70th Commencement

1999 Commencement

Two hundred fifteen students received bachelor of arts degrees and 115 graduate students received the master's degree at the College's 70th commencement, May 21. Speaking as an alumna and a member of the board of trustees, Joanne M. Braxton,'72, professor and director of the Middle Passage Project at the College of William and Mary, addressed the class of 1999. Michele Myers also spoke to graduates at her first commencement since becoming the College's ninth president.

Braxton drew upon her own experiences, those of graduating students and fellow alumnae/i to make the point that the kind of education Sarah Lawrence offers prepares students for life in a diverse society. She spoke of diversity in terms broader than race, gender, ethnic or religious backgrounds, but rather as the embodiment of individual differences. And she spoke about the responsibility of graduates when they enter the larger world.

"Sarah Lawrence has prepared you for the inevitable change that life is going to thrust upon you. Because this college celebrates difference and creates a sanctuary where it is safe to be different, you need never be afraid of change. But Sarah Lawrence does not exist independently of the rest of the world. Our minds are much on the war in Kosovo, where ethnic cleansing and near-genocide are markers of the most extreme form of intolerance. Elsewhere as many as four million children may be enslaved in different locations throughout the world today.

"The violence in Littleton, Colorado is symptomatic of larger disorders in our society. Newsweek tells us that 'there seems to be a genetic component to the vulnerability that can lead to antisocial-personality disorder...a tiny bend in the twig.' It is love, support and affection, or the lack of it, that determine the outcome of such predisposition. The embrace of diversity, not scorn. In order to make our own homes and schools a safer place, we must communicate, not isolate. If we must be intolerant of something, let us be intolerant of intolerance itself....

"The Sarah Lawrence experience has positive transformational qualities that are highly infectious and influential. Every time a graduate leaves this college a little bit of that pan- humanistic vision gets exported to the classrooms, boardrooms, court rooms, studios and streets of the larger world. No matter how enthusiastic or ambivalent you may be, you go forth as a child of Sarah Lawrence. In your transition, your graduation, you are both initiated and reborn, becoming the carrier of a much-needed archetype in a world where models of integrity and creativity are often in short supply....

"My charge to you is simple and yet complex. Practice courage, because as Maya Angelou has said, without courage you cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. Teach tolerance. Oppose injustice. Affirm continually the embrace of diversity. Protect the rights of others as if they were your own. Challenge old ways of being and doing and seeing. Crash boundaries. Dream strange dreams. Dare to rethink unsolved problems. Create new knowledge. Let the vision and the philosophy that have nourished you these past four years touch everything that your eye falls upon. Manifest that vision and that philosophy in your work. Be a bridge among communities, races and nations. Move the human race forward, and in doing so, you will honor Sarah Lawrence....Your journey is just beginning. Go gently. Go energetically and with confidence. Go with an acceptance of the responsibility that love implies."

Bidding farewell to the first graduating class since she became president, Michele Myers said. "I have no doubt that you have been prepared well for lives of responsible leadership, thoughtful citizenship, and productive work. So, what will you take with you from this beautiful campus on the way to your life? Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote: 'Own only what you can always carry with you. Know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.' If I could pack that memory bag for you, here is what I would include:

"First, courage, boldness, and a passionate conviction that you will make a difference. The courage to see clearly, to speak clearly, to persist in the face of obstacles and doubts, to never give up...Second, take with you a commitment to justice...Beyond economic well-being, the American Dream should include the promise that each generation will live in a society more just than the generation preceding it. We cannot delude ourselves that other people's plight is not our own. We must develop a sense of collective responsibility for one another...We must heed the old Talmudic saying 'It's not up to you to finish the work, but neither are you free not to take it up.' ...Third, take with you care and gentleness. Protect what is fragile. The things that matter most in life are the most fragile: Families...Friendships...Trust...Love...The earth....

"We will miss you, and you will miss your friends. I hope you will be back, because you are leaving a little of yourself here. Sarah Lawrence is not exactly the same as it was four years ago, precisely because you have been here. And so it is that we each grow, learning from those who have gone before us, and leaving a legacy to those who succeed us...."


"In My Mother's House"

Commencement Speech, Joanne Braxton '72

As a member of the class of 1972, I am deeply honored to speak at the invitation of the graduating class of 1999. This is a special occasion, the 70th anniversary of our College, the first commencement of President Michele Myers and, by the way in which most people count things, the last Sarah Lawrence commencement of the 20th century.

