come to life. You, too, haven’t walked this path alone — you’ve relied on your classmates, advisors, professors, and perhaps family to get to this point. Recognize these contributions and know your continued success will require you to continue maintaining those relationships, building new ones, and leaning on others.

Second, follow your passions and keep equity in mind. Your class is full of graduates completing their time at Harvard with degrees in a variety of concentrations, including Computer Science; Art, Film, and Visual Studies; African and African American Studies; Economics; and so many more. I want you to remember the reasons you chose your concentration and invest your hard work into careers and opportunities that further that passion. While you are doing this, take note of who is not at the table, and utilize your skills and privilege to continue to promote equity in the workplace and in everyday life. You’ve earned a seat at the table, and I hope you use your new positions of power in advocating for additional seats for our most marginalized community members.

Lastly, be civically involved. Over this past year, you’ve witnessed both a public health crisis and racial equity crisis unfold together and separately. In both instances, you’ve gained a deeper understanding of the many inequities that permeate the world around us — in our schools, workplaces, streets, and healthcare systems. You mustn’t turn away. You’ve worked hard to develop your mind and get a degree from a prestigious university. Please use both to stay civically engaged and show up for your neighbors in need or stand up to injustice. Use the voice and mind you’ve developed over the past four years to advocate for others in your community.

I wish I could say you’ve done the hardest part, but the hard work is just beginning. I hope you take the time to celebrate this moment and be proud of your amazing accomplishment. Tomorrow is a new day to put your passions into motion, and to be an advocate for equity. Congratulations again, Class of 2021 — I am proud of you and look forward to seeing what you do next!

Sumbul Siddiqui is the mayor of Cambridge, Mass.

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Op EdsCommencement 2021