Former secretary of state and presidential candidate
“You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason.”
“People denying science; concocting elaborate, hurtful conspiracy theories about child-abuse rings operating out of pizza parlors; drumming up rampant fear about undocumented immigrants, Muslims, minorities, the poor; turning neighbor against neighbor and sowing division at a time when we desperately need unity.”
“Look at the budget that was just proposed in Washington. It is an attack of unimaginable cruelty on the most vulnerable among us, the youngest, the oldest, the poorest and hard-working people who need a little help to gain or hang on to a decent middle-class life. It grossly underfunds public education, mental health and efforts even to combat the opioid epidemic. And in reversing our commitment to fight climate change, it puts the future of our nation and our world at risk. And to top it off, it is shrouded in a trillion-dollar mathematical lie. Let’s call it what it is. It’s a con. They don’t even try to hide it.
“Why does all this matter? It matters because if our leaders lie about the problems we face, we’ll never solve them.”
University of California, Berkeley
“I am the American dream! What would’ve happened if I had arrived in the U.S. [from Iran] on Dec. 5, 1978, as a 6-year-old and been told that I wasn’t welcome? What kind of psychological damage would that have done to me and my family if we were put back on a plane and returned to a revolution we were fleeing? Imagine if your own parents or grandparents had experienced that when they first came to America. How would that have changed your destiny?”
“Notre Dame is a campus where deliberation is welcomed — where opposing views are debated and where every speaker, no matter how unpopular or unfashionable, is afforded the right to air their views in the open for all to hear. But Notre Dame is an exception — an island in a sea of conformity, so far spared from the noxious wave that seems to be rushing over much of academia.
“While this institution has maintained an atmosphere of civility and open debate, far too many campuses across America have become characterized by speech codes, safe zones, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness — all of which amounts to nothing less than suppression of the freedom of speech. These all-too-common practices are destructive of learning and the pursuit of knowledge. And they are wholly outside the American tradition.
“As you, our youth, are the future, and universities the bellwether of thought and culture, I would submit that the increasing intolerance and suppression of the time-honored tradition of free expression on our campuses jeopardizes the liberties of every American. This should not — and must not — be met with silence.”
Billie Jean King
Tennis champion and gay rights activist
“There are those who think life is a marathon. I don’t agree. I think life is a series of sprints. You get to start over and over and over again, always adapting to the long and winding road in front of you. Along the way, you’ll have failures. But if you choose to see these failures as feedback, it will help you plan your next step. When I used to play, a long time ago, that game of tennis, that sport of tennis: The ball would be coming to me. Each ball is a new opportunity. I have to make a decision so I have to take responsibility and I have to decide if I’m going to hit it. If I hit it and the ball goes wide, I take that information, I delete it from my computer in my brain, I enter that in my computer in my brain and I’m ready for the next shot. I get that same shot to make a correction. If you think of it as feedback, not failure, O.K.?”
Independent senator from Vermont
“We are seeing the results of how oligarchy functions right now in Congress, where the Republican leadership wants to throw 23 million people off of health insurance, cut Medicaid by over $800 billion, defund Planned Parenthood, cut food stamps and other nutrition programs by over $200 billion, cut Head Start and after-school programs, make drastic cuts in Pell grants and other programs that help make college more affordable. And, unbelievably, at exactly the same time, they want to provide the top 1 percent with $3 trillion in tax cuts. The very rich get much richer and they get huge tax cuts. The middle class shrinks and the poor struggle, and they will find it harder to get health care, housing, nutrition, education or clean water.
“The truth is that the only rational choice we have, the only real response we can make, is to stand up and fight back — reclaim American democracy and create a government that works for all of us, and not just the 1 percent.”
Author, “The Underground Railroad”
“Any good story has three parts. Act I, where we meet the protagonist and establish the rules of the world.”
“Then comes Act II — where the complications appear that set our heroine on her journey. These are the unexpected and unforeseen events that upend the rules of Act I.”
