Graduates: Show Courage

It’s graduation season and with that, commencement speeches. Two recent speeches have resonated with me so far this spring.

President Obama, addressing the Atlanta, Georgia- based Morehouse College, a historically all-black male school founded after the Civil War, invoked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Morehouse,’48.

  “…he taught a nation to be unafraid.  And over the last 50 years, thanks to the moral force of Dr. King and a Moses generation that overcame their fear and their cynicism and their despair, barriers have come tumbling down, and new doors of opportunity have swung open, and laws and hearts and minds have been changed to the point where someone who looks just like you can somehow come to serve as President of these United States of America…”

Reading his speech this morning,  I thought of the film, 42, the biographical sports film about baseball player Jackie Robinson, the first African American to break the baseball color barrier win 1946 when he joined the Montreal Royals and later played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Had Robinson opted to stay in the Negro Baseball League, his life might have been a lot easier. Subjected to humiliating racial taunts from opponents, teammates, and baseball fans, he refused to become angry or fight back. He won people over by his athletic prowess, by winning for his team.

As President Obama reminded the Morehouse men, “…Every one of you have a grandma or an uncle or a parent who’s told you that at some point in life, as an African American, you have to work twice as hard as anyone else if you want to get by…”   The President urged the graduates to set an example, help others, and work for justice.  He praised the school’s legacy of “Men who refuse to be afraid…”

Courage.   And that’s what New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, asked the 410 graduates at Kenyon College, in Gambier, Ohio, Saturday, to show. He advocated that they continue to learn, to work hard, and to exhibit courage.  “…Have the courage to act on your hopes; don’t be paralyzed by your fears. Have the courage to think for yourself and to believe in your ideas. That kind of courage lies at the heart of human invention and progress – and the lack of it lies at the heart of our political problems today…” 

Courage, he said, is needed to fight for gun control, to fight for gay marriage rights, to affect climate change, and to close the academic achievement gap.

Ruminating on these speeches, I thought of two recent incidents.

A gorgeous Sunday a couple weeks ago,  I joined my cycling friends on rural roads in New Jersey. I had to leave the ride early for an afternoon commitment, so missed this event, captured here.  I’m not sure I’d have been as composed as my friends, when they were told by a passerby to get off “his” road.  I admire how they, mostly African Americans, don’t let someone’s moronic attitudes ruin their day.

And ironically, the evening after Mayor Bloomberg gave his speech about courage, a gay man, Mark Carson, was murdered at gunpoint in NYC’s Greenwich Village, target of a hate crime. Attacks against gays have increased in recent months in NYC; a suspect has been charged.   One can only wonder if a background check for this obviously troubled man, who had a criminal record, could have prevented this murder.

Courage, indeed. Our graduates need lots of it.

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7 Responses to Graduates: Show Courage

  1. It has been such a lovely time to reflect. All the commencement speeches have been so inspiring. Having courage is what it takes. I hope we can infuse that spirit into Congress and all of our officials. The courage to do the right thing no matter what the cost. France is recognizing the rights to gay marriage. Hollande signed it into law. Thanks for this post. Your cycling friends were amazing. It is just hard sometimes but you do have to smile and as my grandmother would say ” just consider the source and smile.” The courage to always take the high road. I think that that is what they all meant. When my grandmother would say you have to be “10 times better and work at a 1000% to get 1/10 the recognition,” I would just say under my breath “why me?” i would never let her hear that because her response would be ” why not you?.”
    I am cleaning my office while my nurse files charts. I am taking a bold move to throw out my desk and have a standing work station. That will cut own on clutter in the office.


  2. i wish i could get the treadmill. The budget will not allow for that bold move.


  3. Randy Jackson says:

    Way to go cycling grandma. Yes we did have to try twice as hard. I’m now in the twilite of a broadcasting career which has spanned 31 years. One time will do. I’m done proving myself
    to society. I know who I am. Thank you Martin. RJ


  4. Allegra Hoots says:

    Thanks for this very thoughtful and thought provoking article!


  5. Thanks for this en(couraging) post Lisa – it is a message for all of us, not just graduates. Courage is one of the attributes (probably the top one) that when I see it in someone, I’m drawn to them and inspired by them. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the acting out of what is right in spite of fear. Loved this post Lisa!



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