From the Past? Or the Now?

Monday, December 11, 2017

It was May of 1984 and I was receiving my Master's Degree in New York City, New York.  At the time, New York University was comprised of 14 Schools, Colleges, and Divisions - and the practice was to choose one student to represent all the graduates. I was chosen as the student to represent all.  Not realizing the magnitude of this honor - I remember talking to an NYU staff person who was involved in the planning and preparation for the school-wide ceremony.  As I understand it - it was the first time an African American student received such an incredible honor.  I will never forget my swagger into the graduation office - leaning back in the chair and nonchalantly saying, "So what are we talking about 200 - 300 graduates?"  After all, I'd also been the spokesperson for a Black student group - I had already spoken to a crowd of 200.  I knew I'd be good.  Until.  The staff member gave me a look of amused disdain and quietly said, "there is seating for 10,000 and standing room for an additional 2,000. Gulp.  I knew I had to give my speech careful thought.  But none of this would have caused me to bring my student address to your attention.  But!  As I read my 1984 words - Well... I encourage you to read... Tell me what you think...

As I share portions of my 1984 speech with you now, I believe you too will share my tears, my anger, and my resolve:

Excerpts from My New York University Commencement - May 24, 1984  
by Pamela Brewer

Education is one of those amorphous entities people hear a lot about and think little of - when it is considered, it is often viewed simply as a means to an end.  I would like to suggest that education is not a means to an end, rather, it is the means to a beginning. ... The greatest gift we can ever offer ourselves is the recognition that there is more to learn. It is important to remember that regardless of the fields we have chosen, we are in the business of communicating to others.  We must take care to communicate knowledge, concern and caring.  We must guard against communicating the ignorance that comes from stilted and biased thinking.  The greatest disservice we can do ourselves, our professions and our country is to allow our own individual biases to close our minds and our hearts.  Remember too, that the media impacts heavily on the lives of those we serve.  whether our clientele comes to us for legal advice, psychotherapy, surgery or a dance class - the nature of their request is impacted upon by the media.  It is always important to look beyond the immediate need of the individual to how their environment, society, and the world at large have impacted on them and molded who they are.  ... We are living in difficult times.  We are living in a world deadened by racism, violence, discrimination, and greed.  We are living in times when the numbers of unemployed have substantially increased, the numbers of homeless have substantially increased, the numbers of poor people have substantially increased. ... 
In a time when there is so much banter about reverse discrimination, the poor, minorities and women continue to be oppressed. In some ways, more than ever before. ...
We are living in a time when our government officials are giving us a painful double message. On the one hand, we hear increased lip service to resolving the problems affecting this country. But on the other hand, our government is doing less than ever before to resolve the problems we, as Americans, face while aid to projects directly benefiting Americans are being chopped to the core, defense spending in foreign aid, often to racist oppressive countries has reached astronomical proportions. The care of society does not rest only with the social workers, religious leaders and perhaps the nice old lady or man who lives across the street. The care of society is the responsibility of each of us here today and the millions who are not. We must all rise to meet the challenge. But meeting the challenge means more than giving lip service to equal rights or civil rights or employment for all. Meeting the challenge means more than donating a few dollars to an agency or cause, or sending a few clothes to a nonprofit organization. 
Meeting the challenge of this nation begins with meeting the challenge of ourselves. ... To survive in this country today is to be educated, astute, analytical, sometimes daring, all the time innovative and all the time political. Gone are the times when we could choose to ignore our politicians or our country’s politics. Gone are the times when we could complacently sit by and let the world revolve around us. The stakes are too high. The stakes are our lives, the lives of our parents, the lives of our children.
To every person here today I say that you must be political. The newspaper you buy is a political act, the television program you watch is a political act. The schools you attend, the parties you go to, the books you read are political acts. ...  Teach those who would listen. Share with those who come to you. We can all work together to better ourselves, our lives and the lives of those most dear to us. But we must work together, we must share the burden. In so doing we eliminate the burden.

I say we must actively take our futures and make something of them. The time is now. The beginning is now." 

So what do you think?  I'd love to hear from you