Undergraduate Student Address by Wil Jones ’18
I brought some stuff with me. You know, last year Mercedes Hall gave the address. It was beautiful, and she brought up a little something with her, something to help her get through it. So I brought my little. You know, I'm nervous. I thought it was gonna help. I'm gonna need a little help to get through this so would the graduating class of 2018 please stand up? That includes all graduating classes of 2018. Everybody, undergrads, grad students, continuing students.
So, exercise has really helped me, so I was hoping we could do a little call and response. So I'm gonna actually split us in half. I want this half, I'm gonna start, and I want y'all to repeat after me. Is that okay? I like the energy in here today. So, I'm gonna say it first and then y'all go, ready?
We, we made it. We, we, we made it. Now y'all do it, ready? We, we, we made it. We, we, we made it. Y'all sound beautiful, y'all sound beautiful. Now this side, what I want y'all to do, I want y'all to say, we made it we made it, we made it we made it we made it. We made it, we made it. We made it we made it we made it. Hey.
Okay, hold on. So when I do this, we gonna cut it. What imma do is, we gonna start with this side first, and then I'm gonna do it and I'm gon cue y'all and I'm gon add in, and we just gonna vibe for a minute so we can get the energy. 'Cause I need it in order to get through this. Oh, my hair looks great. Shout out to Brandy, she did my hair. Wow. That's HD. That is Retina display. Okay. This side.
We, we, we made it. We, we, we made it. We, we, we made it. We made, it we made it. We made it, we made it, we made it. We made it, we made it, we made it, we made it, we made it. We made it, we made it. We made it, we made it, we made it. Gonna dab on 'em. Gonna dab on 'em. Hey, hey. Get silly, hey. Hey, hey, Milly Rock, hey, hey, hey.
Y'all, thank y'all so much for that. Y'all can sit now. Good morning to family, friends, faculty, staff, honorary degree recipients, alumnis, supporters, and of course, the graduating class of 2018. Y'all can clap,y'all can clap. Now I recognize today is a special day. As many have said before, it's Mother's Day. So, to all the mothers with us today whether it be physically or in our hearts, to those who have mothered and to those who have been mothered, I celebrate you. Happy Mother's Day.
And that brings to a really special point. Mommy, will you please stand up? Isn't she lovely? Please remain standing. I wrote this down 'cause I felt like I was gonna get shaky through it. I wanna take this moment and appreciate you, ma. I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for you, for your resilience, for your sacrifice. From buying your own apartment when I was two, our own apartment when I was two, to waking up at that first pink light so you could take me to the babysitters. So that you could work construction, as a woman electrician. To putting yourself and taking me with you through Queen's College, to putting up with my suspensions and switching schools, and living in mildew for seven years sharing a room that leaked whenever it rained, while commuting to work in Manhattan from Long Island, just so you could give me the best education that we had access to. I love you, I love you, I love you momma. You inspire me every day and thank you for bringing me in this world and not taking me out as a moody teenager. Happy Mother's Day. You can sit now.
This speech is written for first generation students. For students with vouchers. I write this for student of color with no scholarship cohort, sports teams or support programs. For students whose high school curriculums failed to prepare them for intro level college courses. For students who dropped pre-med, CoSci, and financial accounting. I see y'all. For the students who had tutors, for the students who feel disconnected from their peers. The students with multiple intersecting identities for whom no affinity groups exist. The students for whom English was a second, third, or fourth language. The students whose non-English home language, failed to exempt them from foreign language requirements. The students who borrow books on reserve, the students whose textbooks were stapled packets of photocopied excerpts. The students who ran out of pass-fails. The students who needed the curve. The students who never made Dean's list, the students on academic probation. The students who had to petition the committee on academic standards. The students who never got first choice of courses, because financial holds on their Sage account halted registration.
The students who endured ghostly grounds, closed dining halls, and empty dorm rooms because going home over break was too expensive. For the students for whom home didn't exist. The students left at the airport before orientation, whose documentation status meant they could not study abroad. Whose shifts conflicted with office hours, recitations, or once in a lifetime lectures from honorable guests. The students for whom work study didn't cut it. The students who met ends by illicit means, who sent money home, who relied on guests meals, who had breakdowns, who took time away. The students who had no professional network, no friends, no love. The students who experienced loss. The students who beat the odds no one knew of. For the students who struggled.
One thing that all these students have in common aside from struggle, is negotiation. For these students, for me, every day decisions contained within them consequences. I hold these students up, not only because their stories deserve telling, but because from them I have learned a great lesson. And I wish to impart that with you all today. Though it needs not reminding, we live in an increasingly political and politicized era, where lines are constantly drawn between opposing factions. These lines help mark that which we oppose, from that which we support, and help weigh what we view as beneficial, against what we view as harmful. Through our maturation into adults, our lines took cues from immediate areas of influence. Our home, school districts, spiritual institutions and local communities.
