May Commencement

The function of Indiana University

Dear IU Student, Colleague or Friend of the University,

I write to you today at the conclusion of a memorable period of spring commencement ceremonies at all of Indiana University's campuses across the state.

The much-anticipated return of IU's in-person commencement ceremonies gave us the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of thousands of IU graduates who also have the special distinction of being among the first graduates to carry the university's legacy forward into its third century. Last week, we were pleased to honor members of both the Classes of 2020 and 2021, whose final chapters at IU were quite different from the traditional IU experience. Nevertheless, despite the enormous challenges and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, our newest alumni remained dedicated to their studies and steadfast in adjusting to all the public health measures needed to help fight the pandemic. And they did so with a combination of courage, resilience and unwavering concern for others, as IU Bloomington Provost Lauren Robel described so brilliantly in her spring commencement speech.  

All of us are enormously proud of how seriously and diligently these graduates responded to all that was required of them. Their efforts were absolutely vital to keeping the university functioning with some sense of normalcy in spite of all that we have had to endure together.

Over the course of nine days, we held graduation ceremonies at each of our seven campuses and awarded 21,145 degrees — once again, by far, the largest number of degrees awarded by any college or university in Indiana. They, in turn, were part of a new record class of 24,200 for the whole of the 2020-21 academic year.

IU Bloomington undergraduate commencement at Memorial Stadium on May 8, 2021. Photo by Chaz Mottinger, Indiana University

Collectively, IU's Class of 2021 hailed from all 92 Indiana counties, all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and 143 countries. Nearly 7 out of every 10 of our May 2021 graduates, who ranged in age from 17 to 74 years old, were residents of Indiana, well over half were women, and over one in five were first-generation college students.

A quarter of the domestic class were underrepresented students of color, which reflects a major and intentional successful increase in the diversity of IU’s student body over the past decade. Across all of our campuses, more than 50,000 IU degrees have been earned by students of color in the past 14 years.

Our core IU Bloomington and IUPUI campuses awarded more than 17,000 IU degrees between them, with IUPUI seeing a record number of graduates. University-wide, we set a record for the number of more than 4,500 master’s degree recipients.

Our regional campuses — IU East, IU Kokomo, IU Northwest, IU Southeast and IU South Bend —conferred a total of 4,070 degrees, further demonstrating the great importance of these campuses to their regions in the state. Indeed, IU's regional campuses continue to firmly position themselves as an affordable and first choice for Hoosier students who are seeking quality degrees in a setting that is close to home and that provides both flexibility and the resources of a major public research university.

As I have said on many occasions, the prepared, thoughtful and qualified students who graduate from IU each year reflect our university's commitment to both preparing our students for personally and professionally rewarding careers and to fulfilling the critical needs of our state's leading employers.

To all of our graduates and to our students who will be returning in the fall: Certainly, one reason you came to IU was to earn a world-class education and to pursue innovative degrees — many of which did not even exist a few years ago. These degrees are highly relevant to today's information-based global society and apply to some of the most important issues facing our state and the world.

But you will leave IU with so much more.

A graduate celebrates as she walks across the stage during the Indiana University Northwest commencement in the Savannah Center parking lot on May 13, 2021. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

As I described in my undergraduate commencement address, in which I quoted the great civil rights activist, historian and author W.E.B. Dubois, you will leave IU with broad knowledge, wisdom, powers of logic and reason, and cultural understanding to help find solutions to some of society's most difficult, demanding and pressing challenges. Many of you have already helped improve the quality of life for citizens of this country and the world during your time as IU students.

This is the function of Indiana University, and the urgency of our mission.

COVID-19 brings new urgency to the need to improve global public health, prepare for future pandemics and conquer disease.

A highly divisive political environment, at home and abroad, spotlights the pressing urgency of peaceful conflict resolution.

The racism, bigotry, intolerance and hatred that too many members of our society — especially people of color — are forced to confront on a daily basis give new urgency to creating communities where differences of all kinds are respected, valued and protected.

And the need to address countless other challenges — including responding to the effects of climate change, alleviating poverty and building prosperity — grows more urgent with each passing day.

We can all take pride in knowing that IU's students will leave the university with the ability to grasp and understand problems that exist no matter where they find themselves, to use the wisdom and skill they have gained to devise the best solutions, and to summon the courage to respond when they are called upon to advance the common good.

Finally, Sunday's commencement at IUPUI was the 136th and final IU Commencement over which I will preside as IU president. The opportunity to preside over each of these milestone events — at which a total of over 300,000 students have graduated over the past 14 years — has been an enormous honor and privilege.

I will not soon forget the wide smiles on our graduates' faces — especially those of them who, like me, were first-generation students — as they reflected upon all they have accomplished during their time at IU, thanked those who had supported them along their educational journeys, and eagerly looked forward to the next stages of their lives.

The pride they have inspired in all of those around them is immeasurable.

With my sincerest respect and gratitude for all that you do for IU,

Michael A. McRobbie