Kwesi Jones '21, Undergraduate Student Speech
Kwesi Jones '21, appears in a cap and gown in front of background of the green Shapiro Campus Center with purple flowers. The Brandeis logo appears in the top left corner and the lower third says "Kwesi Jones '21, Undergraduate Student Address."
- If this year's taught me anything, it will be to never start talking before you check to see if you're on mute.
Greetings, Class of 2021. We've made it. We're here.
Now, to be quite honest with you, I'm not really sure where here is.
The here should be in a large auditorium full of the smiling faces of our classmates, family, friends, faculty, and staff, but instead, we found ourselves distant from each other. Celebrating our big moment through the virtual walls of a computer or phone screen.
I could've never guessed that my senior year, I would be taking my classes, having graduation and binge-watch on WandaVision all on the same device, but here we are.
Like many of us, I had grand visions of where I saw myself my senior year. I figured I would have grown from 5'6 to at least six feet. I would have a full beard, a six-figure job lined up for me right after graduation and I will be best friends with Beyoncé.
I imagine we all had our dreams or aspirations of what our senior year will be like no matter how unrealistic. But I bet that none of them included a global pandemic, impending ecological collapse, content social upheaval, and our professors asking if they're sharing their screens every five seconds.
But here we are.
This is our day of celebration in Class of 2021. If no one else deserve to celebrate, we certainly do.
Not only have we survived to at least 15 major historical events since 2020 alone, but we have also survived four long, grueling, exciting, tiring, inspiring, tear-jerking, humbling, rewarding years of our undergraduate experience.
We have triumphed over barriers that we often thought we would never get past, ones that we brave together or alone.
But today I want you all to rejoice in the fact that your triumph over whatever, how big or how small waves in your way.
Even if it feels like we may have crawled instead of sprinted across the finish line, we've made it.
I'm so proud of each and every one of you.
It's scary the staleness precipice with one foot in the world we knew and one dangling off the edge of an uncertain future.
I know that many of us yearn for the normalcy we felt should have been granted to us in our senior year.
The normalcy of Springfest and The Stein and the Boston shuttle and big cultural events and Midnight Buffet and dorm parties and everything else we thought we should have been granted our senior year.
I know many of us just want normal again.
But Class of 2021, I'm here to tell you today that we cannot return to normal.
Not just because we're graduating but because we must envision a new world better than the one we call normal.
As Brandeisians, we're taught to seek the truth even unto its innermost parts, and if we have learned anything in that years at Brandeis, it will be the sad truth that our normal world is in dire need of replacement.
Yes, we mourn the loss of the world we knew but the world we knew is also a world in which hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives by pandemic that should have been preventable.
That's not the world I wish to return to. A normal world is a world in which the lives of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and Elijah McClain and Ahmaud Arbery and Atatiana Jefferson and too many more are stolen by the vicious hand of anti-black violence?
That is not a world I wish to return to.
A normal world is a world in which six Asian women can be in their place of work when they are slaughtered by a terrorist whom police say was just having a bad day?
That is not a world I wish to return to.
As Brandeisians, we must leave the world better than we found it, and the world that we found ourselves in does not just need a makeover or renovation but a complete restructuring. They're not just a few bad apples in batch of our society. We have to understand that the apple tree itself is rotten from its root, and so let's plant a new.
Class of 2021, we all have dreams and aspirations of what the groundwork of our lives will be once we leave Brandeis, but I ask that you join me as I take on my new profession as a gardener.
Let's walk into the scorched fields of the world we knew and replace the brittle dirt of society with the fresh soil of possibility and imagination.
Let's pull back our sleeves of inhibition and plant deep within the Earth seeds born from our collective ingenuity, seeds of knowledge and truth, seeds of community, and love seeds of change.
While the sky may be clouded with the uncertainty of our future, let's tend our garden until the sun comes out and our new world blossoms in blooms with everything we have planted.
In 2019, I got the chance to meet Brandeis Alumni and Revolutionary Activist Dr. Angela Davis at the 50th Anniversary of the Brandeis Department of African and African American Studies.
After taking a picture with her, which is now my most prized possession. I asked her, how can I be a revolutionary in my daily life? She looked at me and said, "You will have to make your own way to be revolutionary through whatever you're passionate about."
Brandeis Class of 2021, each of us will carve out our own paths to be revolutionary. We will need the artists, and the scientists, and the lawyers, and the activist, and the mathematicians, and the filmmakers, and the scholars to tear down the old rusty pillars of inequity that form the world we knew and replace them with a new material.
The mix of values of liberty and justice for all, not just aspirational, but universal and unconditional. We would take with us the seeds and towards we have picked up from our community along the way.
I'll be taking with me the intellectual tools I've gained from the Brandeis African and African American Studies Department, the community I gain from the Brandeis Black and African student organizations and from my Posse, the advocacy of the Intercultural Center and the everlasting support of my family, my friends, and my ancestors whose hands guide me every step of the way.
Class of 2021, whichever direction the winds of life shall blow you, all I ask is that you remember your garden. When this world seems unfit for the vastness of your imagination, remember the seeds you hold, and remember that you can plant them and watch the world grow and grow and grow until it encapsulates the fullness of your dreams. Thank you.