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Alfre Woodard


Thank you. Thank you. Good morning! Good, good morning Tufts Class of 2019—and it is a good morning because you are in it. You are woke. You are on the move. I know you won't be quiet. I know you will not be denied because you have endured the toil, the uncertainty, the pain, boredom, the confusion, discovery, and delight of all those everydays. And here you are: triumphant!

So put your hands up—c’mon, put your hands up—now drop that mic. Slam it! I salute you. I bow before the loneliness of this long distance you have just run. And I salute everyone who has brought you a cup of water along the way.

Good morning, President Monaco, trustees, faculty, staff. Welcome friends, community, and especially great day and congratulations to you, parents and guardians. Mom, Dad, grands, all your relations. Ma, Mami, Papi, Papa, Big Momma, Big Daddy: Well done.

I also stand in, this morning, in pride of you whose parents are unable to be physically present with you. Know that they are surely here in spirit. Your standing successful today is a living manifestation of their love and support for you.

How grateful I am to be invited into this gathering, to be on this Hill lit not merely by good intentions, but by deeds. Graduates, I am humbled to stand before you. I am your elder only in days on the road. I come to you as a fellow traveler, still seeking, discovering, still flying by the seat of my pants. So that free-falling sense you'll feel next week? It doesn't go away. If you're lucky, it doesn't go away.

It is a big day. Dare I say a Jumbo day? You guys have kickass fitness levels in your soccer, your B-ball, LAX ladies and bros, everybody. I hear football is rising. Even Quidditch and Ultimate Frisbee. Go on, Tufts! And what about a whut, whut for Jesse Grupper? Where is he? Yes, keep climbing, my brother. Your fellow grads are right behind you. Big respect to all of you, Class of 2019. We celebrate your mind and body.

In the beginning was the Word, and it has spread about SWAT. Spit, Spoken Word at Tufts. Where are you? Spit! Yes, keep the flow of reality ringing in our ears, provoke our thought. Poet-sister Sonia Sanchez would say, ‘We need your hurricane voices.’

To all the beautiful expressions of gender and preferences flowing through Tufts, wave high that flag. Dip it in the joy of release into a rainbow of possibility.

Big-up to The Three Percent. I hear you, my sisters. Smart sisters. And thank you, SQUAD, for doing the work to make life at Tufts a colorful experience for all of your classmates and colleagues, and for those who will come after you.

I see you, DACA pioneers. Dream on. Dream on! Thank you for teaching us that dreams do come true when you put them in motion, that ‘hope’ is an action word.

I already know where you're going, Fletcher international. Yeah, buddy. That is why you dropped into a fueling station like Tufts, to engage in the rigorous exchange of ideas, prepping you to meet the present challenges—across this nation and across our globe—and all of those to come. We have never needed you more. Come on, kick some butt, take some names. I feel confident in your ability to bring the progress.

Doctoral candidates, you know a euphemism load more than I do. ’Nuff said, get out there. Bring us solutions. Heal our hunger. Civilize our discourse.

My fellow fine artists: be purposeful in your storytelling, your pictures, and your rhythms and melodies. May the wisdom you acquire in your journey keep your hearts forever young.

How fortunate you are to have lived in the time of Sam Lobley—to have been inspired by his perspective, touched by his kindness, stirred by his ideas, and infected by his joy.

All of you who have come through are leaving a legacy that will be a power source in the progress of this institution. Much respect to your unique constellation of schools. I have never seen a student body more accomplished across multiple disciplines than this one.

Whichever direction you move, follow your passion. I know, you've heard it. It's worth being a mantra. Follow your passion, not the paycheck. You will experience a satisfaction that no amount of bank can give. Okay, yes, you gotta pay off that loan and, probably, that other loan. You might have to take some J-O-B now and then, but even just a job, done with a heightened consciousness, will not be a burden. You can enliven, embolden, innovate, whatever you need to do. When you offer your work up in the spirit of service, it changes the atmosphere around you and the quality of your days.

Keep a conscious intent for your sonata, for your startup, your suspension bridge, for your space station. Remember, our real work in this life is the continual growing into how to love—and how to receive love. You guys are finally free to go and do. So go, make stuff. Make just laws. Make films. Make sustainable foods, renewable energy. Make love. Make peace.

As an actor, I tell my directors, ‘Don't give me a concept. Give me something I can activate.’ People always say, ‘You are the future.’ Well, yeah, that's a given. So be the moment, by moment, and you will govern the quality of your days.

You come away from here poised to be exemplary American and global citizens. The tell of a patriot is not by how much he loves the symbols of the nation, but by how much she loves the people of her country. Love is valuing lives, sharing space, resources, knowledge, and power with your fellow citizens; understanding that they cherish and are cherished by their loved one as much as you are by yours.

The flag and anthem—even the ridiculously hard one to sing, but they rocked it today—they are only symbols; just things. You'd look crazy, like a crazy person hugging a flag. But you can hug the children of your nation by feeding their bodies and their minds, by keeping them safe from assault while they're growing. That is how you love your country.

Here on campus you have shown yourselves to be of the first order of patriots by supporting a fair contract for Tufts dining workers. My mother always said, ‘If somebody is telling the truth, you never let them stand alone.’ You did not, and you will always stand tall—as a woman among men, and a man among boys—whenever you embrace your neighbor as a human being with full rights to a dignified life.

You're headed for the front lines, my dears. It is a rigorous destination, but you can fill it with joy. Safety is a snoozer, so don't even go there. Get out of here and live. Screw up, big time, and then keep living, keep reaching, and seeking.

Be kind. To others, of course, but even more so be kind to yourself.

And go ahead, turn up like it's 2019. And then, I recommend a big greasy burger—made of plants—and lots and lots of alkaline water. Stay away from the Pedialyte, my children.

Be smart. Look out for each other. Wherever you land from here, create families. Share kitchens and resources. Express community.

You know, you're not supposed to feel good every day. And you're certainly not supposed to look good every day. So don't believe IG—Instagram is a pimp. If it's not a shot of somebody doing something for somebody else, and having fun doing it, it's crazy pants. If you have to contort your body, hold the camera up over your head, poke your lips out to get the desired effect, you know you're dealing in bogus currency. If it's somebody's face looming in the foreground, with Ramses tomb way in the background, it's crazy pants. Every day write your own script. Don't play a role in which others are trying to cast you.

Right now you have the only true power: the power over your own thought. I had the unimaginable great fortune to be friends with Nelson Mandela. One of the life-changers, among dozens that I learned from watching Madiba, is that you can't always control your circumstances, but only you control your response to those circumstances.

It's your world now. My generation is just living in it. Each generation becoming better than the last is the natural order of things. Not better at acquiring stuff and money, but better at being human, better at refining the art of sharing space on the planet.

Schools of science and theology will tell you we are indeed, in blood and deed, one people in this one world. As citizens, we respect sovereign boundaries, but art, science recognizes no borders, only possibility. Tufts graduating Class of 2019, bring your gifts to the healing of the nations. Bring along your brothers and sisters and those that flow. Each person's freedom reinforces your own. You have the power in your hands to make it so.

As you fan out across the country, across our world, be the influence. Make art. Make science. Make commerce. Make decisions that speak truth to power and stand, even when it is unpopular. In fact, especially when it is unpopular, stand for the true principles of life, liberty, choice, and the pursuit of happiness to which we are all entitled. And remember, never let anybody who is telling the truth stand alone.

Life is good, even when it's complicated. Stay in it. Create. Foster justice. Have fun. Moisturize, moisturize. Hydrate. Step away from the single-use plastics and people like them. Put your phones down, my friends, and live. Live long and prosper. Congratulations!