“Then we get to Act III, the synthesis of Act I and Act II. All the chaos of the middle section is brought to some kind of resolution. A new heroine is born out of her struggle.”
“Act III is everything. No matter the strength of the foundation, the assorted catastrophes of the Second Act, if we don’t have Act III, we’re really in trouble. Will the heroine pull it out in the end, or does she falter? Justice prevail, or the dull villainy of the world triumph? Here’s the problem of every storyteller — to make sense of the chaos, to gather all the plot strands into dramatic unity. To figure out the ending, no matter what the plot throws at you.”
“All those shifting, jostling yous, and all their lessons. The universe may seem like a lonely place sometimes, but there are as many yous as there are stars in the sky. Maybe one of them will step up at the right time and tell you what to make of it all.
“Congratulations again on finishing Act I. Welcome to the complications.”
Democratic representative from Georgia
“As a little boy about 8 or 9 years old, I wanted to be a minister. I wanted to preach the gospel. So, with help of my brothers and sisters and cousins, we would gather all of our chickens together in the chicken yard, like you are gathered here today, and we would have church.
“And I would start speaking or preaching, when I look back on it, some of these chickens would bow their heads. Some of these chickens would shake their heads.
“They never quite said amen, but I’m convinced that some of those chickens that I preached to during the ’40s and the ’50s tended to listen to me much better than some of my colleagues listen to me today in Congress. And some of those chickens were just a little more productive. At least they produced eggs.”
Donald J. Trump
“There will be times in your life you’ll want to quit. You’ll want to go home. You’ll want to go home to, perhaps, to that wonderful mother that’s sitting back there watching you and say, ‘Mom, I can’t do it.’ Just never quit.
“A small group of failed voices who think they know everything, and understand everyone, want to tell everybody else how to live and what to do and how to think. But you aren’t going to let other people tell you what you believe.
“Embrace that label. Being an outsider is fine.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“I grew up in Nigeria. Mine was a very happy childhood, but it was also a childhood under military dictatorships. Because of that, I know how easily injustice becomes normal. I know how quickly, in the face of sustained mediocrity, we collectively lower our standards so that unacceptable things suddenly become not so bad.
“This is not a perfect country. It is, in fact, not as hallowed as American nationalists like to think. But it was built on an idea that is humane, beautiful and very much worth perfecting. What America will become is now in the hands of your generation. You cannot be complacent, you cannot afford to become complacent because democracy is always fragile.”
Catholic University of America
Wall Street Journal columnist
“What I’m really saying is that almost everyone involved in politics or covering politics now is getting dumber. They’re getting lost in a sea of dumb. They may drown in it. You must help them — they need you to help them, to be better than that, to set an example.”
“People in politics now are getting what they know through the internet, through Google searches and Wikipedia. These can give you a certain sense of things but are by nature quick, lifeless and shallow reads that link to other quick, dry and shallow reads that everyone else has also read.”
“It all becomes a big lying loop. Or at least a big, unnourishing, inadequate one.”
Talk show host, actor and producer
“If you live long enough, there’s going to be a trial in your life. It may be disease, it may be jobs, it may be any number of crises that stand outside yourself to try to tell you who you are. And it is your job to know the truth and let that truth set you free.”
School of Visual Arts
Feminist and journalist
“There’s so much to be learned if you go beyond your boundaries, and now is the time we need to blast those boundaries. Now is a time of division.”
“We are in a time, in my mind, of maximum change. On the one hand, great danger — and I am not for a moment diminishing how great that danger is — and on the other hand, we are woke.”
“Each of you will be called to embody courage in different ways and to rise to different challenges. The way you answer those calls will determine not just the future of you and your homes, but of your communities, this great nation and your world.”
“We must first listen, then speak — with humility — to genuinely hear the perspectives of those with whom we don’t immediately or instinctively agree.”
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