Standing before thousands gathered in the academic quad at Tufts University on a sunny spring morning Sunday, commencement speaker Claude M. Steele told graduates to find what they have a passion for and pursue it.
"Begin the journey of life, above all, trusting what you care about in life," Steele said. "Think hard, always think hard, but don't worry too much about figuring out a precise strategy, a step-by-step plan, instead cultivate a faith, a specific faith that, by-and-large, doing the best you possibly can at what you value doing will bring you the chances and opportunities you need."
Steele is the Dean of the School of Education at Stanford University, and is best known for his research into stereotype threat, or the anxiety and fear that comes from potentially confirming a negative stereotype.
Steele recalled one study that found subjects eased their mindset and more freely discussed stereotype threat situations when it was presented to them as an education experience, rather than a decision that had a correct response.
"Try to avoid defensiveness, as temping as it is," he said. "Rather, lean in, and let in; try to let in what you don't know you don't know, make learning your go-to mindset under threat and it can set you free."
Four honorary degrees were handed out Sunday.
Historian Philip Lampi, who created a database of early American voting records, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters.
Raymond R. Sackler, also received an honorary doctorate of humane letters. Sackler is a philanthropist who has helped fund theoretical and applied research in mathematics, physics and biomedicine, and endowed Tufts' Sackler School of Biomedical Sciences.
Ram Shrestha, a nutritionist who pioneered a program to distribute vitamin A capsules in his native Nepal, received an honorary doctorate of science.
Aso Tavitian, the co-founder and former CEO of technology company Syncsort who established the Armenian Program at Tufts' Flecher School, received an honorary doctorate of public service.
Lois Gibbs, an environmental activist who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, and helped establish superfund cleanup laws, received an honorary doctorate of public service. Gibbs's activism began when she learned her neighborhood in Niagara Falls, N.Y., was built on a toxic waste site.
"(Gibbs) stands as a model for what can happen if just one person takes a stand," Tufts President Anthony Monaco said.
About 3,000 students celebrated their graduation from Tufts Sunday, according to the university.
As he walked to his seat, Naum Patkin, a 21-year-old graduating with a degree in economics said he couldn't believe how quickly college went by.
"It's euphoric," he said. "It's crazy how fast time flies. It feels like I was done in a blink."
Jarret Bencks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @JarretBencks.