National News

'I Urge You Always to Bend Toward Truth’

Posted June 19, 2018 7:32 p.m. EDT

The diplomas are printed, the mortar boards are decorated, and students across the United States are getting ready to step into the real world. But before they do, the class of 2018 must sit in an auditorium or on folding chairs under the blazing sun and listen to some words of inspiration from a commencement speaker.

Some of the speeches are funny. Others are serious. Most attempt to offer pearls of wisdom about the times we live in. With students and young people leading the fight on issues ranging from gun violence to immigration and women’s rights, this year’s speeches invoked social justice, the #MeToo movement and active engagement in democracy.

Oprah Winfrey

Media mogul, at the University of Southern California.

“And remember that your job is not who you are: It’s just what you’re doing on the way to who you will become. Every remedial chore, every boss who takes credit for your ideas — that is going to happen — look for the lessons. Because the lessons are always there.

“And the No. 1 lesson I can offer you where your work is concerned is this: Become so skilled, so vigilant, so flat-out fantastic at what you do that your talent cannot be dismissed.”

Mike Pence

Vice president, at Hillsdale College.

“And while, in some places, deeply held religious belief is becoming more rare, leading some to claim that America’s rich faith tradition will soon be a relic of our nation’s past, it just isn’t so. Facts are facts. Faith is rising across America; I see it every day. In communities large and small, in the way Americans respond in good times and in great hardship, the faith of the American people shines forth.”

Abby Wambach

Olympic soccer champion, at Barnard College.

“Our landscape is overrun with archaic ways of thinking about women, about people of color, about the other, about the rich and the poor, about the powerful and the powerless. And these ways of thinking are destroying us.

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

“We will not Little Red Riding Hood our way through life. We will unite our pack, storm the valley together and change the whole bloody system.”

Christine Lagarde

Managing director of the International Monetary Fund, at Claremont McKenna College.

“Today, women in the United States still make 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. The percentage of women in the workforce in the U.S. has stagnated: It is exactly at the same level as it was in the ‘80s. In the meantime, other countries are progressed a bit more, actually. And less than 7 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Actually, there was a recent report that found out that there were more CEOs called James than there were female CEOs. Fancy being called James?”

Ronan Farrow

An investigative reporter at The New Yorker, at Loyola Marymount University.

“You will face a moment in your career where you have absolutely no idea what to do — where it will be totally unclear to you what the right thing is for you, for your family, for your community.

“And I hope, in that moment, you’ll be generous with yourself, but trust that inner voice. Because more than ever, we need people to be guided by their own senses of principle — and not the whims of a culture that prizes ambition, and sensationalism, and celebrity, and vulgarity, and doing whatever it takes to win.”

Anita Hill

A professor at Brandeis University, at Rutgers University-Camden.

“Movements are important, but so are the efforts that it will take to enshrine the ideals of movements.

“What happens now? I would say we will never be the same after the #MeToo movement. After such revelations of sexual violence, we can never, as a society, ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. We can’t be the same as we were before. And we certainly can’t go backwards when we know that so many people are hurting and suffering.”

Hillary Clinton

The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, at Yale University.

“I believe healing our country is going to take what I call ‘radical empathy.’ As hard as it is, this is a moment to reach across divides of race, class and politics. To try to see the world through the eyes of people very different from ourselves, and to return to rational debate. To find a way to disagree without being disagreeable. To try to recapture a sense of community and common humanity.

“When we think about politics and judge our leaders, we can’t just ask, ‘Am I better off than I was two years, or four years, ago?’ We have to ask, ‘Are we all better off?'”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Novelist, at Harvard University’s Class Day.

“Whether you are the leader or whether you are the led, I urge you always to bend toward truth. To err on the side of truth.

“And to help you do this, make literature your religion. Which is to say, read widely. Read fiction and poetry and narrative nonfiction. Make the human story the center of your understanding of the world. Think of people as people — not as abstractions who have to conform to bloodless logic, but as people: fragile, imperfect, with pride that can be wounded and hearts that can be touched.”

Justin Trudeau

Prime minister of Canada, at New York University.

“Think about it. Saying ‘I tolerate you’ actually means something like, ‘OK, I grudgingly admit that you have a right to exist, just don’t get in my face about it, and oh, don’t date my sister.’ There’s not a religion in the world that asks you to ‘tolerate thy neighbor.’ So let’s try for something a little more like acceptance, respect, friendship and, yes, even love.

“And why does this matter? Because in our aspiration to relevance; in our love for our families; in our desire to contribute, to make this world a better place; despite our differences, we are all the same.”

Cynthia Nixon

Candidate for governor of New York, at Helene Fuld College of Nursing.

“My mother, like so many women and strong mothers facing impossible odds inside the home and outside the home, stood up and fought back and won. And the little girl watching her absorbed that lesson: that when you stand up with courage, what you can achieve may surprise even you.

“And that’s what I want to share with you here today. Never doubt that you can make a space big enough for yourself in this world. And what you want to fight for and advocate for is worth saying and worth hearing. Speak up. Make your voice heard.”

Amal Clooney

Human rights lawyer, at Vanderbilt University.

“At a time when more journalists are in prison around the world than at any time in the last three decades, and even here at home the media is under attack from the White House, we need courage.

“And at a time when our politicians try to conflate the terms ‘refugee’ and ‘terrorist’ and make us fear one another, we need courage.

“We need young people with the courage to say, ‘This is our world now, and there are going to be some changes.'”

Chadwick Boseman

Star of “Black Panther," at Howard University.

“Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history.

“Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.

“When I dared to challenge the system that would relegate us to victims and stereotypes with no clear historical backgrounds, no hopes or talents, when I questioned that method of portrayal, a different path opened up for me. The path to my destiny.”