Austin College graduate Ruth Whiteside talked about the ways the college graduates could be heroes during her address before the senior class of the AC Sunday. Whiteside, class of 1964, served 35 years in the U.S. State Department before retiring in 2013.

She said the upside of living in today’s political environment is that the graduating class has an opportunity to make an impact on the things they find important.

“The upside of all this messiness is that, Class of 2019, there are so many ways in which you will be heroes! You are just the folks to take on that good work,” a news release from Austin College quoted the commencement speaker who referenced ugly partisanship, a frequent lack of civility among politicians, lack of environmental protections, economic inequality, an inhumane immigration system, and challenges, domestically and internationally to democracy in her speech. “At some point in 2019, Millennials will overtake Baby Boomers as the largest group in our nation’s population. Your generation will have extraordinary opportunities to shape the future. Just as decisions in your personal and professional lives will shape your own destiny, the collective decisions your generation makes will shape the future of our nation, our role in the world, and above all, the fate of our planet. It is an awesome challenge, but one I know you will embrace.”

Whiteside’s advice to the 270 bachelor of arts and 19 master of arts candidates was be gracious always.

“As best you can, let a spirit of gratitude be your pole star—and don’t let the sun go down today without thanking those most responsible for your Austin College education,” the release quoted the speech. “Hold fast to the friends and the relationships you have built here, and build strong communities wherever you are; take a weekly sabbatical from all your digital devices to help tune out the noise and keep yourself centered. Find a way to serve wherever you are and live with generosity of spirit and resources. Class of 2019, go forward now with boldness and courage, thankful for the road you have traveled; always hopeful for the road ahead—and God bless you on your way.”

Also speaking at the ceremony was senior Clarissa Caballero Pinedo, who like Whitehead was the president of her class.

“I want us to remember that only 6.7% of the global population has earned a college degree,” the release by the school quoted Caballero Pinedo. She also reminded the students of their responsibility to better the world while talking about shared experiences, memories, accomplishments, hopes for the future, lessons learned and obstacles overcome.

Closing the 170th year of the college, honorary degrees were presented. Whiteside received an honorary doctor of humane laws degree and the Rev. John Wurster, of Houston, who presented the baccalaureate sermon, received an honorary doctor of divinity degree.