At this time, I would like to acknowledge the presence of some of my family, who have come from Virginia and Maryland to be with us today: my sister-cousins, Mrs. Diane Ligon and Mrs. Mary Holloman, my best friend, Dr. Wanda Mitchell, my daughter and apprentice, Mycah Margaret Brazelton-Braxton, a nine-year-old fifth grader, and my mother, Mrs. Mary Ellen Weems Braxton, who at 81, has returned to Sarah Lawrence for the first time since my own graduation day twenty seven long years ago.

What I propose to offer is a little family talk. I have chosen the title "In My Mother's House" in order to provide, at this important point in our shared story, an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the Latin term, alma mater, a term for which I have been given various definitions, including our mother, soul mother, and wet nurse. Apparently, some of our ancient Greek and Roman ancestors had a preference for virgin brides because they were free of diseases. Many of these young girls were old enough to conceive, but their bodies were often too unformed and many of them died in childbirth, leaving the care of the newborn to the soul mother, or wet nurse. Hence the term matriculation; the entering student matriculates when he or she is admitted to study for the degree, the college or university assuming the role of the absent parent, in loco parentis.

In my first mother's house I was raised under the eyes of a loving mother and father, and in a community of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and adoptive kin in a spiritual, intellectual and political environment where I was valued as a gift, not only for who I was, but for who I might become. My mother had an excellent secondary school education, but interrupted her career as a government worker to raise her four children. My dad, a veteran of the second- world war, began his work life when he was five years old, and later completed a high school equivalency course. He became a master machinist for the United States Navy, and although he received many awards for his precision in the manufacture of 16-inch guns and missiles for Uncle Sam's warships, he preferred making jewelry for his wife and daughter, and taking his family fishing. He was also a civil rights activist.

One day in 1970 when I was in Chicago recruiting for Sarah Lawrence, three young white racists fired over 42 shots into the family home in College Park, Maryland. So great was the love of my mother and father, that they did not call to tell me about what had happened, although it was reported prominently in The Washington Post and The Star. I learned about the shooting from Cheryl Lofton, a freshman I had recruited to Sarah Lawrence a year earlier. No one was wounded physically, but the spiritual scars never healed.

Not that my family of origin always understood me, but they had the insight to take an insurance policy that would mature when I became 18, and that would provide for me to attend Howard University or perhaps the University of Maryland, which was integrated by young women from my community while I was in high school. But we could not have imagined, or prepared completely for the commitment and sacrifice that attending Sarah Lawrence would demand. The College was generous. My father took a night job at a gas station and he never complained. Somehow things worked out.

I have often said that coming to Sarah Lawrence saved my life. I was a different kind of kid, but even I had no idea just how different I was. Still I knew intuitively that I was looking for a very special alma mater to wet nurse me in transition from my still nurturing family to a larger world where I would be called upon to play the roles of mediator and intercultural messenger — roles my family of origin had prepared me for. As a junior in high school I read Harold Taylor's The World as Teacher, and I knew that this was the place.

I can still remember the moment of transition. It was September of 1968. Miss Branca was sitting right there at Westands desk where she sits now. I had been assigned to a room in Rothchild — Rothchild E-6. My dad dutifully carried my things into the dorm lobby and set them down. I said, "Dad, what are you doing?" And he said, "I can't go in there!" "Yes you can," I said, "until 2 a.m. in the morning." My father looked at my mother and said, in all seriousness. "Mary, we are taking this child home." My mother pulled my father aside for hurried conference, and somehow they went home to Maryland and I stayed, my mother looking anxiously back after me while I walked confidently away.

Has Sarah Lawrence been for you the sanctuary and the place of possibility that it has almost always been for me? What if this place, as necessary as mother's milk, had not come into being? In March of this year, I had lunch with Tracey Bey and other members of the senior class, and asked them this question. A month later, their written responses arrived, as promised, and I would like to share some of those with you, as a mirror of some of the voices of the graduating class.

Joyah said that she's done "a little bit of everything":

I am a writer,
researcher,
artist,
critiquer,
listener, and
leader.

I am also loud,
outspoken,
flamboyant,
excited,
scared,
grounded,
independent,
critical,
open,
black, and most importantly
I am ready.

I don't know if I could have said these things at 22 somewhere else.

Sophie wrote:

...I would be either currently graduating from a college filled with beer swigging frat boys..., or leaving a dance conservatory with a huge Martha Graham-esque bun permanently affixed to my head, not knowing anything but A-B-A dance composition structure.

