Given by Steven Abbott on June 14, 2020 to the Native and Indigenous graduates
Transcript of Keynote Address
Hello everyone! Good evening, good afternoon or good morning, depending on where you're logging in from today.
First, foremost & above all else, I just want to start with a very sincere CONGRATULATIONS to all of the graduates today. Y'all done did it! We so happy for you & so proud of you.
But hopefully today is a reflection & a tribute to more than just a milestone, but to all that it has taken to get here.
I also want to take just a moment to thank & congratulate Sarah & Shelbi at the NAP for pulling all of this together. This has been an incredibly difficult year for everyone, of course, & disappointing in so many ways that we cannot now be gathering in person for this special day, but they have gone so far above & beyond in creating something special, something memorable to still make the most of this opportunity, so thank you very much for this and all you do.
I am so Honored to be here with all of you today and to have been asked to offer these Words. I have to admit, when Sarah first told me that I'd been your choice, the first thing I asked was if she was sure this wasn't y'all's senior prank. But truly, I'm Honored more than I can say & very Humbled, & I only hope that whatever I can say will do justice to your day.
As I began thinking about what I could hope to talk about today, I reflected back on all the different graduation addresses I've heard in over the last 20-plus years that I've spent in higher ed for what were the most memorable… and I couldn't think of any. This points, arguably, to 2 things – first, that I have a very short attention span and second, that most graduation speeches aren't all that memorable. I think it may largely be because there's a lot of emphasis on grandiose but bland platitudes – follow your dreams, reach for the stars, use The Force – and too little emphasis on what today is all about, which is you.
So, let's talk about you.
Cast your minds back not so long ago… Most of you here today joined us in the late Summer of 2016, but whenever you came…. You came from all across the Americas & the Pacific & represented an enormous spectrum of Tribal Nations & Indigenous communities & allies. You came from big cities & small towns, and from reservation communities that stretched from California to Massachusetts. You came from islands in the Hawaiian Kingdom & islands in the Penobscot River. You came from Alaska, Minnesota & Wisconsin, with no fears for New England's junior-varsity weather. And you came from southern Arizona, Hawai'i & California, wondering what snow was, & why it started showing up in October, & why it was still showing up in April. You all made the difficult sacrifice, one way or the other, to leave your families, your friends & your communities – in fact, everything that you'd known up to that point – in the rearview mirror. For this next stage of your journey, you also chose someplace that was not only geographically far from home for all but a few of you, but also someplace that you knew was going to challenge you, & in many different ways.
And so it was, that on Friday, September 2nd, 2016, the majority of you gathered together for the first time as a community in Brace Commons to kick off 2016's Native Pre-Orientation Program. Several of you were here already by then & others would join the community in the days to come. Some of you arrived knowing one another from College Horizons, or InMED, or Kamehameha Scholars, or Fly-In or Dimensions, but you were still surrounded by many, or mostly, unfamiliar faces. There, you met me – some for the first time – as well as Kianna, Jeremy and your then-Mentors (for a blast from the past): Brooke Hadley, Cheron Laughing, Kimonee Burke, Kira Beaudette, Shania Kee & Jeni Hendricks – all wise, upper-class students who already seemed to know what they were doing & would lead you through the next few days.
Those next several days – whether you were part of Pre-O or not – likely quickly became a blur. You came to learn about different resources here & had your first tastes of college life. You tried to imagine what the ensuing years would be like. You learned about Dartmouth's Native community & you began to create a brand new life for that community.
That was 1377 days ago.
We told you then that the time, in many ways, would fly by before you knew it. Some of you probably believed us. Some of you probably didn't. Either way, here we are.
In the 1377 days since that weekend in September, on average, each of you:
-have taken 35 different classes
-have spent over 800 nights on campus
-have eaten more than 2100 meals in FoCo
-have walked more than 2000 miles on Dartmouth's campus alone.
-have written hundreds of pages, read tens of thousands of pages & were probably supposed to have read thousands more
Not to mention the – approximately – 292,372 dollar price-tag that you've endured along the way.
There has, obviously, been a great deal of talk & reflection over the last few months about the difficulties your class faces as it looks to graduation. Multiple unprecedented national & global challenges have descended on us in short order.
