Congratulations Archaeology Graduates!
According the traditional Cornell calendar, today should have been Commencement, a time for us to come together to celebrate the accomplishments of 2020’s distinguished class of students who have completed the requirements for the BA (major and minor) and MA degrees. Although our calendars have all been dramatically altered over the last few months, our pride in your academic achievements remains the same. Your Cornell experience has been so much richer than these last few months alone and cannot and should not be defined by crisis. Yet we also recognize the uncertainty of graduating at this unique historical moment. Nevertheless, there is great need for you in the world. Your archaeological point of view has much to offer our time of heightened existential anxiety. And it will be vital to the communities that we build after this moment is past us.
More than most other disciplines, students of archaeology are trained to be keen observers of human crises. The ruins and material remains that are our primary fascination provide powerful testimony to humanity’s prior calamities. As we struggle to face our most recent crisis, I want to call attention to three key skills nurtured by the archaeological training that you take away with you from Cornell. The first is a powerful depth of historical vision. Archaeologists understand how the human story has been fundamentally shaped by crises and our responses to them. It is impossible to imagine telling the story of our species without describing challenges faced and fateful decisions made. Your second skill is an eye attuned to the material world that surrounds and supports human communities. This includes artifacts and sites as well as the plants, animals, and, yes, the bacteria and viruses that constantly move amongst us, whether on the first Neolithic farms or the dense cities the followed the urban revolution. Lastly, archaeology does not simply document the rise and fall of human societies, it perceives the threads of resilience that link these episodes into a single global story. As you well know, there is much to be told on the other side of this crisis, when writers, thinkers, and highly trained archaeological sensibilities will be in great need as our communities search for new ways forward.
As this year’s degree recipients in archaeology, you have special insight into how today’s crisis and its coming resolution fit into the wider human story. Whatever pathway life, career, and family takes you from here, your archaeological skills will stay with you and shape your sense of the world. We miss sharing this day with you and your families to celebrate. But we look forward to hearing about your journey from here. Stay safe, be well, and please keep in touch.
Adam T. Smith