Yazier Henry: 2021 Ford School Commencement

May 1, 2021 0:04:51
Kaltura Video

Yazier Henry, Lecturer in Public Policy, speaks during the 2021 Ford School Commencement.


Dear students, honored graduates. When asked
to make remarks at commencement before, I

made serious efforts to integrate levity–not
an easy task for me, I am neither an entertainer

nor a comedian. I am in no mood to be humorous
and promise to make no such effort today.

It is a privilege to address you at this time
of somber celebration. I acknowledge your

family, friends, and loved ones for supporting
you. I want to appreciate the communities,

the pods and the health bubbles that supported
us—you, this institution and me—through

what has been one of the hardest academic
years I have witnessed. I acknowledge my colleagues

for adapting to this ever-changing professional
reality and seeing the year through. I thank

the Ford School Staff without whom the labor,
work and business of learning and teaching

cannot happen. My own online learning curve
has been steep. I had to learn a new way of

being, of teaching, and new ways of knowing
almost overnight. The spirit, mental and physical

toll exacted in order to achieve this convocation—this
moment of your graduation has been high. The

loss of the classroom, the loss of our personal,
professional, and intrinsic relationships

as learners and teachers has been painful
to say the least.The larger social, political,

environmental, and moral meta-context of our
lives both nationally and more globally has

not provided much relief–the constant live-streaming
of death, violence, bigotry, lies, and dishonesty

has felt relentless. The ongoing lived racist
violence, hatred and trauma has been terrifying

for far too many. To quote James Baldwin "I
am terrified at the moral apathy, the death

of the heart..." of these times. I am aware
the compound social and political experiences,

the stress and strain over the last years
have been particularly hard on you—the graduating

student body.
I want to pause now and take a breath. Since

you and I have the privilege of breath—still.
Take a minute to reflect on what you as graduates

have achieved. Give a thought to the human
beings, the impressive, striking, amazing,

resilient, and strong people who have walked
with and alongside you–those you have depended

on and who have depended on you. If you cannot
see them–imagine, remember them. Together

you are the wealth of this institution and
the future of this world. Graduates! Together

you have succeeded in the midst of an extreme
set of circumstances. Congratulations–well

done! This particular degree is no ordinary
piece of paper. It is no ordinary degree.

It signifies and symbolizes a very special
achievement in adversity. Celebrate this achievement–it

is extraordinary. Just as you are. See the
strength, the resilience that lives in you

and those graduating with you. You and I are
all part of a small knowledge and power elite,

be both honest and humble about this fact.
Remember–arrogance is a choice too often

accompanied in practice by the violent ignorance
and emotive immaturity of the powerful. Wherever

you go next, you are called to be both strength
and humility; resilience and tenacity; fortitude

and vision. Accept this challenge of leadership—as
public and civil leaders, intellectuals and

academics, researchers and analysts, policymakers
and change agents. You have done the extraordinary—you

can do it again, and you can do it again.
Take what you have learnt from the adversity,

difficulties and losses of this time while
acquiring your degrees. You are the witnesses

to this time of loss, grief, mourning, of
resolution, strength, of resilience, and a

refusal to be cowed. Importantly as survivors,
you are also the hope of tomorrow. Live that

hope, be that hope—accept this generational
challenge with a strength of purpose and willingness

of heart. Make this world better than it is.
Graduates! Congratulations! Be as beautiful

as you are! Go Blue!