In one alternate universe I would have been deprived of the art that sustains me; in the other I would have been immersed in dance to the exclusion of my other interests. At Sarah Lawrence I have danced through days with people who see themselves more as people than simply one-dimensional dancers.

I have been in only one lecture with more than 30 people. The professor treated it as a slightly large seminar. Instead of graduating in a football stadium as I might have if I had gone elsewhere, I am graduating on the daffodil splashed Westlands lawn and moving to New York... I am planning to dance, but I will find my own path...

Responding students commented on the rigorous academic freedom of Sarah Lawrence-- the opportunity to design their own fields of study and take a guided interdisciplinary journey with support of a stellar faculty. Repeatedly, students commented on the importance of the don system. Many remarked that they could not have imagined never having written a conference paper. These formal structures mirror the values at the base of the Sarah Lawrence philosophy—trust in the faculty student mentoring relationship, a belief in academic freedom as one of the keystones in the creation of new knowledge, mutual respect for all members of the community, and a passionate embrace of diversity, whether race, culture, or gender specific, not only in word, but in fact.

Jessica wrote:

I was surprised to find students and faculty with the same social consciousness I learned from my family. Also, I grew to love the freedom I had to explore different fields of study. I tried to make the best of every opportunity. I probably would never have spent my junior year abroad studying at Oxford University if I went to another college. Also, I don't think I would have ever received the critical support and encouragement an undergraduate needs in order to achieve. I found Sarah Lawrence to be a place for the people who usually do not take the spotlight in high school but who do the foundational work necessary for a program, institution or organization to keep moving forward. ...once I was in the classrooms at SLC, I knew there was room for me to grow.

Another graduating student wrote:

If there had been no Sarah Lawrence I might not have realized that professors are real people. I never would have drunk tequila in a Mexican airport with a professor and a group of classmates from whom I was about to learn so much. I might never have seen a black squirrel. I might never have learned that there is an artist in all of us. I might never have understood a color wheel. I would have never have helped to plant 500,000 drinking straws in the ground and seen what they look like sparkling with dew. If there were no Sarah Lawrence, I would never have stayed up all night writing a conference paper, watched the sun rise and fallen into a happy, delirious sleep.

Poetry and sentiment aside, not all of the responses were completely glowing. One student wrote:

I learned overall that college is an expensive investment. I hope that SLC has prepared me for being able to pay off my student loans...

I learned that my own ideas might possibly shape the world and change others' perspectives in the years to come...

She went on to say confidently that:

If anything, SLC has benefited from having me as one of their students...to add to their list of "diversity." I could say the same for most, if not all of my friends at SLC.

Let me assure you that SLC has prepared you to pay off your student loans. If you are like most former scholarship students you will pay off your loans within 10 - 15 years. And during that time you will enjoy a higher standard of material comfort than you might have otherwise. I don't know of a single Sarah Lawrence graduate who has complained about the cost of a Sarah Lawrence education, or who has come to feel that the sacrifice required has not been worth it.

Many of us will never be materially wealthy, but we give to the College because we understand that Sarah Lawrence is not only a place and a philosophy, but a state of mind and a way of being and knowing the world. A touchstone and a site of personal renewal.

Because this young woman went to Sarah Lawrence, where the achievement of diversity has been a priority, she assumes the entitlement to live in an environment that encourages the same. Whether she gives Sarah Lawrence the credit or not, there is a little bit of Sarah Lawrence in her assumption. And if she is right about the potential of her own ideas to shape the world in years to come, perhaps that sense of empowerment is something that she might eventually acknowledge as another benefit derived from the milk of our soul mother, Sarah Lawrence.

One of the truest statements came from a woman who wrote:

There is no ending to what I would have never done. But Sarah Lawrence is not about what is never done. On the contrary, it is about what can be done, and what even a 20- year-old woman can do. I didn't realize the effect it would have on me, and perhaps I still don't.

I am a professional educator with nearly 20 years experience of teaching at William and Mary alone. For five of those years I was the only African American on the William and Mary faculty. If I survived that experience, won teaching awards and built new programs, I know that it had something to do with things I learned at Sarah Lawrence. Even now, former teachers like Bill Park and Shirley Kaplan remain my very active mentors, exchanging ideas or reading work in progress. Like many of the friendships I established at Sarah Lawrence, these are connections second only to blood.