As our minds and curiosities grew, so too did the lines. Often, they became more complex, more nuanced, more personal. You see, we take our cues from our immediate areas of influence. Our homes, our school districts, spiritual institutions, and local communities. As a few examples. From the moment our deposits were collected, we became members of the Brandeis community. So you see, our lines were drawn there too, as well. Even before we set foot on campus. As we would later come to discover, through our relationship with the ambiguous and amalgamated identity known as the administration. Brandeis was either a friend or a foe. You see, that title is dependent on the decisions made by said administration and the perceived effects on the student body. Let me break it down for you real quick.
Meatless Mondays in the dining hall, foe. Online streaming of live and on-demand shows, complimentary with campus residency, we pretty cool, you my friend. 3.9 tuition increase yearly, that's gonna be a foe for me dog. T-Pain, Metro Boomin, The Internet and A$AP Ferg for Spring Fest, yeah we cool again, we cool. I could go on and on, but I think y'all are starting to get the idea. The lines drawn between friend and foe is really the line drawn between what we will accept, and what we will not. When discontent, some take their opinions to Facebook and Twitter. Others mobilize their voices on the pages of opinion editorials in the following week's issues of The Hoot or The Justice, Brandeis' student run publications. Still, the outlet for change presents itself in the form of electoral representation, for many among us.
And when egregious enough, the administrative undertakings can inspire the kind of action that gets black and brown students to put their education and bodies on the line in protest. I'm speaking about Ford Hall 1969, I'm speaking about Ford Hall 2015. Yeah, let's respect that. You know, I work for the archives and we've been working very diligently on releasing resources to help students understand exactly what Ford Hall was. For those of you who don't know, those were two, Ford Hall '69 and Ford Hall 2015, were two student, black student occupations held in our administrative buildings of Bernstein-Marcus, and Ford Hall, for which it was named, where black students demanded access, demanded equity, demanded fair treatment, and the right to an education on this campus.
We want you all to be able to access that information. We want you all to be able to research it, we want you to be able to know so if you ever need to stand up for your rights again, you know where to go, you know what we did, and you know how we did it. So, it's my pleasure to announce that the website we have been working on which has primary documents from Ford Hall '69, has actually just gone live. And you can find it at - thank you for the love. You can find it at BlackSpacePortal.Library.Brandeis.edu. Now this effort came about ... actually, as a matter of fact this is an infomercial let me do it one more time. That is BlackSpacePortal.Library.Brandeis.edu, I know that's a long URL. This came about through the BBAC between Chari Calloway, Queen White, myself and Maggie McNeely. I continued addition with Mercedes Hall who gave the commencements speech last year, Aja Antoine, and Marian Gardner, my coworker this year. Yeah, shout out Marian. If it wasn't for Marian, I promise you the website would not be what it is now, thank you Marian, thank you. I've also known her since freshman year. That's love.
Now, to be clear, as stakeholders belonging to our own smaller communities, we don't always agree. Whether it's over honorary degrees, on-campus Black Lives Matter demonstrations, or freedom of speech debates, Brandeis students are not afraid to engage controversy, even amongst ourselves. Though we came from different walks of life, our presence here today marks our first step on our new journeys. What has connected us for the last several years, what makes us Brandeisian is our commitment to defending our own notions of fairness, even when conflicting the frameworks, languages, and ideologies that we have learned here have contributed, and helped guide our own notions of justice.
But outside of this campus where that which links us to our neighbors is far less obvious, those lines begin to shift. What happens when we leave this environment then? When we enter territories where the lines are constantly advancing, and retrenching. Intersecting and tangential. Ambiguous, yet visible. How does one maintain their convictions against supporting fossil fuel investment, when a lack of public transportation and a long work commute necessitate owning a vehicle? How do we uphold the stance against gentrification and displacement within predominantly black and brown neighborhoods, when an offer from the firm of our dreams means relocating to a new, expensive city. I mean, out here, they talking about Brooklyn is where it's at, right?
Do we live lavish and buy our produce from our local farmers market, or shop sales at the chain retail corporations notorious for underpaying its staff? Many of us leaving here today will travel vast differences, while some may stay a little more local. Yet, regardless of what our immediate plans are, all receiving their degrees today will be met with change. Much like our entrance into college, orienting to post-graduate life will take time. Old conclusions are sure to be challenged, reformed, or replaced as new relationships and perspectives emerge. Like the change over from high school to college, several of the core facets that make up our identity, may be lost in translation.
