When actor Viola Davi delivered the keynote address to the Class of 2019 at Barnard’s 127th Commencement, it was characteristic of her wit, charm and compassion. She started the speech with, “President Beilock, distinguished faculty, alumnae, family, friends, the 657 or so sisters in the audience, graduating class. I’m going to make it plain: “History is not the past. It is the present. We carry history with us. We are our history.”
“Your existence is an amalgamation of every triumph, every hard-won battle, every woman who had an idea and massaged it, and had the courage to use it to change the world. Every person who survived slavery, Jim Crow and the black codes, to the Trail of Tears, wars…and passed their dreams on to you—of love, of hate. Yup, you are also the product of the other: Of silence, of apathy, a school built on stolen ground. Of women, a parent, grandparent, ancestor who suppressed dreams and ideas, who died with lost potential and horrific memories of sexual assault, mental illness, who didn’t feel good enough, or pretty enough or ENOUGH. Even your anxiety is part of your history…and yet here you are. Privileged, blessed…to do…what?” she continued.
She went on to chart the two paths which exist, “The choice to think that your path is all about you and your success, how high you can climb in your career and your status. Or, the so-called “save the world” approach,” and gives a third approach.
“How about this as a novel idea: How about owning it? Owning ALL of it—the good and the bad…Own every heroic deed, great idea. Own the mission statement of THIS school. Own all of your memories and experiences, even if they were traumatic. Own it! Own IT! The world is broken because we’re broken. There are too many of us who want to forget. Who said that all of who you are has to be good? All of who you are is who you are. It hurts, you rage, battle it out, ask, “Why?” Then you forgive, reconcile and use your heart, your courage and vision to fix, to heal and then, ultimately, to connect, to empathise. And that empathy creates a passion for people and it all is the fuel of the warrior—a brave, experienced soldier or fighter.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines