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It is that time of year when graduates of all levels are usually crossing the stage, shaking hands and receiving their diplomas.
But the look and feel of these events this year is, of course, quite different, almost all of them virtual.
The notion of commencement, or the beginning of a new chapter, is tougher for students to imagine.
As part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas, we hear now from a variety of leaders in their fields, including my message to my alma mater on how to embrace that uncertainty.
It's vital that you learn and we all learn to be at peace with the discomfort of stepping into the unknown. The noise of the world drowns out the sound of you. You have to get still to listen.
So, can you use this disorder that COVID-19 has wrought? Can you treat it as an uninvited guest that's come into our midst to reorder our way of being? Can you, the class of 2020, show us not how to put the pieces back together again, but how to create a new and more evolved normal, a world more just, kind, beautiful, tender, luminous, creative, whole?
We need you to do this, because the pandemic has illuminated the vast systemic inequities that have defined life for too many too long.
It can be difficult to see the whole picture when you're still inside the frame.
But I hope you wear these uncommon circumstances as a badge of honor. Those who meet times of historical challenge with their eyes and hearts open, forever restless and forever striving, are also those who leave the greatest impact on the lives of others.
There's no bigger white flag that's being waved in your face right now than what's going on, and the adversity that you face moving into your new situation.
So, I encourage you to push through. Continue to work hard. Continue to believe in yourself. Continue to surround yourself with people that are going to encourage you and support you on that journey.
Congratulations to you chosen ones.
And I am calling you the chosen ones because you have been chosen in many ways. You have not returned to the starting line, like all of us generations before you. You're just approaching it now for the first time. You have just arrived.
You are chosen in that way to enter into the competition of life, just when so many have had to recover and refresh and restart and reawaken, and to retake up the hard work and the unshirkable responsibilities of making the world not only our own, but of your own.
When the sun shines again, the creativity of this class will shine with it.
You will go back to relishing relationships, sharing funny stories, cheering for all our Duke Blue Devil athletes.
This may feel like a daunting time to begin this next chapter. It is also a moment when the world desperately needs your skills and your creativity.
Never deny your potential.
I am proof of what potential is all about. When I entered Duke University, I had no idea I would go into comedy and acting. I really didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn't know what my passion was.
It was because of Duke drama, I discovered my love of acting, performance, comedy.
In my life, I have been through some incredible highs and some tremendous lows.
And the one thing that's true about both of them is that they pass. So, cherish the good times. And in the bad times, remember they won't last forever. It does get better.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.:
To quote from one who throughout his all-too-short life knew struggle and pain, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who, in 1961, had this to say.
And I quote:
"All life is interrelated. We're tied in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."
You will shape your future and the future of our great country and our miraculously wonderful, resilient world.
About the uncertainty, embrace it.
Improvise. Be bold, daring, have courage to not know where will you end up. Your work will be much better for it. Keep making your art, no matter the circumstances, the materials available, quarantine or no quarantine, studio or kitchen table. Keep creating your music, your films, your dance, keep making your art for today, for the future.
Each generation has a defining moment. My generation had Vietnam. Then another generation had 9/11.
Now this is your time. It's great to be uncomfortable, because that's when you find out just how great you can really be.
Because of the rapid progress of information and technology, your need for education, constant learning, and understanding of the world will be never slowed down or paused.
Continuing education will be with you for the rest of your life. Your life is not a spectator sport. Your job in life is to be an active player, to make the world a better place.
Know your worth. Know the sacrifices you made to get here today to graduate. And you all earned it. You all deserve it.
Help somebody out. Be great. Change the world. That's what we're here for.
What great advice. An honor to be just a small part of it.
Thank you, all of you, who participated.