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1988 Alternative Graduation Address

1988 Alternative Graduation Address image
Parent Issue
Month
June
Year
1988
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By
Agenda Publications
OCR Text

And to the graduates I want to say this: you are at a pivotal juncture. Many people view their political activism as a college experience to be put neatly away in a scrapbook after graduation. But I urge you, and I know you know this, don't leave your idealism on the steps of the Gradúate Library or at Regents Plaza. You've made sacrifices this year and have grown so much - but after college it won't be easy to hold on to your values. It will become more difficult with each passing year. On April 30, as the University of Michigan was awarding an honorary degree to Jeane Kirkpatrick at "official" University commencement exercises, an alternative graduation ceremony was being held across campus. At this ceremony, civil and human rights activist Prexy Nesbitt was awarded an honorary degree by student activists. Barbara Ransby, regular AGENDA feature writer and member of the United Coalition Against Racism (UCAR), delivered the following commencement address. I just wanted to begin by saying a little bit I about why we're here today and what this I ceremony is all about. We're here to celeB fl brate the values and struggles that have ■■H been a part of our lives for the past few years; we're here to pay tribute to some very special parents; we're here to honor and thank a group of graduating activists who have worked and sacrificed to make this University a better place. And finally, we're here to give our own honorary degree to someone very special to us, who embodies the ideáis we have striven to emulate. It is actually quite appropriate that there are two commencement ceremonies being held today; our ceremony, which will honor a man who has dedicated his entire life to making the world a safer, more humane place and, conversely, the University's "official" ceremony which will honor former U.N. Ambasssador Jeane Kirkpatrick, one of the most callous proponents of the Reagan Administration's policies of economie violence at home and military aggression abroad. These two ceremonies reflect the dual values that are competing for dominance. You see, most of us here have a very different visión of what this University is and ought to be about, than that of the people who actually run it. We feel the University ought to live up to the democratie principies its faculty espouses in the classroom. If real democracy is one of the institution's ideáis, then it must itself opérate in an open and democratie and humane manner. It does not. If the University condemns racism and discrimination in its words, it must also do so in its deeds, its policies, its very structure. It does not. We see serious contradictions between principies and practice when the Dean of our largest college explicitly states his desire to limit the number of Blacks who are given access to the University. We see serious contradictions when we hear members of the Board of Regents openly malign our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. We see seriously warped priorities when the University subsidizes weapons research, and at the same time working class students are shut out of the University because of cutbacks in financial aid. Moreover, we feel that if the University really wants to teach young people about the world, it cannot shelter them from it. Most colleges are tucked away in safe, secluded havens, with lovely landscape and architecture, where young people can ponder the meaning of life - at the same time sheltered from what life is all about. But the student activists on this campus and elsewhere have taken up the challenge to break down the barriers between life and knowledge, between abstract ideáis and the real world they intersect with. They have taken up the challenge to not only understand the world they live in, but to strive to change it. But what kind of people are these young people who have taken on, in their small ways, this very big challenge? One of my favorite quotes is "While we recognize the beauty of the waves, let's not forget the power of the ocean." This quote is referring to the importance of collective action, grassroots struggles, and group-centered leadership - some of the principies upon which UCAR is based. At the same time, however, it is important to remember that individuals make up that ocean and we must recognize exactly what kind of people they are. At this point I think it is apppropriate to recognize the many parents who are here today. I would like to thank you parents for the tremendous gift you have given us. I have come to know many of your children very well over the past years, and these are some of the strongest, most caring and humane young people I've known - and much of the credit must go to you. You may not have given them their analysis of the Middle East or Central America. You may not have given them their critique of Apartheid. You may not have helped them understand dialectica] materialism or the mixed economy in Nicaragua. But you gave them their values, their courage, their confidence, their integrity. And they are the "Best and Brightest." They are critical thinkers - not passive receptacles. It is their hearts that bleed at the sight of children dying in Soweto or Ramallah. It is their eyes that look poverty and economie violence in the face, when others turn their backs. It is they who speak out against racism, sexism and homophobia when others sit silent. And it is people like them who will make this world a better place for all of us. I don't know what you all did right, but I have a fouryear oíd son and I hope he develops half the character, courage and decency that your children have. You know, many folks from a distance don't realize the kind of sacrifices that they have made for their beliefs. They have forfeited football games to make banners to edúcate others on racism. They have missed parties to go on dorm tours to talk about peace. They have sat in dusty rooms for long hours debating politics, strategy and tactics; grappling with complex issues and striving to do the right thing. Some even sacrificed the almighty "A" for an " A-" in order to particípate in a rally against some form of discrimination or injustice. Compared to Hfe and death struggles around the world, these sacrifïces might seem small, but are nevertheless important. These young activists are people too priceless to ever be bought. And to the graduates I want to say this: you are at a pivotal juncture. Many people view their politica! activism as a college experience to be put neatly away in a scrapbook after graduation. But I urge you, and I know you know this, don't leave your idealism on the steps of the Gradúate Library or at Regents Plaza. You've made sacrifïces this year and have grown so much - but after college it won't be easy to hold on to your values. It will become more diffïcult with each passing year. I know from my own experience that it is difficult everyday. Sometimes I look at my son Jason when he asks, "Do you have to go to another meeting, Mommy?" and I ask myself, "What am I doing? Is my political work more important than my parenting?" And in my more rational moments my answer is that the two are not in contradiction. We owe our children not only diapers and warm hugs, but we also owe them a better society than the one we inherited. So I urge you, don't let this world change you, but believe that the world belongs to people like you much more than it does to people like Ronald Reagan and Jeane Kirkpatrick. Don't accept society as it is and resign yourself to it, but force it to change. Mold it into the kind of world you dream of. That's the best tribute you can pay to your parents and the best gift you can give to the next generation of fighters. Thank you, good luck, and I love you all dearly.