What? What if? Would I have been the same kind of teacher if I had never been in a classroom with Louis Barillet, June Jordan, Grace Paley, Bell Chevigny, with Clayton Riley or Shirley Kaplan? What if Muriel Rukeyser had never mentored Alice Walker? What if journalist and editor Jan Simpson had never met Gerda Lerner? Would MacArthur Award winning photojournalist Susan Meiselas have risked her life documenting human rights violations in El Salvador if she had not met Ferd Jones? Maybe. But then maybe not. And if filmmaker Jon Avnet had never studied with Bill Park? If Dr. Ian Lipkin, distinguished AIDS researcher and director of the Laboratory for Neurobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis at the University of California, had not been introduced to the notion of biomedical research by Rolf Altschuler? What? What if? What if there had been no Sarah Lawrence?

Because life seems infinite when you are 21 and because you cannot see into the future, I asked some less recent graduates of the College the same question that I asked you. What if?

Diana Leslie, class of '69, shared these reflections:

So what would I have turned out to be? Would I have become aware of the civil rights movement and the challenges facing minorities, what about the war in Vietnam? Again, it was the boys, now young men from Indianapolis who had come east to college that I continued to see and they were certainly involved in demonstrations, but none of the girls/young women who came east became politically involved. My brother quit his prestigious law firm in Washington to work at the riot commission and my close relationship with him would have influenced me. But it was Sarah Lawrence that kept these issues in my face, that caused me to choose conference work that focused on poverty and social movements in the 19th century, early 20th century black writers, inner city schools. I don't think I would have had the opportunity anywhere else to explore these topics, or to be changed by them.

Margot Bogert, class of '75 and Chair of the Board of Trustees says that if Sarah Lawrence had not existed, she would have had to invent it. Carol Cheney says that she experienced Sarah Lawrence like a nearsighted child who had just been given glasses through which a new world would emerge. Here, at Sarah Lawrence, we have explored new fields of knowledge with some of the greatest minds and most talented teachers, not only of the 20th Century, but of any time or place. And we discovered as well a universe of humanity where the meaning and value of community exist in dynamic balance with the interests of individuals and those of the institution. Those of us who have gone before you know that we have lived a life of more serious purpose and deeper fulfillment than we could have ever have experienced without Sarah Lawrence.

My friend Barbara Kolsun, class of '71, a corporate lawyer, began her professional life as an actress and performer. Although she could not be here today, there are some things that she has learned that she wants to share with you:

  • Don't worry about where you'll be in two years and don't expect to be in the same place 20 years from now. Change is good. Change is life. SLC teaches us how to deal with change and to have the confidence and faith to believe you will always land on your feet. Many of our grads have made and survived dramatic career changes.
  • Keep in touch with the college. Some of the best friends of your life were made here. You speak the same language. The College is a great place to network. Reunion weekends are opportunities to take SLC style classes, meet old (and new) friends and heal.
  • Continue to celebrate your difference and uniqueness. Littleton Colorado would never happen at Sarah Lawrence because it's safe to be different here. Maintain that difference, be yourself, keep up all the passionate discussion when you leave here.

Sarah Lawrence has prepared you for the inevitable change that life is going to thrust upon you. Because this college celebrates difference and creates a sanctuary where it is safe to be different, you need never be afraid of change.

But Sarah Lawrence does not exist independently of the rest of the world. Our minds are much on the war in Kosovo, where ethnic cleansing and near-genocide are markers of the most extreme form of intolerance. Elsewhere, as many as four million children may be enslaved in different locations throughout the world today.

The violence in Littleton, Colorado is symptomatic of larger disorders in our own society. Newsweek tells us that "there seems to be a genetic component to the vulnerability that can lead to antisocial-personality disorder...a tiny bend in the twig." It is love, support and affection, or the lack of it, that determine the outcome of such predisposition. The embrace of diversity, not scorn. In order to make our own homes and schools a safer place, we must communicate, not isolate. If we must be intolerant of something, let us be intolerant of intolerance itself.

The Sarah Lawrence experience has positive transformational qualities that are highly infectious and influential. Every time a graduate leaves this college, a little bit of that pan-humanistic vision gets exported to the classrooms, boardrooms, courtrooms, studios and streets of the larger world. No matter how enthusiastic or ambivalent you may be, you go forth as a child of Sarah Lawrence. In your transition, your graduation, you are both initiated and reborn, becoming the carrier of a much-needed archetype in a world where models of integrity and creativity are often in short supply.

You are now and you will henceforth and forever be, a product of this institution which has prepared you so well. As you change and grow, Sarah Lawrence will change and grow with you. You will contribute new sources of insight and understanding, revising the identity of your alma mater, your soul mother. Not long ago, my daughter asked me a question that had identity-changing implications for me:

"Mommy," she said, "if we have to die then why do we live?"

