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Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson speaks at commencement 2019

Justice advocate Bryan Stevenson opened his remarks* to the Class of 2019 with a request: Go out and change the world. One of the keys to that, Stevenson said, is getting "proximate" to the poor, people who are suffering, and the marginalized, to understand the challenges and needs of society.

Second, he said, is to disrupt the narratives that dominate the way we think about public policy. For example, declaring those with addictions as criminals rather than as in need of health care, helped lead this country to having the highest prison and jail population and the highest incarceration rate in the world. He also urged the graduates to stay hopeful, framing hopelessness as the enemy of justice. Finally, he said that in order to change the world, the graduates are going to have do things that are uncomfortable. Rarely if ever has liberty prevailed, Stevenson noted, without committed citizens making the choice to be uncomfortable and do the hard work.

"I believe that you will be accomplished, you will be successful, and you will do extraordinary things," he said. "But I also believe that we will not be judged by how much we do for the powerful and privileged, but for how much we do for the poor, the excluded, the incarcerated. We will be judged by how we change the world."

* Bryan Stevenson did not grant permission for his remarks to be recorded or reproduced.