By Lydia Wylie-Kellerman
A College Commencement Talk
Today we each take a step into our life’s work. We’ve been told a million times we are entering the “real world.” But what is this real world? It is a world built on white privilege, on the prerogatives of wealth, on marginalization through homophobia, on the violence of patriarchy and militarism, and the addictive mechanisms of consumer culture. It is a broken, hurtful, and hurting world. In many ways, we are inheriting a world that is not worth inheriting. It is a broken world– that we didn’t break.
We have not, however, been blind to these truths during our time at Loyola. As we studied beside students from New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina made visible the reality of poverty and racism. We have witnessed the horror of war and violence as the War in Iraq enters its sixth year, as torture has been called legitimate and even rationalized legal by our government. At Loyola we have worked through conversations about hate speech. We have asked critical questions about Loyola’s building expansion, investments, and environmental impact. We have faced our own participation in injustices like our contract with Coca Cola and its involvement in Colombia. And we have challenged the institutional racism on our campus. The “real world” we are entering has long been a part of our lives.
We cannot move forward in this world without first naming and understanding our privilege. We are here because of unearned privilege. Everyone deserves a good education, but the truth is, it’s not accessible to most people. We graduate one in a hundred with a college education. This is a privilege we don’t deserve more than anyone else. With our education, we have been given great tools to help mend this broken world. Will we use them?
Our culture does not teach us to use these tools for justice but rather for gain. We live in a culture based on money, individualism, and fear. Our whole lives we have been sold a myth. We are supposed to leave this school, enter the economy, compete to get to the top, and make as much money as fast as we can. This equation promises happiness. Suddenly, the people sitting around us today change from our friends to our competition. This myth is a scam. An outright lie.
We must move away from the values of money and individualism and transform them into community and simplicity. There are a thousand ways to be community. Be creative. Plant a garden with friends, speak truth to power, turn off your i-pod, dance in the street. Hold true that our lives depend on one another. I am because we are. Keep community at the center of your life, even when everything in our society is attacking it. Creating community is some of the best work we can do in this moment. In fact, it is our hope for survival.
Through simplicity we strip down. In the face of massive consumerism calling us to surround ourselves with stuff, we step back and only hold onto what is truly important. The world cannot sustain the lifestyles we lead in the United States. For the Earth we must reduce our impact. Be courageous. Build community. Live Simply.
We are also sold a culture dominated by fear. We are to fear our neighbor, our enemy, and anyone who is other or different. It is a fear that drives our way of life and makes us obsessed with security. Let us live in freedom from fear.
Don’t be afraid to trust a homeless person on the street, to do something that doesn’t make any money, to love someone society tells you not to, to take real risks for justice, to imagine that a new world is possible, to follow a vocation your parents don’t want you to, to hope in the midst of despair, and to live with fearless joy. Don’t be afraid to stop right now, right here, and change the direction of your life. It is through freeing ourselves from fear that we begin to truly live.
Let us leave here today filled with passion for our work, care for creation, anger at injustice, love of people, hope for the future, and deep, deep childlike joy.