MPP Commencement Speaker: Sylvia Stewart, MPP'18

May 13, 2018

Sylvia Stewart, MPP'18

Y’all. We’re done.

I was truly surprised that you nominated me to give this speech, and I want to convey how honored I feel to have been chosen. Now, I’m not sure if I have anything lasting or inspiring I can leave y’all with this early in the morning. So I just want to take the next few minutes to express my utmost gratitude for all the thing you, my peers, have taught me over the last two years.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at Heller. Stepping back into a university setting was a huge hurdle for me. Still, I knew that if I wanted to make my home a better place, I needed the tools and understanding of social issues that Heller promised. When I finally got here, I was totally overwhelmed by your knowledge and your passion. I know it’s common for folks to say that they immediately felt like they belonged in their program, but honestly, I spent my first year trying my best to figure out how in the world I ended up studying with such an incredible group of people.

Y’all might not know this about me, but I’m a bit of a collector of old books. I was visiting my family in South Georgia one winter while I was an undergraduate and stopped by a little antique shop. I ran across a book by Lev Tolstoy called “What Men Live By.” Somewhat problematic title aside, a line in that book would change my life forever. It goes, “Man does not live by care for himself, but by love.” This became the guiding principle of my life.

I felt that love and that true care as you encouraged me to find my feet and excel here. I saw that true expression of love as you all fought to make Heller a more inclusive and equitable learning environment, and I continue to see that love in the dedication to knowledge and social justice you continue to have—despite what feels like a crumbling of social norms in a swirling storm of alternative facts.

I just want to encourage y’all to keep that love, care and compassion moving forward in your professional lives. Let a love for the oppressed keep us fighting, even when it seems like a new disaster pops up daily. Let our love and care for one another encourage us to collaborate and build coalitions to address the most salient problems facing the world today.

Hatred is easy. Especially today when so many in our government are so clearly averse to compassion and seem hell-bent on codifying hate in our laws. But, if their weapon is hate, let ours be love.