Dear Friends and Families of the Graduating Class of 2013:
Last week, a group of students and I had the opportunity to meet with Representative John Lewis from the state of Georgia. Lewis was only 23 years old when he spoke in the historic March on Washington in 1963 with Martin Luther King, Jr. While protesting the injustice of racial segregation, Lewis was ridiculed, arrested and even beaten until concussed on the same streets he called home. Decades later, one of the men responsible for raising his fists on the civil rights activist came to Representative Lewis’ office in DC and asked him for forgiveness. Through a flashback of pain and struggle, the Congressman found it in his heart to shake that man’s hand, embrace him and call him brother. While John Lewis holds public office right now, it does not define who he is; it is merely a vehicle for him to accomplish the things that he has dedicated his entire life to.
John Lewis represents the fire that burns within this community of students, fueled by the world’s most complex challenges to overcome the emotional complexity of the past. While only some of us will also go on to hold public office, each and every one of us will fight for something bigger than ourselves, driven by a story that is not necessarily our own. HKS students are not intimidated to play the role of David against Goliath, and if you have known any of us in our childhood, you probably have some entertaining stories of our age long stubbornness. I personally was convinced that being a Ninja Turtle was a career path. Some things will never change.
This is an extremely unique group of people. We are made up of individuals that have served around the world: some in the armed services, others in the slums of villages. Some of these students have fought in a war in the same parts of the world where other students have attempted to negotiate peace. We have students who will stand in front of a classroom to teach the next generation, and we have others who are fighting to give the next generation a seat inside that very classroom. With such a range of experiences and backgrounds, it is hard to find one thing that defines all of us; but if there is one thing that each and every member of this community has, it is the ability to turn adversity into opportunity. We refuse to be knocked down. We all have certain things that keep us up at night. Very few of us settle for the status quo and most dedicate the rest of their life to disrupting it. HKS students dream with their eyes open.
Thank you. Thank you to the people who are here for us today and to those who are here in spirit. We would be foolish to believe that our own story is independent of you. We stand on your shoulders: our parents, our sisters, our third grade teachers, our brothers, our mentors, our friends. In the quilt of our own narratives, you are the invisible thread that holds us together in the hardest of times. Each and every one of us will think of someone else when we receive our degree. It’s this humility that makes me proud to be a part of this class. Your unconditional support holds us up in our baby steps toward changing the world.
2012-2013 Harvard Kennedy School Student Government President