The journey to self-rediscovery is long and hard. And if senior year has been any indication, it is gonna be rife with confusion. Yet, what's important is that we not permit temporary disorientation, stir us into indefinite complacency. That as we struggle to make sense of the ever shifting world around us, our position within it is asserted, not appointed. That our progressive potential not be determined by our access to or lack therefore of resources, but rather our intentional, intentional, intentional positioning of them. As we become the catalysts we have been trained to be, we must remember that love is a practice, and practice entails performance. And performance demands action. That loving thy neighbor requires proximity and engagement, that loving thy neighbor ain't enough, because the housing market is stratified, and neighbor denotes residency, so original occupants who would be neighbors are now the displaced, marginal.
We must remember that Gittler Prize winner Kimberle Crenshaw, taught us that for liberation to be effective it must be intersectional. That is, it must account for, address, and include those vulnerable to multiple overlapping systems of inequity and oppression. That those most vulnerable are disproportionately poor, and queer, and women of color. That those are disproportionately black women. We must remember the teachings of Treva Lindsey, who during Brandeis' 2017 Black Lives Matter symposium, reminded us that despite how our society renders those who neither have, nor can produce capital, those who harm and those who have been harmed, they too, deserve to be held.
Lastly, we must remember that equity requires resource reallocation, and reallocation requires sacrifice, and the best offering in our possession is privilege. And they be asking what do love got to do with the point? It's the soothe in the water, it's the truth in your joint. All that gold is overrated what do you do with your coin? We gon' try to spread some love with it, spread some love, we gon' try to spread some love. Ain't nobody gotta know, buying water by the jug I'm the plug, what you want? What you need, not that hate, if you hatin' people don't now. Spread love, spread love, spread love. Y'all know the words? If y'all know the words come on, sing it. I'm gonna do it again.
And they be asking what do love got to do with the point? It's the soothe in the water, it's the truth in your joint. All that gold is overrated what do you do with your coin? We gon' try to spread some love with it, spread some love, we gon' try to spread some love. Ain't nobody gotta know, buying water by the jug I'm the plug, what you want? What you need, not that hate, if you hatin' people don't now. Spread love, spread love, spread love. Thank you. Y'all ain't know I could do that, huh? I've been practicing a little bit.
The word commencement's first known usage was during the 14th century. According to Merriam-Webster, the word can be tracked from Middle English to Anglo-French up through Vulgar Latin, and down and out of initiare, which is Latin for, to initiate. Conventional definitions include, to have or make beginning and to enter a pawn. However cliché, I believe our graduates this ceremony cannot have a better name. For this moment marks the beginning of something new, negotiations. From where we live and how we shop, to the leaders we elect and the acts we pass, attached to every choice is a consequence. Some negligible and others life altering, what we must negotiate is our ability to live with the consequences of the decisions we make. Choice is power. And with it comes great responsibility.
To skip a shift for office hours, or make rent and fail. To buy textbooks, or purchase groceries. To send money home, or go out with friends. To buy clothes appropriate for the interview, or a cap and gown. The students whose experiences I named at the start of this speech, have already had to negotiate the terms of their survival, daily. These students have made choices and reckoned with consequences that many of us have yet to imagine, yet they stand here beside us. Appreciate them. Appreciating their struggle teaches us that the consequences of tough decisions can yield high rewards. Through their perseverance they demonstrate how the setback of one action, can serve as a stepping stone for another. They instruct us that mindfulness can overpower negative consequence, and that the power of our work lies in our intention.
From the bottom of my heart I would like to thank you for the honor of selecting me as your commencement speaker, Wil Jones. Real quick, real quick, real quick. Real quick, real quick, real quick. If y'all liked that speech then you ain't seen nothing yet. This school has some incredibly talented students of color. If y'all wanna see more students like me up here, more students like we've had the last three years, then you've gotta support the resources that support us get to this position. Getting us here is nice, but it ain't enough. I would not have graduated on God if it were not for Elena Lewis, and student support services. And I'm not alone in that, you can other folks cheering in this room. I am not alone in that. Admissions bring us through the door but it's Academic Services and Posse Mentors and TYP Directors, and SSSP Advisors that get us through. Support them. Thank you.
Oh, oh. One last thing, I swear I'm almost done. So I reactivated my Facebook and Instagram just for this. So communications department, @me. My Twitter and Instagram handles are @blackquinoa. That's spelled B-L-A-C-K-Q-U-I-N-O-A. Again, that's B-L-A-C-K-Q-U-I-N-O-A, and my name on Facebook is Wil Jones, so when the video come out, you know just add that tag. Alright, thank you.