Chosen to Lead Our Generation Forward

Harvard. One word that signifies excellence in education. Now, I love my alma mater, Northwestern University. However, as a millennial like you, and as a young Black man born and raised in the Bronx, the son of Jamaican Immigrants, it was an indescribable honor to be a Fall Fellow of the Institute of Politics at Harvard. I was able to spend time with you, remarkable students who are transforming the world for the better. Your graduation shall give someone from your hometown the belief that they can achieve any dream. Your talents will take you to careers that provide game changing impact for generations present and unborn. As a Harvard graduate, you are continuing to overcome the odds which allows you to be a face of hope to countless fellow descendants of justice and equity. You have the responsibility to ensure that the education you have received will teach others how to remove the clouds of despair to only see a sky of opportunity and to focus not just on today but days to come as you promote a vision of legacy building, not resume building.

On the journey to graduation, there are many ups and downs that occur. I was with you on November 9, the day after an election that lead so many people to lose hope. However, the way you came together for conversations and reflections on how we move forward strengthened my hope in the direction of this country. As a Harvard graduate, you can appreciate our history of overcoming the odds as a people for the greater good. From marching with Congressman John Lewis and showing it to students on Skype to listening to your dreams and aspirations during office hours, you restored my faith in dreaming big dreams and my confidence that Harvard graduates will realize them for a society. It's a continual story known as the path to progress.

The first line in our chapter of history has already been written, but we still control the ending. The graduating Harvard Class of 2017 will be among the leaders who shape the story moving forward, as you will be “in the room where it happens.” Guided by our principles, we stand steadfast in the belief that we have the power to change the world. Let this day be cemented in your mind as the day that the Class of 2017 went forth into the world and made a decision to make it better.

President John F. Kennedy ’40 understood that importance, and the privilege of his chapter of history. During his Inaugural Address, he said, “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it.” As graduates of Harvard College, you have a remarkable responsibility to your community, your country, and the world. Now, as in times past, we face multiple threats to freedom and democracy, both foreign and domestic. You will be expected to defend the rights and freedoms which we hold dear, find new and innovative ways to improve lives, and create an equitable and just society. I encourage you to take on that duty with the courage of your convictions, standing boldly in the face of adversity, and with the willingness to speak truth to power.

President Kennedy went on to say, “The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.” Your graduation from Harvard shows that you are chosen to be the ones that provide hope for a generation. Let the call go forth for the Class of 2017 to rise to its true potential and meet the challenges of our day.

Jim Wallis wrote the transformational book, “God's Politics”, and concluded it by beautifully saying, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” You have been waiting for this moment. Congratulations. But I speak for generations across our spectrum of time by saying that I’m grateful in advance because the moment we have been waiting for is the arrival of the latest generation of visionaries. My heart is full, for that moment is now here. Because of you. Because of Harvard. Because of what you achieve after today, I say thank you.

Michael A. Blake is the New York State Assembly member of the 79th District in The Bronx, N.Y. and Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee. He was a Fellow at the Institute of Politics in the fall of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @mrmikeblake.