COVID-19 takes center stage during “Mythbusters” Adam Savage’s commencement address

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Adam Savage, star of “Mythbusters” – a popular discovery channel television program during the better part of the 2000s, took center stage during Rowan University’s virtual commencement ceremony honoring the graduating class of 2020. Savage’s message, however, went beyond the usual kumbaya’s and pomp and circumstance of a typical graduation.

In normal times, Savage’s remarks would have likely focused on the graduating class’s challenges leaving the comfort of university life as they embark on the beginning of their journey into the professional landscape. These are not normal times. Savage’s speech, although still geared towards the graduating class, seemed more like a plea to the world at large. The type of read-between-the-lines remarks that would have been fitting in a national interview about how the world, and country, is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is the lesson I have to give you about adulthood. None of us know anything for sure and we are all doing our best we can with incomplete information,” Savage said during his recorded remarks. 

Savage, not unlike many experts predicting a changing of the guard in the way the world operates, seemed to signal the end of business as usual. He wishes the best for the class of 2020 but likens their challenges to the struggles the entire world is encountering due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As Rilke put it, ‘The past has left you, but the future has not yet taken hold.’ The world itself is in a similar transitory place. We face actual mortal dangers that will affect all life. A past way of doing many things is gone and how things will be done in the future remains a bit of a mystery. Unlike your first-day-in-college, I’m not guessing you might be scared. I know you’re scared. Because we all are. Our future as a country, as a culture, as a planet and as a species is unknown, and at this moment unknowable.”

Savage’s vulnerability in this moment was refreshing. With so many individuals stuck in their houses over the last two months, unable to see the suffering around us, it can cause a numbing effect. We all want to go outside, see our friends and support local businesses, but how do we return to life as we knew it? Is it a simple flip of the switch?

“The question facing every single human being is the same question facing you graduates today: ‘how do we face a future with incomplete information, uncertain outcomes and dangers seen and unseen? How do we forge a proper path to the positive benefit of us all? We’ve paused the machine that is the world, how do we get it started again?”

Savage is clearly aware of the battle being waged internally – within our own psyche’s – and externally, between groups protesting lock down orders and those content listening to the local safety ordinances, but sought to strike a conciliatory tone.

“Together, of course. We face it with a commitment to listening to each other’s experience and sharing ours when it’s useful. We face it by taking into account not just the world we experience, but by looking through each other’s eyes and seeing it through different perspectives.”

Savage also seemed to ask that we all take a step back from the outcomes we hope to see, and rather see life for how it is in this moment. He urges unity during this difficult time and hopes to remind us that despite our difficulties, we are doing the best we can.

“We face it by looking at the world with a critical eye and see not just how we wish it was, but how it truly is right now. We face it with curiosity. We are all doing the best that we can. We face this uncertain future collectively with love, hard work, passion, humor and a keen eye on those biases that prevent us from seeing the world clearly. Seeing clearly with your mind and your heart is truly the very next step.”

Savage ended his address on a positive note, continuing with his themes of unity, humanity’s inherent flaws and caring for each other, in order to build a better future.

“To the Rowan Class of 2020, lift your glass with me and here’s my toast: Know thyself. Love thyself. Love each other. Work together. Take the privilege of your education and pass on what you’ve learned. Listen carefully to each other. Be gentle. Remember that we are, all of us, flawed vessels and that we can achieve stunning and amazing things when we care and join forces together. Because that’s all we’re ever going to get.”

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