Shirley Franklin

Agnes Scott College Commencement Speech - May 10, 2008

Shirley Franklin
May 10, 2008— Decatur, Georgia
Print friendly

Good morning, President Kiss, trustees, the Honorable Elizabeth Wilson, distinguished faculty, family, friends and the Class of 2008. To the graduates, thank you for allowing me to share in this academic milestone in your lives.

As the commencement speaker I know that I have three primary responsibilities today…..

  • No pun intended Dr. Kiss but my charge today is to K.I.S.S (Keep It Short Shirley)

  • Secondly, I am the sound check for the engineer to make sure the microphone works properly when the graduates names are called

  • And finally, if I am successful, my crafty stalling should give all those guests caught in Atlanta traffic just enough time to get to their seat in time for the ceremony

This day is about the graduates, as it should be.

The mission:

“Agnes Scott College educates women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times.”

Preparing for today’s ceremony reminded me that I received my undergraduate degree from Howard University in 1968, 40 years ago and yet some of the same social challenges of my time are the challenges of this time.

It was 1968 and the Vietnam War was raging; Chicago’s mayor Richard Daley opened the Democratic National Convention amid anti-war demonstrations, and the Summer Olympic Games were boycotted in Mexico City.

In 2008, War rages and thousands of men, women and children are in harm’s way, the Democratic National Convention will be held in August in Denver and human rights protestors around the world have drawn attention to the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.

In many ways it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. It was that time however that I witnessed the power of intelligent and thoughtful activism by young people in social struggle, the modern Civil rights movement. Students, some of my classmates organized sit ins, voter registration, marches, freedom schools….

All to Keep America’s Promise to those who were left out. I am inspired by their courage now as I was then.

In the words of Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

If there was ever a time in American history that epitomized young people leading our nation, it was the 60’s.

History confirms the students, young people like you, students stood up, spoke up for women, for African Americans, for peace, for freedom of speech students stood up, spoke up and acted up to make America’s promise real.

Experience can be a wonderful teacher, but it can also be deceptively mired in the belief that everything has been tried already, or that nothing is new, and progress is made by someone else. Such is not the case.

Every generation makes a mark on history.

Today, I am inspired and energized by the thousands of young people who have chosen to be actively engaged in national politics, and by doing so you are making your mark….. shaping the political campaigns this season and public policy for this generation.

More than 5.7 million voters under the age of 30 have participated in the primaries and caucuses held thus far. According to Rock the Vote, that's a 109 percent increase from the last presidential primaries. The political activism of young people has changed the course of the current campaigns, it has defined the political debate and frankly it caught the rest of us off guard.

As one reporter wrote, young people are stoked!
There is no turning back now!
From YouTube to Facebook to MySpace
you have changed mechanics
American politics and shifted the debate.

Now the preservation of the environment, Peacemaking, social justice, healthcare access, poverty, global disparities are top national political priorities.

Young people are influencing the political decisions of their parents and grandparents.

Social networking brings the candidates and the issues closer to the people on a real time basis and has opened up the process from issues to fundraising to a wider and younger audience.

Traditionally grassroots organizing was the lifeblood of successful campaigning, then mass communications dominated.

With new technology thousands of new voters are connected to each other and to the candidates. You, the class of 2008 at Agnes Scott are part of an important revolution in American politics. Politics is more open and assessable to everybody.

With this distinction, you have the responsibility to sustain your activism throughout your lives. Your continued activism can make “an America as good as its promise.”

Barbara Jordan.

This will require a persistent commitment to civic engagement and leadership.

And that is where Agnes Scott College comes in.

You have been prepared for leadership. Prepared to meet the intellectual and social challenges of this time. Through your scholarship, your volunteer work, your vocation and your advocacy you can lead from wherever you are.

A century ago the fear was most women would get an education and would settle into followship.

Now my sisters, we know women are agents for change in every society and country of the world.

So Scotties of the Class of 2008
Stand up for social justice and fairness
Speak up for human rights.
Act up for America’s Promise.

Let us not ask What’s goin’ on in America? But rather what is my role in making this world a better place for all of our sisters and brothers.

Accept Robert Frost’s challenge to

“Take the road not taken….and that has made all the difference.”

Challenge the status quo proudly and in the name of those noble souls who risked their lives that we might live to see the day of a woman competing for the Presidency

An African American competing for the Presidency

It is said ”that we stand on the shoulder of those who have come before us” that we stand in the shade of a tree planted generations ago”

As we take time today to celebrate your many accomplishments let us take this time to remind ourselves of the many blessings we have because of the sacrifice of others, our families, friends and even people we’ll never know by name…

Those whose vision and talents built this college, Those whose sacrifices opened the doors of economic opportunity that limited women in the last century long after the Declaration of Independence.

Those whose courage challenged the exclusionary policies and practice for men of color and women of all colors------to all.

Go forth with the understanding that we who live and study in Atlanta, the birth home of Martin King and the home of the modern American Civil Rights movement, we have a unique responsibility to carry forward in our lives a commitment to social justice.

For you see, Atlanta wouldn’t be the city it is had those brave souls not insisted on Atlanta opening its arms to men of color and women of all colors. As far back as 1895 at the Cotton States Exposition Atlanta represented itself with A Women’s Pavilion and a Negro Pavilion

It wasn’t until some 70 years later in Atlanta that college students and a young minister and his associates demanded and gained full economic and voting opportunities It is on the shoulders of these men and women that we stand in Atlanta today.

Be the shoulders on which future generations of Scotties and fair and just people stand lay the groundwork for America’s glorious future.

Find strength in the traditions of family, community and your alma mater and be willing to lead America into a new generation a time of universal peace, justice and human rights.

Be willing to take the road not taken.

And heed the words of your alma mater

“Think deeply, live honorably and engage in the intellectual and social challenges of your time.”

*Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,…….

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

...Robert Frost*

You are the leaders of this time.

Seize this time and do good deeds.

Congratulations, my sisters,

Congratulations to the Class of 2008

Speech from