I was not prepared to hear this from a seven-year-old. I had been much, much older when I asked my own mother the same question. Finally, I answered. "Mycah, it is true that we all have to die. But we live, I think, to move the human race forward."

This may be the last time that the Class of 1999 sits together as a whole in the house of our common mother. Days never return. And so I say to you today that it is your responsibility not only to support and sustain this institution but also to take the infectious and transformational qualities of Sarah Lawrence into the next century and wherever they may be needed.

My charge to you is simple and yet complex. Practice courage, because as Maya Angelou has said, without courage you cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. Teach tolerance. Oppose injustice. Affirm continually the embrace of diversity. Protect the rights of others as if they were your own. Challenge old ways of being and doing and seeing. Crash boundaries. Dream strange dreams. Dare to rethink unsolved problems. Create new knowledge. Let the vision and the philosophy that have nourished you these past four years touch everything that your eye falls upon. Manifest that vision and that philosophy in your work. Be a bridge among communities, races and nations. Move the human race forward, and in doing so, you will honor Sarah Lawrence.

In closing, I welcome you to the community of liberally educated persons, and I congratulate you both on what you have already achieved and the achievements yet to come. Your journey is just beginning. Go gently. Go energetically and with confidence. Go with an acceptance of the responsibility that love implies.


President Michele Tolela Myers: Charge to the Graduating Class

Congratulations, Class of 1999! Your undergraduate days are over. I hope they have changed you. Not simply because you are four years older, but because education is meant to change you, to make you more demanding intellectually, to make you question more wisely, to make you more reflective and more prepared to act thoughtfully. I suppose there will be a moment in your life when you think you could have used your time here better. At some point it will occur to you that you should have taken that math class or that art history course, or maybe even tried painting. Or perhaps read more. But however you played these four years, they are over and you are about to say goodbye to your teachers and your friends.

There is always sadness in parting, in leaving friends, places, bits of yourself behind. "To leave is to die a little," says a French song, and so it is. Yet, how can you not feel joy for having accomplished what you set out to do? How can you not feel pride for having made as much of your talents as you could and prepared yourself for a lifetime of learning and doing? How can you not feel excitement for what is about to begin — new tasks, new people, new places, new hopes. This is indeed a bitter-sweet moment...to be savored and understood.

I know that this college has educated you well. It has taught you how to think —rigorously, logically, the hard way, without sloppy shortcuts —but not what to think. Your education here has also been about developing your character as well as your mind. It has been about thinking through your values and acting on them. It has been about learning to live in a diverse and changing world and maintaining your sense of self as well as opening yourself to others. It has been about questioning everything but the dignity of all human beings, as our catalogue states. And I hope it has been about love, trust, generosity of spirit, justice, decency, and courage. I have no doubt that you have been prepared well for lives of responsible leadership, thoughtful citizenship, and productive work.

So, what will you take with you from this beautiful campus on the way to your life?

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote "Own only what you can always carry with you. Know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag."

If I could pack that memory bag for you, here is what I would include.

First, courage, boldness, and a passionate conviction that you will make a difference.

The courage to see clearly, to speak clearly, to persist in the face of obstacles and doubts, to never give up. It is not intelligent people we have in short supply. It is courageous intelligent people —bold and bright, ready to act on their convictions with passion and with the will to matter; with the sense that, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "everyone can be great because everyone can serve." We need people who fight battles through their art, with their ideas and their words, their teachings, their deeds; people unafraid to be engaged, to lay something on the line for what they believe, to stand up, stand tall, and stand out. Go forth in the world with courage.

Second, take with you a commitment to justice.

Our faith in the American dream has eroded because, for too many in this country (to say nothing of the rest of the world), the belief that every generation can do better than the one preceding it is an illusion.

We have our poor, our faces without hope, and we see how racism and urban decay are destroying the fragile social compact which has held this nation together. For a large group in this country —persons of color, women, small children, abandoned old people, persons of every color without jobs and without skills to get jobs, the American Dream is only a cruel reminder of the vast disparities in economic and social circumstances that divide us deeply. More wealth has been made in this generation than ever before, yet, the divide between rich and poor has deepened. So many have no claim, or few realistic claims, on this country's vast resources and little hope that the system will serve them at all. What do we tell the young Hispanic student in New York City who in spite of his Catholic school uniform still gets stopped time and time again because he fits a certain "profile?" How do we answer him when he says he is working hard to make good grades, graduate, go to college and get a decent job, but that it doesn't seem to be enough.

