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2021 Commencement Speech: John Ridley, director, screenwriter, novelist, playwright and showrunner

A recording of the commencement speech can be found online.

To family, friends, guests and loved ones, welcome to this very special occasion. We honor those who are about to graduate.

To begin, I'd like to thank Marquette University for their humbling decision to present me with this honorary degree.

I would say that if you found I have accomplished anything of merit in life than in truth the praise should go to my parents, Teri and John Ridley for their example they set for myself and my sisters each and every day. And they did so by choosing to serve their country and their communities by always putting people first. So Mom and Dad, I love you, I thank you and Marquette, you will come to regret this decision, probably sooner than you think.

And also, I'd like to thank Marquette University for their invitation to be the Commencement speaker at this year's ceremony. You know, the year that really sucked and everybody wants to forget.

I mean that is basically my job, to be the last thing that happens at the end of the worst school year ever and I appreciate that Marquette felt like that I could really represent that.

I mean this whole gig, to be honest, is a little weird, because I'm talking right now, but I don't actually know if you are even watching me or answering e-mails or watching YouTube videos. But even if you are not watching me, the speech is pre-recorded, so I'm like somewhere else right now and not even thinking about if you are watching me so its all really kind of Matrixie and new world and look the point is that so much has happened over the last year that seems so unreal.

I mean all of the things we thought could or couldn't happen, what was or wasn't possible, what was or wasn't a political statement, what was or wasn't a peaceful protest or an angry mob. And we had to find happiness and hope wherever we could.

Whether that was in a 10 second TikTok video or the realization that the grocery store worker or the delivery person we've all come to realize aren't just workers; they are essential workers.

I mean this was such an insane, crazy, messed up year, I did something I never thought I would actually do. I had to admit Tom Brady is actually a pretty decent quarterback. But I also did things like, I moved back in with my parents for more than a month because I suddenly had the time to spend with them and I realized how important that time was.

The same as our older son moved back in with us for a while and I got to connect and reconnect with friends all over the world because Zoom was suddenly a thing and yes, yes the last 365 days, they were pretty awful.

In my family we had to say goodbye to loved ones and had to witness both the effects of systemic bias in policing as well as the rise of anti-Asian violence through the trauma that it delivered to our own children.

But, I also got to be home with our children. To have conversations with them on wildly diverse topics from the origins of the universal rights of people to why Anthony Davis refuses to dominate the paint like Joel Embiid does.

I had no answers for either, but I enjoyed the conversations, the same as I enjoyed my mothers home cooking and visiting with friends from around the world. And while I took no joy in the reasons why life slowed down over the last year, I appreciated that in having no where to go and not much to do during the lockdown, there was a relative easing of life's relentless nature.

All of which is to say that even in the worst of times, yeah good things can happen. And that is something to remember as all of us try to get back to normal. Please let us not forget what was happening back in normal times wasn't always that great. Global warming, massive housing insecurity, social economic disparity. Normal was only when things were pretty bad, instead of now when things are just freaking awful.

And that is the other really weird thing about giving a Commencement address. I'm part of too many generations that really didn't do the whole golden rule, society of people thing very well, but I'm supposed to be giving you all advice?

I mean look, I'm not going to go all Okay Boomer on my own generation, trust me. There have been so many people who have spent their lives, who have worked for equality and prosperity and progressives causes that serve all of us. But clearly not enough of us were doing that.

And I'll be frank, when I look back over my life, I'm one of those people who could have done a lot more. So, yeah, I could sit here and give you digital bromides and slogans and tell you to work hard and do good. But people pepper their remarks with empty phrases like that all the time, but where does it really get any of us when the rest of us don't live up to the same standards that we pitch. So, no. There is really no advice that can be given.

The best I can do is just offer gentle reminders that as you reemerge into the world that none of us should be solely focused on getting back to normal. I mean, honestly, we shouldn't be getting back to anything, we should be moving forward. And the best way to do that is honestly to use the same approach you have used in the course of your time at Marquette University.

It is not about having people like me feed you answers, it is about you all just figuring it out. And I don't mean figuring out the right answer to a question on a test, I mean figuring it all out.

From the jump, you had to figure out how to make your way across campus, which courses to take and which courses to definitely not take. How to make new friends, how to unmake a few friends, how to say no to bad things, how to say yes to good things and how to give an occasional what's up to slightly questionable things that nobody needs to dwell on because frankly its not their business.

You have all just spent years trying to figure stuff out, so why does that need to change once you graduate. You know honestly, I think that is part of the problem in life, eventually as people we leave school, we get out in the world and we think now we got it all figured out. I don't need advice, I don't need other people telling me what to do, I don't need to figure out another way. I know what I'm doing.

But you know what, to be honest, that version of life, the old normal is kind of what got us here in the first place. People don't want to listen, they want to reject new information because we already have all the facts and when facts are actually presented to use we reject them because they don't fit our world view.

We don't want to know how other people think or how they feel or how they see life and far to often we stop doing what you have done over your years at Marquette. We stop being inquisitive, we stop being inquisitive because we think we have all the knowledge we need. But Jimi Hendrix used to say that knowledge speakes and wisdom listens. And I would go even a step further and say those who are truly wise are so because they never, they never stop asking questions.

And trust me. Curiosity, out there its not always rewarded the same way it is when your in school. I mean some people, they believe that it is a sign of weakness to ask, their ego will not let them admit to the things they don't know. But let me tell you something, ego isn't just a projection of self assurance, it is being so sure of yourself you can actually say to others, you know what that is a good question, I don't know the answer. What do you think?

I mean it seems so obvious, but it is a monumental and humbling thing to sometimes just stop talking and listen. But my thing is, I don't want to just say things and not live the things I say. I don't just want to sit here and present bromides and not really live up to them.

So I want to admit to something I don't know. Marquette University sent me this really nice academic shawl to wear, I don't know how to put it on. So Marquette, thank you very much, but next time instead of an honorary degree, some instructions might be kind of nice. I'm going to figure it out, I'll take pictures and send them.

Look, my point is this. You all are graduating, you all have worked so hard for this moment, take the time to take pride in all that you have earned in your elevation, but even now as you are done with college, done with your school years, done with your education, the only thing that I would ask of all of you, is please don't ever stop, don't ever be done with being a student.

To Marquette, my thanks. To all of you, my congratulations. Thank you very much!

commencement/2021.txt · Last modified: 2021/05/25 22:57 by Macallan 18