May 22, 2016

Jacqueline Woodson 2016 Commencement Speech

I’m honored to be back at Adelphi. I was thinking about the poet Mary Oliver who said, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” And when I was at Adelphi, there was so much stuff I didn’t know.

I didn’t know that when I walked into Adelphi that first day and walked into Post Hall that I would have to choose between sitting on the black side of the cafeteria and the white side of the cafeteria. It was the 1980s, and I had never had to make that choice before.

I didn’t know that I was going to join the track team. That I was going to be an Adelphi cheerleader rooting for the Panthers. I didn’t know I was going to pledge AKA. I didn’t know that I was going to end up writing 32 books. I didn’t know that as a person who spent a lot of time with theater department and my dance friends that so many of my friends would die. And I didn’t know that they were going to die from a disease that we had never even known would come to be known, which was HIV/AIDS. I didn’t know that I would end up trying to change the world through literature because of a powerlessness I felt as a young person who didn’t see myself in the books that I read.

I didn’t know that I had the power to change the world. And as I sit up here with my hero, Marion Wright Edelman, I know that each of us has that power. You guys are young. You’re amazing. You’re beautiful. You’re articulate. You have degrees. And now you have the power to make the choice to go out and change the world.

So the question is not what will you do with your one wild and precious life, but what will you change? Because you have that power to create change.

I didn’t know that there was going to be movement to help get Trans rights into the world. That we would be arguing over gender neutral bathroom. Which is just a wrap. What’s the question?

I didn’t know that Beyonce would exist and drop “Lemonade.”

I didn’t know that Lin Manuel Miranda was a young boy who would one day write “Hamilton” and would change my life.

So what is the thing that is going to become memory for you. And what is the thing that is going to change your life, and what is the thing that is going to help you change the world? I love Adelphi. I love that I’m no longer at Adelphi.

But I love that Adelphi was there when I needed it to be there and was the catalyst for jump starting the person that I would go out into the world to become.

So welcome, y’all, to your becoming, and go out, change the world, and remember it’s not a moment. It’s a movement. Thank you.

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Adelphi University, New York, is a highly awarded, nationally ranked, powerfully connected doctoral research university dedicated to transforming students’ lives through small classes with world-class faculty, hands-on learning and innovative ways to support academic and career success. Adelphi offers exceptional liberal arts and sciences programs and professional training, with particular strength in our Core Four—Arts and Humanities, STEM and Social Sciences, the Business and Education Professions, and Health and Wellness.

Recognized as a Best College by U.S. News & World Report, Adelphi is Long Island’s oldest private coeducational university. It serves more than 8,100 students at its beautiful main campus in Garden City, New York—just 23 miles from New York City’s cultural and internship opportunities—and at dynamic learning hubs in Manhattan, the Hudson Valley and Suffolk County, as well as online.

More than 115,000 Adelphi graduates have gained the skills to thrive professionally as active, engaged citizens, making their mark on the University, their communities and the world.

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