Each year at commencement, the graduating class and faculty choose three students—one from each degree program—to offer words of blessing, calling, and conviction. Here, we’re sharing the full video and transcript of the speech given by Mercedes Robinson, Master of Theology and Culture, about what this graduating class has witnessed and survived, and the particular ways they have been invited to embody text, soul, culture. You can also watch the speeches from Megan Doner, Master of Divinity, and Danielle Castijello, Master of Counseling Psychology.
For those of you that know me well you know that I am blunt sometimes to a fault. I am realistic and often speak of lament. I don’t always choose it and yet sometimes words of grief and protest just seem to pour out of me. That is who I am and that is how my voice shows up in spaces where I’m given permission to express it. So while I attempted to write words that uplift and encourage, I couldn’t help but pay attention to the reality of the world going on around us.
The pain in mourning, neglect and suffering, despair and utter devastation. Some of us in this graduating cohort came to The Seattle School in the midst of the 2016 presidential election cycle, the results of which caused many of us to question our national moral integrity for the very first time. Some of us in this graduating cohort came to this school two weeks following the shocking events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. We struggled to stay present during orientation in our first days of classes. We watched Hurricane Harvey devastate the Houston area with Hurricane Maria soon to follow.
We have survived more than our fair share in these last few years. Dozens of unfortunate mass shootings such as those that occurred in Las Vegas, Parkland, and El Paso. We have witnessed the launch of the #metoo movement and the heartbreaking but necessary acknowledgment of systemic sexual violence against women. We have observed countless acts of political corruption from travel bans and family separation and kids in cages to intentional government shutdowns, numerous accounts of fraud, attacks against marginalized communities and an unfaltering rise and domestic hate groups and extreme nationalism.
We’ve witnessed the environment cry out in distress not only from the hurricanes but also earthquakes, wildfires, a rising sea level and other signs of global warming. NFL players have taken knees while police brutality and police murder continue to befall the black community and America’s correction system remains functioning by design. We are facing a growing opioid epidemic and uptick in abuse statistics, continued threats against basic human rights, national voter suppression and a staggering mental health crisis. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that many of us in this graduating cohort survived a brazen incidence of abuse of power and cultural trauma inflicted within the four walls of this very institution, the likes of which have not only had a profound impact on all of us as individuals but had a ripple effect on the overall culture of the school.
We are a peculiar bunch, aren’t we. We began our pursuit towards a master’s degree during one national crisis after another. Now we are officially ending in the midst of a global pandemic and mass civil unrest. It seems as if we have been invited to embody the school’s creed – text soul and culture — for such a time as this. The actor and fallen national hero Chadwick Boseman talked about purpose when he addressed the 2018 graduating class of Howard University. He said, “Purpose crosses disciplines, purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill.”
To the graduating class of the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, I say thank you. It has been a privilege and an honor to learn from you, be challenged by you, and encouraged by you. Given all of what we’ve been through both collectively and individually these past few years, I can emphatically affirm that I wouldn’t have made it without each one of you. You helped me grow up. Thank you for providing me the opportunity to discover more of my purpose, and I’m hopeful that each one of you is able to declare the same.
Now to the family, dear friends, and colleagues that have joined us here today, I leave you with two reminders: one, the resistance is much larger than police brutality and police murder, much larger. And two, with the presidential election just 36 days away I implore you to be an empathetic witness and vote on behalf of the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. Remember, however, that voting will not fix every problem. In fact, the right to vote comes with many problems of its own, but it’s definitely a strong starting place. Peace.