I heard a varied responses toward Julius L. Chambers’ graduation speech from UNC Chapel Hill this past month. The reports ranged from a “great history lesson” to “was that supposed to be advice to push me into the future much less the present.”
I didn’t hear the speech, but I did read excerpts. Kudos to the choice commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education with the Director of The Center of Civil Rights speaking at Kenan Stadium. However, with a graduation speech, shouldn’t a speech address people to push forward or to contemplate what’s going on now?
Now, I’m not saying that life in the Jim Crow days and during the oppressive times for blacks in the fifties and the sixties should be ignored. However, if the speech was to be a forum about civil rights, wouldn’t it be best to not just have a history lesson from the Director of The Center for Civil Rights, but to gain advice on how to react with race still segregating society today.
UNC is going to be right in the heart of a major segregation issue with the opening of the BCC away from the center of campus this fall semester. With a large portion of African-American students leaving “The Pit” and the central parts of campus to hang out at the new BCC, a question has to be addressed. The question is will this segregate the campus even more? It would have been great if Chambers could have guided a few faculty members, administration, and students on this subject instead of giving a history lesson guided by guilt.
In my opinion, I thought a great excerpt of a speech came from ‘Color of Purple’ author Toni Morrison, who addressed the student body at Wellesley. Here’s what she had to say:
“I’m sure you have been told that this is the best time of your life. It may be. But if it’s true that this is the best time of your life, then you have my condolences. Because you’ll want to remain here, stuck in these so-called best years, never maturing, wanting only to look, to feel and be theadolescent that whole idustries are devoted to forcing you to remain.
One more flawless article of clothing, one more elaborate toy, the truly perfect diet the harmless but necessary drug, the almost final elective surgery, the ultimate cosmetic all edsigned to maintain hunger for stasis. While children are being eroticized into adults, adults are being exoticized into eternal juvenilia…
There is nothing more satisfying, more gratifying than true adulthood….The process of becoming one is not inevitable. Its achievement is a difficult beauty, an intensely hard-won glory, which commercial forces and cultural vapidity should not be permitted to deprive you of…”
That’s pretty damn good, and it made me want to move my ass into the mix to start developing in life…Great work.
Here’s another great excerpt from Robert Redford’s speech at Bard College in Annondale-on-Hudson, NY…
“Years ago I had the advantage of making a film that dealt with Watergate. And I spent four years…because I thought it was important to illustrate investigative journalism. It had not been done on film yet, and I thought that was new territory to explore. I just happened to inherit a pretty great platform dramatically.
But it was also about how close we came to losing First Amendment rights. And now I realize that many of the systems of checks and balances that were in place then, now have been infected by everything from media consolidation, to greed, to limited ideologies and the worst of all, apathy.”
“People, People…We gotta get over before we go Under!” - James Brown