Speakers at Emerson’s 139th Commencement Ceremony asked students to listen to others, speak their own truths, and live life with hope and compassion.
Here are some excerpts:
Commencement Speaker, Honorary Degree Recipient
When I sat where you sat, I wanted to know all the details. Will I have a career? Will I have a good job? Will I be passionate about that career? Will I be successful? Will I make money? Yes, yes, yes. But those are, I think, kind of the wrong questions.
A better question, I think, that will lead you to a great career and great passion and great success is, “What can I contribute?” Because I truly believe that’s what actually matters. And not everybody can say that their education has prepared them for making contributions, but you can.
So I don’t think you really need advice, except for: Don’t listen to stupid advice. But do seek out others’ stories, and really try to hear them. I think the media, at times, is not the best translator of others’ stories, and you can change that. Try to hear people, especially in this environment where we live in our information bubbles. Try to really listen.
I’ve tried to make a career out of that, and it has been rewarding, because I think when you really listen, then in turn, you can have an impact. And remember, as you calculate student loan debt, and maybe even starter home debt, your real debt as a human being is to other human beings.
[Y]ou are better prepared than others to repay that debt. Because I think it’s with facts and with data and with evidence and hard work that you can help us undergird the real stories that help us understand each other — our differences, for sure, our similarities. And those things are what make the world better.
Nupur Amin ‘19
BS, Communication Studies
Student Commencement Speaker
We are charging into the world saying, ‘Pause. Watch. Listen. Let our work show you that there is space in the world not just for the stories of the conventionally beautiful, of the educated, of the rich, the able-bodied, the cisgender, the white, the powerful, the Gryffindors. Let our work show you that there is space in the world for the stories of people of color, of immigrants, of every gender and every sexuality, of every economic background. Let our work show you why none of these are more or less than the other.’
We’ve learned by now that the world is quite eager to dictate our agenda if we let it. Now the world will learn that as Emersonians, we do not shrink ourselves for someone else’s comfort. We choose not to exist in spaces that don’t make room for everyone. We choose to challenge social constructs, pop culture, institutions, and even governments, instead of letting them decide the way we think and engage. Despite knowing the struggles that will come and the patience it will take, when there has been hurt around us, Emersonians have always stood up.
May we continue to stand up for our truths. May we always speak with fearless conviction. May we reclaim the spaces that we know belong to us. May we stride through the world always equipped with Band-Aids, chocolate, and resilience, ready to tend to every wound, no matter how slight or deep, so that the next time someone holds an atlas in their lap, it doesn’t feel quite so heavy. Wherever we stand, may we be the light of that place.
And may we never, ever again be within 50 yards of a Super Bowl parade.
President Lee Pelton
I want to introduce you to Sheldon Brown, Class of 2014, Emerson College Performing Arts major.
More than a year ago, Sheldon found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time – a moment that changed the course of his life. Others would have given up. Not Sheldon. He kept going. Others would have said, “I can’t.” Not Sheldon. He said, “I can.”
As a Chicago newspaper reported, on a late Saturday night, Sheldon was celebrating a friend’s birthday over midnight chocolate chip cookies in the city. And on his way home, a stranger … opened random fire, a bullet piercing his left buttock, tearing through his abdomen, fracturing one of his right pelvic bones, and finally lodging in his hip.
He said, “If I was made to stay here on this planet, then there’s some work I’ve got to do. Someone shot me and he looked just like me. And I don’t want to be the person that is living my life through vengeance and trying to say that there is a human being out there who is not a human being.
“Living in this world as a black man, it’s dangerous,” he said, “because you’re constantly living in a state of uncertainty. I want to be able to allow people to see us – and see us as human beings – and hear us and hear our voices. And that is the work I want to do, and that is the work I’ve been blessed to do so far since moving here to Chicago.”
Put another way, he said that he’s more concerned about the circumstances that pushed someone to disregard human life than an arrest. I’m telling you, it takes a big, brave, and a sympathetic heart to have said those words. To see the other, despite what had happened to him, as a human.
So to the graduating students, I want you to remember Sheldon, who is one of us, who is one of you, and I want you to remember what he stood for and why.
I want you to let idealism, resiliency, hope, and above all, compassion, be your guide in life. Put your trust in these, and everything else will take care of itself, wherever your profession or path in life may lead you.