An African American blog of politics, culture, and social activism.
I was trying to imagine a commencement address I would give. Here’s what I came up with me with students and friends.
Graduates thank you for allowing me to distract your celebration for a very short, short, moment. I am so happy for you and your parents and loved ones. If your parents, grandparent, brothers or sisters or neighbors or caring soul supported you in earning your degree let’s all give them applause. Also turn to your classmates and give them loud applause too for surviving the academic hazing these past years. This is a joyous moment for everyone. And you should revel in this joy because tomorrow you will have to leave this mountaintop and go back into the valley where you will begin your journey anew.
A world full of challenges will await you and your life will be measured by how well you face and deal with the obstacles that accompany human existence. What you and you classmate will begin to do is set the legacy of your collective generation. Let me assure you this will not be easy.
You are already dealing with a tenuous moment in global economics. However, you are not alone, and you are not the only generation to graduate and find the economy not as genial or friendly as you hoped it to be. If any of you can recall any American history today, you will remember that there was once what was called the Long Depression in the 1890s, the Great Depression of the 1930s, the years of “stagflation” in the 1970s, and the de-industrializing recession of the early 1980s. In the world of global capitalism these are the ebbs and flows of our fortunes.
Vicious economic cycles come and go, but how well your ethical compass guide you during these trying times is what matters most. Did you go out to create a more equitable share of wealth through sound public policies and laws? In founding a business did you put in systems that paid your laborers fairly so that they can rear children? Will you put the breaks on your own individual avarice and take some of your profits and help to build your cities and towns through philanthropy, the arts, and other charitable endeavors?
You will be measured by how well you attempted to give back to those immediately around you and those who are afar. Did you try to educate children and give them your very best everyday? Did you go to a hearing at city hall to make sure a sustainable way of removing waste was planned and implemented? Did you make sure law enforcement worked in cooperation with all types of people and not simply racially profiling them? Did you organize and democratically protest to end political corruption and oppression both at home and abroad?
Your generation will be measured by how well it moves across boundaries and deals with conflicting interest globally. It is not enough to make hollow declarations of American democracy without attempting to understand the realities of our friends and foes alike. How will we work with the national aspirations of countries we know little about, but need to learn about for our well-being—Congo, Nigeria, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Zambia? How will we discuss exigencies of climate change and global warming so that each country can have economic growth to sustain its citizens? The conversation can only begin by shaking off ignorance and through the discipline of mind that learning has instilled in us to appreciate cultures and histories of others around our globe.
I hope the point of your education is not solely about your individual aspiration, but a beginning in gaining wisdom.
Confucius, according to record, says there are “three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. “
I hope your education has given you the power to reflect, which Confucius says is the noblest way to learn wisdom. I hope your reflections and reflective powers that you have learned in school helps you to empathize and see more clearly a world that is in need of all your creative attributes to make it better and more humane.
Enjoy this day you have reached a pinnacle. Enjoy the view on high. Party down with your friends and love ones. And when the party is over go out and make your name; make your generation’s name, and make the generations to come proud you existed on this earth.