Jessica Lange's Written Remarks at Commencement 2008
Madame President, Board of Trustees, members of the faculty, students, families, friends, I wish to thank you for the privilege of being here today and addressing you on this wonderful occasion.
We gather on this beautiful morning in May to celebrate with you, the graduates. And to celebrate all your achievements, your successes, perhaps certain failures, your courage, your doubts, and your passion. To celebrate your commencement and to mark the beginning of a new chapter in your young lives.
This is a day to feel proud and to congratulate yourselves on your hard work and intelligence. And then, to simultaneously give thanks for the extraordinary opportunity that has been given to you, to acknowledge the professors you've been privileged to study with, to acknowledge the excellent education you have received in this rarified atmosphere, and then, of course, to give thanks to those who enabled you to be here.
The possibilities and the limitations now spread out before you, whatever field you have decided to go into, whether it be the sciences, the arts, the humanities. You have the opportunity to make a better world, to benefit mankind, to ease the suffering of others, to educate, to heal, to entertain, to illuminate. A new beginning, an arising. How glorious for you!
William Blake wrote, "My fingers emit sparks of fire with expectations of my future labours."
When I mentioned to a friend that I was writing a commencement speech, he asked me what my theme was. Now that really threw me. Nobody told me I needed a theme. I'm not great with themes, so I don't have one, per se. I hope you're not disappointed. I do wish I could be funny or profound; however, that's wishful thinking. What I have are some thoughts I'd like to share with you. So if it feels random, it probably is.
I look out at your faces and guess most of you graduates are about 22 years old. I think of the world I was living in at that age. Very different from yours and yet, ominously similar.
At 22, for me, the Vietnam war was in its seventh year. Nixon was employing round-the-clock bombing. We were destroying the infrastructure, the people, and the countryside of Vietnam to save it from the Communists.
History repeats itself.
Today, for you at 22, the Iraq war is in the sixth year. Thousands of American soldiers killed. Tens of thousands wounded. Hundreds of thousands Iraqis dead. The infrastructure and land destroyed to save it from (and this is a movable feast) first, tyranny, and then, terrorists.
Now, some of you may feel this is not the proper occasion to make mention of this. However, I would be remiss in addressing a group of young adults if I were to deliberately ignore the political realities that they are faced with.
We are all citizens of a troubled world, yet it is your generation that carries the weight of the future on your shoulders. We are living in an America that in the last seven and a half years has waged an unnecessary war, established prison camps, condoned torture, employed corporate armies, eliminated the right of habeas corpus, practiced extraordinary rendition, and believe me, this is only a partial list—I had to keep myself in check.
I don't wish to dwell on the misery caused by this administration, but that legacy is being passed down to you. It is a heavy burden to inherit and will require tremendous dedication and hard work to put it right again. You must determine if we are going to measure ourselves on the basis of military might and economic power or if there is perhaps something deeper—more essential in our national character—that needs to be awakened.
We must commit ourselves, wholeheartedly, to the pursuit of peace, equality and justice. This should be the realm of your dreams, the altruistic motivation you go forward with as you are moving towards a world unknown.
I believe you've come of age in a complex and confusing time. The commercial forces surrounding you, the absence of meaningful culture, the constant assault by media, fashion, and entertainment. We have become a society that is placated by gadgets, soothed by consumerism and the empty rewards of upward mobility, the celebration of mediocrity and false celebrity, the obscurations of modern life. We need a sea change.