Congratulations MCPeeps, class of 2020!
We did it. Each of us had to contend with a lot to reach this important day, from housing challenges to health crises to the persistent existential questions that accompany the personal journey of grad school, plus wildfires, power outages, and a global pandemic. Gratitude is a powerful antidote to uncertainty, in order to both calm the mind and center the heart. I encourage each of you, right now, to take a moment to intentionally extend gratitude to yourself for making it here.
Like most, I came to graduate school hoping to learn hard skills and useful theory to make our cities more humane and equitable places, particularly for the people upon whose labor they are built. I hoped to become a better advocate by learning how to speak more effectively with people who share the overall goal to improve our cities but might differ on the strategy. While I knew school wouldn’t provide all the answers to solve gentrification or environmental racism or how to successfully transition away from a market-based housing system, I hoped it would provide me with the knowledge and resources to shape a meaningful career path.
Not surprising to anyone else, school didn’t solve my “what is my life purpose?” conundrum, but it actually provided something far more important and lasting: a space to foster meaningful relationships with you, my colleagues, and our professors and mentors. According to graduate students in other programs (a not-random sample of friends and acquaintances, though anecdotally significant!), it is incredibly rare to have such a thoughtful, mutually supportive, and creative cohort. Your brilliance pushed me to be rigorous in principle and practice, to question assumptions that were sometimes based on misleading data (who’s “the magician” now?!), and to ultimately become more comfortable with and even thrive within the contradictions we face daily.
In times of great unknown, when the state has massively failed us, when the earth responds to human-caused climate change in the only ways it can, when we are called to pay attention anew, it becomes clear as the Bay Area air quality recently: relationships are what will ultimately keep us safe, strong, and protected. No fancy degree, 10 year life plan, or perfect job can save us from the reality we and all humans must face. While differential access to resources and power continue to exacerbate structural inequities, it is now our job to work to redistribute those resources and better understand place-based concentrations of illness and harm. Whether we become official city planners in municipal governments or use our planning degree as a lens through which to conduct our work in any sector, we are people who love and agonize over and believe in cities, and in their potential to be far better for far more people.
Thank you for the time, labor, and heart you dedicated to our shared experience of graduate school.
With much gratitude,
Dalia Rubiano Yedidia
 For those of you for whom school revealed a clear career path – or for those who already knew – congrats! For the rest of us still trying to work it out, I’m with you