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2021 MPP Commencement Speaker: Marlana Wallace, MPP '21

Descriptive Transcript


A person in graduation regalia is seated outside against a swath of greenery. A small, translucent black, box in the corner of the screen with white text reads: Marlana Wallace.

Wallace speaks:

Good morning and congratulations graduates. Thank you to the faculty and staff who work hard to keep us connected and engaged, thank you to the families and friend families who support every member of the Heller community and a big thank you to my MPP classmates who've given me the honor of sharing a few thoughts with you today.

It's been a year of devastating losses, big and small. Some of us are struggling to manage the discomforts of isolation while others are struggling just to survive. I want to start by recognizing the little losses, grad school was not what we expected or hoped. Having spent the majority in a Zoom classroom we missed out on a thousand passing hallway conversations that transform faculty into colleagues, schools into communities and classmates into friends. I trust that faculty and staff feel that deprivation as keenly as we do. We can honor that loss today and at the same time we can honor the gifts of unexpected growth, both can be true.

Maybe you read a theorist that revolutionized your thinking, maybe you built a soul sustaining friendship, maybe you simply found the stubborn willpower to keep showing up even after losing all motivation for doing so. This expansive capacity to feel contradictory emotions at the same time, that's the heartbeat of the human experience and it's a prerequisite for the pursuit of social justice. Or to grapple honestly with the injustices of our world is profoundly painful.

The systematic state sanctioned violence inflicted upon black and brown communities is unconscionable. The senseless brutal murders of Daunte Wright, Ma'Khia Bryant, and Adam Toledo, among so many others rouse an anguish that cuts across generations. The relentless destruction of our environment provokes an existential dread and the fact that essential workers are paid poverty wages while generational wealth goes untaxed, it's maddening and yet in the same breath we must sustain the intellectual and emotional power to imagine the world as it could be, as it should be. To take in that pain and still believe we can build a world where everyone has safe housing and nutritious food, good healthcare, good schools, the means to care for those they love and the opportunities to develop their creative capacities. Where our mistakes are met with mercy and support and healing the harms we cause. We need to summon the courage to make what was once considered radical, possible. We need to nurture a curiosity for divergent thinking, we have to allow ourselves to feel the fiery hope that calls us to action or this vision will not be realized.

When striving to see inequities clearly and to truly understand the policies that perpetuate them it is all too easy to be overcome by helplessness. The distance between grief and gratitude pain and possibility can be a heavy burden and none of us can bear that weight alone, isolation duels empathy, it saps energy, it yields apathy. If we didn't know this before we certainly know it now, and so we also know it's antidote. Our sense of purpose comes from people, connections invigorate, solidarity empowers, love revitalizes. 

As graduates and as a nation we are in the midst of transition, we are crawling out into a social and political landscape polarized by a hateful administration ravaged by illness and frozen in isolation. But because change is constant so too is the possibility for hope, for there is always something new growing in the ashes of what's past. Now it is spring,

Wallace holds out their hands and points to the greenery behind them, then continues:
literally and figuratively. We are the buds on the vine and we are also the gardeners planting seeds. As professionals and as people our choices matter, our shiny new degrees do not make us smarter or better than anyone else but they give us a little more freedom to choose the conditions of our work and a little more power to improve those conditions for those we work alongside.

New graduates I hope you find a job that helps you lead a thriving life, but more than that I hope you find people to carry you through the jobs that don't. May you know and love people from many walks of life, people who exercise your empathy and alight your curiosity and fortify your courage. May we nurture our relationships here at Heller and may we bring more people into this community in the years to come. Thank you.