In May of 2015, the award-winning spoken word poet Sarah Kay delivered a beautiful graduation speech for the fresh graduates of Scripps College - a women's school university in California.
To these graduates and to graduates all over the world, she speaks of shaking the comfortable out of their "blissfully unaffected" lives, using words to heal, building walls and temples, and the inevitable process of becoming the person you will be.
Fresh graduate or not, for a little inspiration in the form of words, listen to Sarah Kay's graduation speech and read some of the highlights below.
"There used to be a radical feminist performance collective called Vox Feminista, whose motto was to “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” This motto deeply resonates with my experience as a writer and performer, both in what I want to create for others, but also in what I want to create for myself. As an artist, there are moments when I find that I have become comfortable with an idea, an experience, or even a specific word, I want to disturb it and excavate it more thoroughly. Or I am disturbed by something and want to seek comfort in writing through it and sharing it with others. Lately, I’ve started to think that this motto might also serve as a way to exist in the world. As a guide for how we might try to build. When black men and women are being murdered in our streets, when there is sexual assault on our college campuses, it is our job to disturb the comfortable. To force those who consider themselves blissfully unaffected to engage, acknowledge, learn, witness, and act. To challenge spaces that need to be challenged. And it is also our job to seek ways to comfort those who have been disturbed. To provide for those who have been victimized by natural disasters or unnatural violence and tragedy. It seems to me that I am always trying to learn how to hold myself gently, but also hold myself accountable, as well as do the same for the people around me.
Sometimes it is hard to believe that we can be working on the same thing. Sometimes the way you build is so different from the way someone else does. You want to be big and visible and radical and loud, someone else wants to work quietly, under the radar, out of the public eye. It is possible to have many front lines in the same war. It is possible that the people you disagree with are really trying to do the same work, trying to build the same future, even if we see it different ways. You can lay bricks until walls are constructed, until a temple is built. Or you can dream towards a temple until you figure out which walls to build and which bricks to lay. You can shape behavior until it changes minds. Or you change minds until it shapes behavior. You create options by choice and example."
"Today you are graduating from college. You are off on wild adventures. And you are not just one of those three workmen—laying brick, building walls, building temples—you are all three. Sometimes you will be searching for a cause to believe in and fight for, and you will worry that there is something wrong with you if you can’t find it. There isn’t. Sometimes you are busy dealing with the task at hand. Sometimes you are falling in love or taking care of yourself or writing papers, and you do not have time to build a temple or to find a temple you believe in. You are allowed this time. Or you may find it and believe in something immense that gives you purpose, but overwhelms you. You want to solve world hunger or fix global warming. You want to build the temple all by yourself, but you feel like your hands are too small. They are not. Lay some bricks. Other times, you will look for the job that feels fulfilling to you right now. You will want to be a necessary part of a project or a mission. You will focus on building the connections. There will be time for all these things. Lay the bricks until the walls are constructed, until the temple is built. Or dream towards the temple until you figure out which walls to build and which bricks to lay. Allow your perspective to shift, and shift again. You are in a continuous process of becoming."
"You are already building the world around you, just as you are always building who you are. Once, the person you are, here, today, was a wild imagining. A science fiction dream. A vision so far from possible. But hearts and hands and eyes and glass and bricks and years and years of work are creating you, pulsing, breathing beasts. And together we are standing and stumbling, lurching forward, squinting into the bright and possible future."