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Sonia Sanchez


President Smith. Provost, deans, graduates, faculty, trustees, parents. Husbands, wives, children, workers, custodians, ancestors. What an honor to be a part of this 2018 Commencement.

Someone said, "There is a dance in each one of us." I would say there is also light. Moon, prayer, rain, ash, and river. A river of castanets feeling the pulse of this graduating class this morning.

You, my brothers, my sisters, must finally break into a dance of butterflies, ringing in and out of our American dreams. Hanging bamboo laughter. Lighting our world and our homes, campuses, streets, churches, cathedrals, mosques, meetinghouses, synagogues, our eyes, our memory against peacock catastrophes. You my brothers, my sisters must finally answer the most important question of the 21st century. What does it mean to be human? This is a poem about hands, I think. New frontier men and women whose hands will discover life through helping the uninitiated.

Hands wrapped in risk as you reach out to humankind. And I hold up my hands to you this morning, my sisters and my brothers. These hands with no eyes. These hands with no nostrils. These hands with no ears. Now I dress them up like a musician so they can see you home. So they can accompany you as you move, surrounded by the voices of your ancestors. As you move across the scent of tongues. What to say to you now, my brothers? My sisters Paul, Judy, Maria, Joseph, Purty, Jasmin, Rachel, David, Joyce, Shakira, in the soft morning air as the world holds us all in a single breath?

What song to sing to you Karen, Rashid, Nozomi, Angela, Megan, LaToya, Robert, Edward, Nasim? Will you let me in today, America? It is time for young words. New ideas. Young visions. Today is Sunday. We have passed this way many years on our way home to you. We have walked a thousand midnights and our eyes are anointed with indio. We sing Amen, Amen, Amen, a woman, a woman, a woman. This is a poem about you students. You fun-loving men and women. You flint and feather men and women. You country and cathedral men and women with hearts in your mouths, singing the morning wind and becoming the wind.

Tearing the wings off racism, ignorance. Greed, gossip, war, guns, assassinations, war, poverty, war, miseducation, war, no education, war. Folding yourselves into the music of a Spanish guitar, forever strumming racial, sexual, social, economic, religious justice and peace. Always peace. This is a poem. You'll say, "I know. This is the poem." You will say, "I know it," about that great genius W.E.B. DuBois who said, "What shall the end be?" The world old and fearful things, war and wealth. Murder and luxury? Or shall it be a new thing? A new piece and a new democracy of all races?

A just humanity of equal men and women. This is a poem about our children shot down. Gestapo style in the streets of America. This is a poem about children shot down, terrorized by fellow students in the schools of America. Ay-ay-ay-ay-ay Ya-ya-ya-ya. This is a poem about non-persons in a Charleston church covered with blood from an American terrorist. Ay-ay. Ay-ya-ay-ay-ay-ay. This is a poem about four million gallons of oil exploding in the ocean, leaving the Gulf Coast startled by an avalanche of death and greed. Ay-ya, ya-ya-ya-ya.

This is a poem about Mexicans making us remember this country is a reservoir of immigrants who built America. This is a poem about the memory of a man's last sounds. "I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe." This is about the truth and your eyes. As you wash the feet of our colleges and universities, of our country, of the earth. As you sanitize the wars of the world with environmental justice, as you anoint your hands that light, as you walk towards yourselves and find others just like yourselves. This is the poem with no jet-propelled pain, no irrelevant death squads. Just a memory of hands.

A memory of eyes calling out your eyes morning stars, opening us up to praise as you create new narratives and dreams. As you go out through these university doors textured by colors and the day disrobes in prayer. Today is your day, my brothers and my sisters. Your century, my brothers and my sisters. So come, come. Come, nourish the world where every three days 120,000 children die of starvation or the effects of starvation. Come. Come, come. Nourish the world away from what Bernard Haring, the Roman Catholic teacher calls the materialist growth mania for more and more production and more and more markets for selling unnecessary and even damaging products.

It is a sin against the generations to come. What shall we leave to them, rubbish? Atomic weapons numerous enough to make the world uninhabited? A poison atmosphere and polluted water? Come. Come, come. You and I. Let us go into the world praising peace. Elaborating a metaphysic for the universe. Carrying peace from our one plane to another. Clothing this planet and our eyes with information and peace. Justice and peace. Passion and peace. Hope and peace. Love and peace. Knowledge and peace. Come. Come, come and become lightning flash. Come. Come and become a river running, cracking through rocks of hatred. Come and become.

Finally, you and I must paint our face as guardians of the Earth and of each other. Finally, must know that we are not quoting Oppenheimer, I have become death. No. We are, must be, must quote, I have become life. And must oppose any and all killings, murders, wars, rapes, invasions, executions, invasive actions. I have become life. I walk in the light. I move like the dawn with a tint of blue in my hair. I say, I say, I have become life. And you must become small miracles. Must push the wind down into the slow bloodstream of America.

Scrape the rust from your eyes. Go floor by floor, window by window. Become new brides and bridegrooms among change. Breathe in Latinos, Blacks, Native Americans. Jews, gays, Muslims, Asians, Whites, lesbians, Chicanos, Africans, transgender. So come. Come, come with yourselves singing life, life, life, life. Singing eyes. Singing hands. Alarming the death singers that we have come to celebrate life, life, life until we become seen, women and men again walking barefoot across our souls, always with a prayer on our tongues.

The day is walking towards us and I say, give us the spirit, oh Lord. Oh my sisters and brothers and for it put, to put on our eyes. And forever, let us be in the eyelash of your memory. In the eyelash of your memory. Where there is always the precision of young men and women serving themselves, sewing themselves into the sleeves of justice and activism and change and love. And if we do that, inaugurating a new way of breathing for the world. It will get better in three words, ee bay. Ee bay, ye, ye, ye, ye, ye, ye, ye, ye, ye, bay. Ee bay, ye, ye, ye, ye, ye, ye, ye, ye. Ee bay, ye, ye, ye, ye. It'll get better. Thank you.

Commencement 2018 Sonia Sanchez