student in media lab

Commencement 2011 Student Speech

Student Speaker
Cyrée Jarelle Johnson

We the Freaks on Judgment Day

Special thanks on this day go to The Most High Spirit, Maker of Heaven and Earth, my mother, all my aunties, little brothers, cousins, very special thanks to my Mema and Gramma, and all my relatives, to the ancestors whose name I know and those who are still showing themselves to me.

Another round of thanks to my committee, my rheumatologists, the magnificent cadre of LGBTqueer Black and brown folks I have had the unique pleasure of spending my Hampshire experience with. I hope that we can remember that WE are the fortunate ones, that there are many, many more. To the Piscataway 1 chapter of the New Jersey Orators. For my assembled communities of identity and faith.

I hear that some people believe that today will be judgment day. Let us consider the faint possibility that around 6 p.m. Pacific Standard Time the rapture will come. Consider the unfathomable idea that tonight will bring the end to everything we know about the world. What would be the things that you would want highlighted about your stroll through life if you were standing in front of whatever forces collaborated to create us tonight? Would it change the way you thought about yourself, and those who most reflect you? Whether the world ends or not, I hope that this will be a day when a bit more of the world is revealed to us collectively and as individuals.

For many of us freaky looking, strange feeling kids Hampshire has been a place to explore ourselves and become more like ourselves. Although it could be unpleasant, confrontational, incomprehensible, completely inaccessible, self aggrandizing, self righteous, and self centered, it is also a place full of intelligent, highly perceptive, sensitive souls who are committed to searching for what's genuine and doing what they believe is right. I hope that we can use this day to reflect on what Hampshire College was for each of us as an experience, and as an idea. I hope that this is a day that reveals us to ourselves in a way that the ones that preceded it tried and failed to do. May our minds not stray from the way that our paths have become more honest, positive, correct and uplifting, and also to the places where we have deviated from our best intentions. May we turn our astute critical lenses, won from years spent in hot debates over continental philosophy, culture, art, politics, inward to ourselves and take a penetrating look.

We the freaks, assembled here before you, have survived, not just Hampshire but everything that preceded this place. CONGRATULATIONS! We are ALIVE, breathing and living, and it is the greatest privilege of all. May we cherish our brief, glorious, expansive lives. May we not just exist, may we live for something. May we work towards the day where freaky queer kids don't consider the possibility of erasing their valuable voices from planet earth with their own hands. While we live, let us live without fear. Let us use our voices and words to defend ourselves, to speak truth to power and to our peers. May we not be bullied by the corrupt, may we think for ourselves. I was told that "it is better to speak, knowing we were never meant to survive." We know that Audre Lorde rarely, if ever, lies. Speaking is essential to surviving in these dangerous times. Let us remember that we are the fortunate ones. May we use our good fortune to our own advantage and to the advantage of our peoples. May we be unabashed and not the least bit ashamed, may our freak flags fly high and may we always live up to our own standards while not imposing them on others.

Most importantly, may we truly learn to love. We must learn to love ourselves and one another. I don't claim to have the answer about how we reverse all of the hateful things that most of us come in contact with each and every day. How to say yes to our brown skin, our crippled bodies, our wounded places when everything around us says absolutely not. But I do hope that we can try to be kinder in every direction, more thoughtful when it is not required, and more contented in spite of the circumstances. May we find peace within ourselves, even if the journey is long. May our bodies become our cherished homes. May our health be our wealth. May we use our strength to help and heal instead of hurt one another. May we pursue self awareness and practice sound judgment. May we use the short time that we have together to create a world that is livable rather than tolerable.

May we love ourselves enough to be able to truly see the good things about each other, even when they are hidden by the less gracious parts of our personality. May we love each other and the freaky kids growing up behind us enough to use positive language when referring to one another, let us at least attempt to forgive each other and forget transgressions against us. Let us acknowledge and be thankful for real love, honest and true, and quick to remove fake love, materialistic love, impatient love, external love.

May we remember to thank one another for the ways that they have changed us, the deep impressions that they have made on the way we live our lives. May we remember to consider the consequences of our actions. May we remember those who came before us, and may their names imbue us with a swell of pride. May we continue to survive and thrive for those who are looking to us for guidance. May we walk into this next phase of our lives truly changed for the better.

And if somehow, all of those people who have been rooting against us are right, and these are our final hours in the land of the living: Then let us celebrate with the ringing of bells, words of joy, and sentimental memories shared with those we love most. Let us greet that opportunity with the same passion that we have seized in moments prior, and may we never turn our faces from who we really are.


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