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2017 Pomona College Commencement – Honorary Degree Speaker: Gay McDougall

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2017 Pomona College Commencement – Honorary Degree Speaker: Gay McDougall


I am really thrilled to be here today
and to receive this honor. And I want to thank Pomona College. I want to thank the students. I want to thank the faculty
and the administration and, of course, the board of trustees. The first time I was here
on this campus was in , when my now late husband,
John Payton, was also given an honorary degree and gave the commencement address. John graduated from
Pomona College in . When he died in , he was a member of
the board of trustees. Excuse me a minute. This thing is going
to choke me here. [laughter] So when John came and
spoke to the class of , he spoke about the critical threats
to our democracy that existed then. And he charged the graduates of to take responsibility
for safeguarding the freedoms that we the people cherish
in our Constitution. His warnings about
threats to our democracy, of course, are even
greater today than then. But I want to focus on the fact
that I think that our problems are so much larger than that. Fledgling democracies all
over the world are under threat. The human rights movement
at this moment in history is being beaten back. Those who stood up
for the Arab Spring are in jail or under house arrest. Nelson Mandela’s great legacy
to South Africa is being squandered by tribalism. Racist hate speech
is no longer taboo. And in every country
that I have visited, in every region of the world, including places in this country, ethnic, racial, and religious minorities end up also being the poorest of the poor. They have higher levels of
poverty, without question, they have less access
to education, healthcare, and basic services, and they are denied most decent
employment opportunities. And now, every day, as we watch on our television screens or read on the front pages
of our newspapers, to see the scenes of suffering as masses of men, women, and children
risk and in all too many situations, they lose their lives as they try
desperately to get to Europe in order to escape the chaos
that is going on in their countries. How can we not search
ourselves and our souls for some degree of responsibility? And as the tides are sweeping
the bodies of babies up on the shores of the Mediterranean, European countries are
preparing to meet them with racist xenophobia. They are closing their borders and they are forcibly kicking all
refugees out of their countries. And we here, well, we’re building walls and we’re denying visas to those who would be the best of
America’s future innovators. But as bad as all this sounds, we can fix this. The future is really not inevitable. These are all problems
that have solutions. And those solutions
are within our reach. We simply have to care enough
about finding those solutions. We have to have empathy. And we must not be
fooled into thinking that we can ignore the plight
of people suffering merely because they’re on
the other side of the globe. It comes back to us. After all, as I’ve said often to people, it’s those sweatshops that
I’ve seen in southeast Asia that make the designer jeans affordable for working class people in this country– we’re all connected in this economy. To you, the class of 2017, you’re very fortunate. You are graduating from one of the best and most
prestigious institutions in the world and you are entering a job market that has single digit
unemployment for college grads. And this world you are inheriting is one of incomparable wealth,
resources, and technical know-how. The only problem is in the midst of all of those resources, there is incredible hunger,
poverty, and despair. But, as I say, we can fix this. You have the power to find
the solutions to these problems and I think that
you have been prepared by one of the best institutions
in the world to find those solutions. You just have to care. You, class of 2017, you can be the first
generation in human history to end hunger, poverty,
and racism as we know it. So go to it. Thank you very much. [applause]

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