Cydney Gardner-Brown: 2021 Ford School Commencement

May 1, 2021 0:06:33
Kaltura Video

Cydney Gardner-Brown, student speaker elected by the BA class of 2021, speaks during the 2021 Ford School Commencement. 


Hello to the Ford School faculty, family,
friends, and of course the Gerald R. Ford

School of Public Policy graduating Class of
2021. My name is Cydney Gardner-Brown and

today, I am graduating with all of you into
the unknown. All of our lives, we’ve been

taught and trained to be amazing academics,
and thinkers, and dancers, and future lawyers

and activists. Most importantly though, we’ve
been trained to be planners. Let me tell

you about my plans for my college career and
I’m sure plenty of you can relate. I’d

come to Michigan in 2017 to study biology. I'd
make the cheer team, obtain a 4.0 GPA, have

an amazing, full 4 years on campus, and then, when
it was time, on May 1st, 2021 (which at the

time seemed like eons away), I’d sit in
the big house with my friends and

my family cheering me on, as
I graduated proud and fulfilled. Well, many

of those things did not happen that way. It
wasn't in my plan 4 years ago to switch gears

and study public policy. I didn’t make the
cheer team...which makes sense because

I had no prior gymnastics 
or cheerleading experience 

before I tried out. I didn’t plan to complete

my entire senior year through zoom calls at
home in Detroit. And the worst part is that,

after 4 years of looking 
forward to this day on campus, 

in the big house, we’re graduating through

a screen. As good at planning as we thought
we were, none of us could have planned or

predicted how this year would unfold. The
reality is that we've all been trying to

predict a future full of infinite
possibilities that are impossible to plan

for. The implications of this fact can be
scary, sometimes I’m scared too. How can

we be sure that things will go well if we
can’t plan our every move? Well, we can’t be

sure. As David Levithan said in The Lover’s
Dictionary, “The mistake is thinking that

we can find an antidote to the uncertainty.  

Yeah, pretty grim. But there 
is an upside to all this. If

the only thing we can predict is that life
will keep being unpredictable, maybe we should

focus less on some predetermined destination
and live more fully in the journey.

As Rilke wrote: “Try to love the 
questions themselves. Do not now

seek the answers, which cannot be given you
because you would not be able to live them.

The point is, to live everything. Live
the questions now." So I ask all of you today:

Can we find solace in the not knowing? Can
we live the question? I think we can. I think

we already have. Last summer, we
saw what it looked like when we, individually  

and as a collective, were confronted with a new 
awareness of an old reality. In the context of  

rising understanding around police brutality, 
the cruelty of the prison industrial complex,  

and the unveiling of the condition of 
systemic oppression, we asked ourselves  

hard questions about our complicity, about 
our privilege, and about our responsibility.  

And we didn't just ask ourselves those questions, 
we lived them. In the midst of a global pandemic,  

people across identities found 
amazing and creative ways to organize,  

fundraise, and come together however they 
could. Nobody planned on any of that. But,  

guided by important questions we improvised 
to make important and necessary change.

That is but one of many examples 
of what it looks like when 

we leaned into a moment that felt unbearable

and unpredictable and hard. We’ve done it.
You’ve done it. I like the way that UM alum

and Detroit Native Gilda Radner put it: "I
wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned,

the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme,
and some stories don't have a clear beginning,

middle, and end. Life is about not knowing. 
Taking the moment, having to change, and making

the best of it, without knowing what's going
to happen next."  

So my charge for all of you today,

as we embark on this life, as you all
matriculate through law school, or Washington

DC, or a consulting firm, or home, or a masters
program across the Atlantic: Release the chokehold

you have on the destination. Let your values, 

your curiosities, your passions, let 
them guide you. Live the question.

It may not take you where you thought you
were headed. But  

it's gonna take you exactly where you 
need to go. Good luck and Go Blue.