Beyond economic well-being, the American Dream should include the promise that each generation will live in a society more just than the generation preceding it. We cannot delude ourselves that other people's plight is not our own. We must develop a sense of collective responsibility for one another, stop putting the blame on people, who from the get-go, don't stand a chance, and we must make good on the promise. We must heed the old Talmudic saying: "It's not up to you to finish the work, but neither are you free not to take it up."

Resolve to do your part for a world more just, a world in which children, all children, are cared for, a world in which decency and human dignity are not empty words, but actions that ensure that people eat, get a roof over their heads, get decent medical care, get an education that equips them to work and enfranchises them. If in one short generation we can build space stations, conquer diseases, and create astounding wealth, surely we can find in ourselves the resolve to fight poverty and racism, and win.

Go forth into the world with justice.

Third, take with you care and gentleness.

Protect what is fragile. The things that matter most in life are the most fragile:

Families, which need generous tending, careful building, and gentle managing. They are the first model of community young children have, and they are essential in providing the security, love, and genuinely caring attention young children need to grow up safely, to love others, and to become constructive members of the larger society. No child should ever feel so estranged that hatred and violence become a way of life or a way out. The Columbine High School tragedy is a brutal reminder of the fragility of family and ultimately communal bonds.

Protect what is fragile: Friendships, which need patient nurturing, for small things — a thoughtless word, an ungenerous act — can derail them. Trust, which takes a long time to build rests on integrity and truth, but can be destroyed by a single act, a single lie. Love, which requires constant attention, mutual giving, sensitivity to another person's needs, faith that when it is given it will be returned. The earth, which needs gentle tending and thoughtful use. Go forth into the world with gentleness.

We will miss you, and you will miss your friends. I hope you will be back, because you are leaving a little of yourself here. Sarah Lawrence is not exactly the same as it was four years ago, precisely because you have been here. And so it is that we each grow, learning from those who have gone before us, and leaving a legacy to those who succeed us.

And so class of 1999, we bid you good-bye. We Salute you and we honor all who made your education possible:

To parents, our gratitude for their support;

To Dons who never gave up;

To Friends and mentors who rallied around you;

To Alumni and trustees who sustain;

And to all who give their loyalty and services to make this college community one of civility and purpose; but most of all, we salute you graduates and take pride in your achievements and in your promise. Come, now, graduates and families. To celebrate on the north lawn. I declare these ceremonies closed.


Commencement Greetings from Graduate Student Jamie J. Brunson, M.F.A.'99

In preparing my comments for today, I asked myself: What do I say to this group of artists, educators, intellectuals and future world leaders? Then, as is my custom, I imagined myself here now, looking out on all of you. And when I could see each one here today, shining, I realized that you are not a group of artists, educators, intellectuals and world leaders. From here, I see a beautiful multi-colored, multi-cultured, multi-lingual community of old friends, future friends and mentors. And together we are standing on the precipice of the 21st century — full of hope and glory.

Let us never forget how we feel at this moment — for tomorrow we go out into our world with the spirit we gathered here to change it.

Well now, what to say about our world? The world is —as it is: moral/immoral/ Thoughtless/kind and violent. Nevertheless, it is our inheritance, and we are responsible for the good of it and the ill of it. This is beyond history.

What is absolutely new to existence is us at this moment. Never before has such a light shone in the world. The person that formed between the life we brought here and that which changes us forever. In the next second, we'll be someone brand new again.

Let us not forget how we feel at this moment. Never again will you be who you are now.

What to say about the future? The future is the new world we envision. It is breathing inside each of us —trembling to get out through our dreams and deeds. Have no fear — Desire Utopia for yourself, then leave no one else out. Poets, writers, dancers, theatre and visual artists — see a world where art can heal; Health Advocates and Human geneticists see a world free of defects and disease; Educators, Historians and Intellectuals — see a world where knowledge in wealth — then make everyone else see it. Can you? I think you can. I believe we all can.

An Egyptian theory of creation, taught to me in undergraduate school, changed my life. It goes like this: Out of the desire of His heart, made into form by his mind and spoken with his tongue, did He create the Universe.

Now, in the spirit of Sarah Lawrence College, I've changed that theory of creation to suit a playwright, actor and singer. Now it goes like this:

I see a world I desire to change. I will allow the desire of my heart, to form words
And music that I will release with my tongue. These, my gifts, will I use to create
A new world!

What will you do to help create the new world? I'll be watching for you! Thank you.