What may surprise you, is to think back again to the Fall of 2016 & where we stood at that point. That, too, was a time of enormous impact, conflict & change. Climate change was to leave 2016 the hottest year yet in recorded history. It was the year that the Black Lives Matter movement went global & Great Britain voted to withdraw from the European Union. North Korea began open nuclear missile testing. A nightclub in Orlando became the scene of the largest mass shooting to date in American history. And, after 8 years of the nation's first Black President (probably the only U.S. President most of you had consciously known up to that point) & after one of the most divisive elections in modern history, including suspected interference with the election from outside the United States, the country began moving in a very different direction. Also in the Fall of that year Water Protectors in the Dakotas at Standing Rock, including some of you with us today – who'd been in place since the Spring to block the Dakota Access Pipeline from moving across Lakota Lands – were under assault from local & state authorities as well as hired mercenaries.
So, this is a group that was arguably born in a time of fire, & now moves on, once again, in a time of unprecedented challenges. But it is very much BECAUSE of you being who you are & all I have seen in you over these last few years that I have great faith that we will move through this.
Some of you have heard me say this before, but it's been my observation over the years that when people are confronted with a challenge, or told that they can't do something, responses tend to break one of two ways. Some will relent & say, in one way or other, 'Okay, fine.' Others will say, 'Watch this.'
This is a watch this group.
This group of graduates alone has been responsible for creating 4 entirely new Indigenous student organizations on Dartmouth's campus & leading close to a dozen others. You have mentored & guided 3 classes following you, hosted students for 4 different Indigenous Fly-Ins, led the way in elevating the celebration of Indigenous Peoples' month to an unprecedented level of community-wide awareness, advocated for & welcomed in an entirely new Native American Program, hosted 3 Powwows & seen off 3 classes above you. You've been instrumental in the removal of the Hovey Murals, raised the visibility of the Luau to one of the most popular events on campus & welcomed one of the first two Native American Congresswomen in American history to Dartmouth's campus.
You've worked with the NAP, NAD, AISES, APiO, the IAG, NAS, the NAH, the NAC, Big-NAAAD, the NAVC & the INC. You've worked as NAPAs & SAPAs, & as ISPAs & UGAs. And in so doing, you've accumulated a vocabulary of acronyms that will remain forever unintelligible to all those around you, save your fellow NADs.
You've made connections across the Indigenous world – working with different communities, connecting with alumni & visiting your own friends & classmates in places as far from one another as the Aquinnah Cliffs & French Polynesia. You've done internships, independent studies & research projects that are already transforming the Indigenous landscape. You've pursued academic, social & pre-professional opportunities at every level. You've made friends & faced haters, encountered racism & discovered allies, overcome ignorance, raised your voices & licked your wounds. You've shared the Beauty of your traditions, your Songs, your Histories, your Families, your Prayers, your Art & your Languages. You've laughed & cried. You've carried yourselves with dignity & embraced your time on Abenaki Homelands. You've persisted, you've thrived & you've achieved.
And throughout that time – in a place that challenges you at every turn & in a place that can seem to work so hard to make you feel like you don't belong – you have made this place your own. You have carved into the foundations of this place & made marks that will stand long after you have moved on down your own paths. Marks that will help to guide others like you. And most importantly, the marks that you made here stretch far beyond this place.
And THAT is why we are here today. Your friends, your families, the staff, the faculty, Todd, your former fellow-students & now-fellow alumni Honor you & all that you have done to get to this day.
One other thing most of you heard me say 1377 days ago, or any number of times since, is why I do what I do here. For all its flaws & all its problems, places like this encourage you to engage, critique & challenge what is put in front of you. And I believe that it is in the very act of challenging & pushing back that you gain some of your most valuable insights & discover some of your greatest strengths. In engaging critically in this way – you not only influence the thinking & open the eyes of those around you, you pick, choose & adapt what you learn and mold it in ways that make sense for you, your values & your communities, then move on with the best of what Dartmouth has to offer.
The one thing that I would add to that now is, truth be told, YOU ARE the best of what Dartmouth has to offer. And that you will carry with you everywhere you go.
So, congratulations once again to each of you, & thank you for all that you have done here & for your invitation to be a part of this day with you. And thanks to the families & communities who have supported you throughout.