While always true, it has been especially the case this past school year: Young people are at the center of political action nationwide. Students from Parkland, Florida, mobilized to stop gun violence. Graduate students marched to stop a potential tax hike that would increase the already debilitating cost of college. More than 1,000 students at Howard University staged a nine-day sit-in for better campus housing, tuition, and improved reporting on sexual violence—and succeeded.
Over the past month and into the next, commencement speakers provide words of advice for outgoing students. Not all commencement addresses feature sexist remarks, empty rhetoric from former government officials, or a racist demagogue—some really do acknowledge youth’s power and the urgency of this political moment. And some potential speakers have done so by refusing to speak at all: US Senator Kamala Harris and US Representative Ted Lieu both withdrew their addresses in solidarity with University of California workers.
The Nation collected excerpts from 10 speakers across the country who offered their advice and guidance in a world that needs to change to a generation with the passion, smarts, and will to bring it.
Chokwe Lumumba—Jackson State University, April 28
Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi
“It is a sobering reality that your degrees cannot shield you from injustice, but you hold the potential to change the world far beyond our wildest dreams. We must fight against a seemingly endless cycle of poverty and exploitation. We must demand no one be brutalized in the streets, the workplace or public spaces. As the nation turns its focus on high school shootings from coast to coast, I long for the day whereas black people we have as many rights as a gun does in this country.”
Ronan Farrow —Loyola Marymount University, May 5
New Yorker journalist recently awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his investigation into Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuses.
“In hindsight, it’s always clear whether or not your choices were the right one. In hindsight, you know whether it was right to stick to your guns or right to turn the other cheek. Whether it’s right not to give up on a story or right to give a little to get along and move on. Not necessarily because you’re cowardly, but because there are other stories and there is only so much you can do. But, in the moment, you don’t know any of that.”