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I was supposed to give the commencement address at Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, La., this month – until the coronavirus pandemic forced the postponement of graduation ceremonies at universities, colleges and high schools around the nation.
This was a special occasion for me because my niece, Brianna Francis Golden, was in the graduating class. She is now the first law school graduate in the Brazile family – and graduated cum laude!
Well, the coronavirus won’t stop me from sharing my message with new graduates – not just at Southern University, but with every graduate reading these words. So here is my commencement address for all college and university graduates who had no commencement ceremonies of their own this year.
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Dear Class of 2020:
Let me begin by saying how much I am impressed with you.
I am impressed because you are graduating. That’s no mean feat in the best of times. This is also a remarkable occasion because you are the first generation of university graduates who have already made history – you are the first to graduate virtually.
You already have “a first” to tell your future grandchildren.
And you are graduating after surmounting obstacles that haven’t been faced by young people entering this society in many generations. You are beginning your adult lives after already having accomplished something impressive just by getting this far.
If you begin to wonder if things will ever get back to normal, remember this: Not only do “all good things come to an end,” so do “all bad things come to an end.”
It’s been over a century since our world has seen a pandemic on this scale – longer than living memory for almost all of us. The 1918 flu pandemic ended in the spring of 1919, in a world much less equipped to deal with the challenges the disease posed.
This current pandemic will also end, more from our own efforts than from the vicissitudes of nature.
Not every generation experiences a pandemic. Not every generation is as rudely tossed into the tides of history as your young generation already has been. It’s a challenge. But rising to that challenge is not simply a necessity – it’s also an opportunity.
My ancestors survived American slavery. My grandparents experienced the 1918 flu pandemic. My parents were born during the Great Depression, grew up during World War II, and graduated into the Korean War.
They call the generation that grew up during the Depression and fought the Second World War the “Greatest Generation.” Like you, their path to adulthood was littered with obstacles. But their success in dealing with those obstacles shaped them and benefited all subsequent generations. And they earned the gratitude and admiration of all who have followed.
Most of you were born during the presidencies of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. The first president you remember much about is likely Barack Obama. And because the universe likes variety, you are graduating when Donald Trump is president. You’ve already experienced the entire gamut of presidents!
Who knows what other twists life has in store for us. But whatever comes our way, we’re equipped to survive and thrive.
Consider this: we are all here today because some relatives survived the 1918 flu pandemic and found each other. They had children who persevered and triumphed. And they in turn raised another generation that fought to make the world we were handed a better place for all of us to live.
Now it’s your turn to take the torch. I know you will make your own descendants admire and revere you as much as we admire and revere those who have come before us.
So what is it that I can say that you will want to take with you today? It is this: Regardless of how unique the novel coronavirus pandemic is, you have a place in this world and God has a purpose for you. That purpose may be a once-in-a-generation responsibility, or it may be to serve where you are living, as supportive spouses, parents, friends, good neighbors and good citizens.
Whatever purpose there is for you, you’re up to it! You’re up to it because you’ve not only acquired knowledge at a good institution of higher learning. You’re up to it because you’ve passed tests of your courage, your endurance, your resourcefulness and your persistence. The fact that you’re here today, graduating, is evidence you’re ready and able to confidently enter into life.
Take time to pursue your goals. Do not be a bystander. Be a participant in – and a shaper of – history. Most importantly, the history of helping to meet the current challenges of your generation.
Here is my challenge to you: Go beyond yourself. Seek to be of service every single day. Look for the goodness around you; express kindness in the small acts you can do. If you see a lack of love, then how much more important it is for you to be a small, steady light of love in this world.
Measure yourself soberly, in humility, yet with a quiet confidence. By whatever name we give the presence of good in this world – know that you have the ability to do great things.
Go beyond the ordinary.
You are not where you are by accident of time and birth. You are exactly where the universe intends you to be. Take it one day at a time. Know that you are an agent of change and a manifestation of love that others can depend on.
Do not despair of graduating into a world of dangers. This has always been a dangerous world. The cave dwellers daily experienced wild animals that saw them as lunch, and came down with illnesses they didn’t understand and couldn’t treat, much less prevent or cure.
Rather than feel a victim, believe that you are born to serve at a time when you have a vital role to undertake and an opportunity to make a difference.
“In all things be thankful,” says scripture. It doesn’t say: “For all things be thankful.” When you are most discouraged, think about what you can be thankful for. The Almighty, who is still in charge of this universe, wants you to be grateful because gratitude helps you.
Gratitude lifts the spirit, soothes the strain of struggle and replenishes your energy.
We are meant to struggle in this world. Take hold of hope and faith. They are gifts that allow us to keep going and to accomplish the seemingly impossible.
How fortunate you are to be where you are now, just when the world most needs you. Those of us who have graduated prior to this day have your back – and you have our support.
Just be yourself. That’s all you have to do because you, like the Greatest Generation, have a rendezvous with destiny. Believe that you will be the difference we need in the future.
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Alif. Lam. Mim.This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah;Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them;And who believe in the Revelation sent to thee, and sent before thy time, and (in their hearts) have the assurance of the Hereafter (The Cow 1-4 )