(I co-wrote this commencement address, a version of which was given last weekend at a UCSB graduation ceremony.)
This was the year.
A year of change, of disorder, of assault, of murder, of the world moving without us, without our approval. A year of feeling the deep violation of our space and our peace. You have made it to today. Here you stand, after all the shocks. Here you are.
You look about and the world seems to be too heavy, too difficult to move. You are being deceived.
Oh yes, there’s injustice, the old man sleeping on the new bench by Silvergreens surrounded by millions of dollars of renovation to prettify the spot.. Without decent shelter, because in our “first world” country, people fall through the cracks.
There is injustice, always has been, always will be, and nothing to be done, you are told… but to be resigned.
You are being deceived We are being deceived. We are not helpless, we are not hopeless, and injustice is not eternal.
You are the scientists, the writers, the artists, the composers, the people who will rally hearts and minds. In your minds you hold ideas, awaiting transformation into your work, into your effect upon the world. You need the confidence to act, to trust each other and yourselves– to rise. To roll out and transform.
I have seen your anger, and even more, your sorrow. But in your work, in your writing, your music and your art, I see hope. You enter new lives today. These lives will not be easy, not on you, on your conscience, on your minds. Keep your friends close, keep their sustaining strength, for you need each other.
Ours is a community of incredibly disparate souls, but a community because of that, not in spite of it. A community within a community, the larger community of this university.
Do you remember being told--Don’t show off. Don’t make them feel bad. Don’t think so fast, don’t think so well?
Put that down. Leave that advice behind. Our college is where those fearful cautioning voices stopped, where the bar was no longer determined by the “norm”. Our college has been the place for you to free the self you always were, to let it go.
And my other movie reference for this day? Pacific Rim.
They do go together, the monster flick and the Disney animated movie. Together they argue for our freedom and our acceptance of our powers.
The kaiju monsters in Pacific Rim are the monsters of ignorance, Possibly an analogy for climate change–an analogy for religious strife, for mental illness, for misogyny, for the range of hatreds–for all those things we would prefer to wall away, to pretend ignorance about, to blinder our eyes against because we fear we cannot change them.
Monsters rising from our deeps, seeming merely alien and merely hostile, but in reality far more. We have given them time to bulk to greatness by our willingness to be reassured by voices saying –this threat is arguable, maybe it is not real at all, voices that have left us wallowing in convenience and comfort because there might be a doubt that trouble is coming: And we can always build a wall and keep them away, can’t we?
Pacific Rim is a missed movie, a forgotten story. Geeks and warriors—but this is for us, for you, for each of us is both these things, the contending split-minded nerds and the joined-mind warriors.
Be no more deceived.
To battle monsters, particularly those of our own making, we become more human not less. We break the old trope that we must become them, kaiju ourselves, to beat them. Instead, dare a better understanding that overcomes petty loyalties and identities. reach for a creative intimacy, a frightening risky acceptance.
We are people, once incompatible at the beginning of our story, who must come together to fight the common tragedy, the shared wrong.
Willful ignorance is the door through which our monsters come — this is the door we must close.
Pacific Rim bares the essential powers of mankind, to adapt, to rebuild, to come back from disaster with lessons learned – to save each other. We do not become the enemy, we build together, not apart, and our common humanity bridges our differences. We protect, we create, we defend… And while the urge to fall into destructive power may be great, we do not fall, and we keep each other from falling –we seek to understand. Because the simple response of rage is not enough, and may bring us down faster than any threat from outside.
Our misperception of the enemy cripples. We have been deceived by the conceit that we can wall them off and turn away. That we can block off the problems without facing them. That’s a lie. The fear that kept us blind? Let it go, throw off the halter, the blinders along with all the holding back. Open your hands. Accept your power. The cold never bothered you, anyway.
You have been deceived. We are not helpless. From Pacific Rim, come these truths:
“Today we have chosen not only to believe in ourselves but in each other
“Today there is not a man or woman in here who will stand alone.
“Today we face the monsters at our door.
“Today we cancel the apocalypse.”
Be not deceived. Injustice is not eternal.