The People’s Graduation Speech-May 16, 2024

Oh I say thank you

Oh I say thank you

Oh great spirit in this way

I long to give my life to you

In love and devotion

In love and devotion


Thank you to the land holding all of us. Thank you to the Haida Gwaii for that song. Thank you for inviting me here. Thank you to the families of all of these students, for all that you did to get them here, to this moment. Thank you to the community that has held these students, for how you have encouraged and strengthened them for this moment.

And students, beloveds, thank you. So much. I mostly came here to say thank you, face to face. 

You’re among the few people who have made any sense to me in all these months. I am so proud of you for doing what you uniquely could. 

You refused to shirk your responsibility. With your peaceful protest, you put our nation’s attention on Palestine, and on the U.S. funded genocide unfolding there.  

I see your bravery. I see your sacrifice. I see your solidarity. I see how the encampment you built was an embodiment of the future we all deserve.

I see a free Palestine. I see global Jewish safety and dignity. I see Black life mattering, from here to the Sudan, the Congo, Eritrea, Haiti. I see us thriving on a planet we respect and honor. I see body sovereignty for every being. I see a future for our species…and YOU are a primary reason why the vision is so clear!

Change is constant, so it is important to have a root system of healing ideas – that all people deserve safety, dignity and belonging. That all people deserve justice, freedom and peace. 

You have now tasted moral clarity in the face of purposeful confusion, you know what it feels like to understand something you have been socialized to misunderstand. You have now tasted the fearlessness of collective action; what is only possible in community. 

What you did is sparking a modern wave of divestment and institutional reckoning with the question of why our colleges and universities, and our nation itself, are so deeply invested in, and identified with, apartheid, genocide and war. 

For these reasons, your president and trustees should have celebrated you. Your loved ones entrusted them with your care, and so your president and trustees failed miserably when they chose to harass and arrest you and misrepresent your actions to the wider world. What they did is a shameful stain on Columbia’s history. But we gather here to thank you and celebrate you.

Because of you, Columbia’s radical student protest tradition lives on.

You have liberated yourselves INTO community. I assure you, this is what you came here for. The earlier in life you learn to recognize and divest from the worst of our collective behaviors, the more time you have to seed and learn and grow the best of our human possibility, within yourself, and with each other. 

It might look smaller, less linear, slower than what we learn success is meant to look like. But stay in connection, stay in interdependence, stay in accountability, stay in dignity, stay in love and you cannot fail, you cannot lose. 

This is your one life – do not cede the territory of your time to the worst of us.

Not even when that’s the national pastime. The U.S. has never figured out safety, dignity or belonging. We don’t know how to build a peaceful multiracial, multicultural society, so we cannot export that to any other nation. It is on us to help lead this nation in humility

So much of what the U.S. currently stands for is incompatible with humans having a future on earth. Once you see that, you begin the real work of your life, and I believe that’s where you are today, looking at a future you know you can shape, of a species you dare to hope you can save.

Welcome to a life lived with purpose. Some days you will be a sanctuary for others as they awaken to what the world is. Some days you will be a guide and some days you will be a seeker, but from here on we are peers to each other as we practice the future. 

Our work is to replace the religions of judgment and scarcity and punishment with spiritualities of curiosity and abundance and transformation.

We are carrying a light from the beginning of time to the end. No matter how many have tried, it has never been extinguished, and it will not be put out now. It is within so many of us, and it is growing wild.

Will we descend into genocidal chaos and climate catastrophe? Or will we rise to the occasion and evolve into a species that understands how to be different and equal and free and of earth? 

I suspect we will do both. And I want to be with you, on the side of us, forever. 

We shall not, we shall not be moved

We shall not, we shall not be moved

Just like a tree that’s planted by the water

We shall not be moved