Brandeis University

Commencement 2000

May 21, 2000

 

Address by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

 

            Mr. President, chairperson of the Board of Trustees, graduates, friends, ladies and gentlemen:  What a glorious, glorious occasion today is turning out to be.  What a great joy to be here with all of you celebrating the outstanding achievements of those who are graduating on this occasion.

            Good morning.  (Weak response from audience.)  Oh dear!  (Laughter.)  You gave such a wonderful, warm welcome; that’s a lousy response.  Good morning!  (Strong response.)  A great deal better. 

            Sometimes when one is introduced to gatherings such as these they will sometimes say, oh he doesn’t need to be introduced.  Everybody knows him.  Well, I’m not quite sure after what happened to me when I was with my wife in Atlanta a few years ago at the Olympic Games.  We were traveling on the subway and somebody, I think, thought they recognized me and came up and said, “Can I have your autograph?”  And so, one or two people came along and I was signing autographs.  And then a woman came up and she pushed a piece of paper, and as I was signing she turned to people and said, “Who is it?  Who is it?  Who is it?” which I thought was very good for her soul.

            But I want, first of all, to say what is quite right and fitting at this moment.  Heartiest congratulations to all of you who are graduating.  It is a splendid, splendid achievement, and I know that you are going to keep getting applause.  But I’d like to suggest to this great gathering that we ought to give them at this point a very, very special - a real humdinger - of an applause.  Let’s just give them a wonderful (applause)...Thank you.  It is very, very richly deserved, and I have no doubt at all that all of you are going to make a very significant contribution to the world out there. 

            During the time when we were listening to testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, frequently we were quite appalled at the revelations of the depth of depravity of which we were capable as human beings.  You could hear someone applying for amnesty say, “Yes, we abducted this young man.  We gave him drugged coffee, and we shot him in the head, and then we burned his body.  And because it takes seven, eight hours for a human body to burn, we had a barbecue on the side.  We were enjoying the air.”  And you said, “Are we so capable of such extraordinary evil that we aren’t shocked that we could be burning two kinds of flesh - animal flesh on the one side and human flesh on the other?”  And yes, the fact of the matter is that you and I do, in fact, have an extraordinary capacity for evil.  And none of us can ever get away feeling superior and gloating for the perpetrators of some of those gruesome deeds.  They didn’t have horns growing on their heads; they didn’t have tails hanging behind the way ordinary human beings like you and me.  And so we were, indeed, yes, devastated by the fact that we are capable of quite, quite extraordinary evil.  But that’s not the whole story, that’s not the whole picture about us.  Wonderfully, exhilaratingly, the truth is that as we sat there, too, listening to victims who had suffered previously, people who by right ought to have been torn apart by bitterness and a desire for revenge.  To hear the daughter of one ANC activist, he was part of a group of four, her father was, who had been ambushed by the police and they were killed quite brutally.  Then their bodies, mutilated bodies, were found in the burned out car.  She came to tell her story to the TRC, and she spoke about how the police even then were harassing her mother and themselves.  And at the end of her testimony I asked her, “Do you think you would have it in you to forgive people who have done such things to yourself and to your mother?”  We are meeting in a huge hall packed to the rafters and you could hear the proverbial pin drop as this young woman, a teenager, responded with incredible dignity for someone so young.  “Yes, we would like to forgive.  We just want to know who to forgive.”  How frequently on those occasions you felt that the only appropriate response would have been to act like Moses to take off our shoes for we were standing on holy ground.  We were in the presence of something quite, quite extraordinary and so, and so remarkably, almost paradoxically, what we took away with us after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was not the devastation of knowing that we could reach such depths of depravity in our capacity for evil, no, no, no, no, no, no, it was the fact that human beings can be so good, that human beings can demonstrate such an extraordinary magnanimity and nobility of spirit, that human beings can after excruciating suffering be able in fact to speak words of healing or forgiveness of resignation.  And you know we have experienced it, you and I, that in a world that is sometimes characterized as being hard-nosed and cynical.  Who are the people we look up to most?  Who are the people we most admire?  It is not aggressive, the macho, the belligerent, the intransigent ones as you might have expected.  No, no, no, no, no, no, it isn’t.  It is that we revere a Mother Theresa.  She’s anything but macho.  And why?  Because she’s good.  She’s someone who’s spent herself prodigally on behalf of others.  And we, each one of us, have inside us an un____ that hems in on goodness.  We hold in the highest possible regard, not the ones who are the powerful militarily, no, no, no.  Who is the most admired statesperson in the world today?  And I would venture to say and know that there are very few who would dare say me.  That it is a Nelson Mendela who was president, not of one of the most powerful militarily or the most successful economically.  No.  It is this man who amazed the world when he emerged from prison after twenty-seven years of incarceration.  When people had thought he would be spewing bitterness and anger and seeking retribution and revenge, he amazes the world by his readiness to forgive, to speak about reconciliation.  And today he stands as a colossus in the world; he is an icon of reconciliation of goodness.  And you and I testify to the fact that we recognize goodness when we see it.  For, you see, we are in fact made for goodness.  We are created by God.  You are I are created by God, not by some junior, subordinate God.  We are created by the transcendent one, the one who is able to speak and things happen.  Let there be light, and light happens.  That is the God who creates us.  And we are created like God.  That each one of us, however we may be in our circumstances material and otherwise, whether we are tall or short, whether we are substantial or we have, whether we are beautiful or not so beautiful, whether we are rich or poor.  How incredible that each one of us because we are created in the image of God are creatures of incredible worth, infinite worth.  Each one of us is a stand-in for God.  And so, to treat one such as if they were less than this is not just easy.  It’s a blasphemy.  It is as if we were speaking in the face of God.  If we are created by God, we are created like God, and then we are created for God.  We are this extraordinary paradox really.  The finite created for the infinite, but we are created for the transcendent.  We are created for the beautiful, for the truth, for the good.  And we know it.  For there are those moments when we try to find satisfaction in anything less than God and it ends up being like ashes in our mouth.  It ends up and fills us with a terrible, terrible dissatisfaction                     of people could say, “God, thou hast created us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.  We are created for God, and anything less than God would never, never satisfy us.”  And so, we are aware that this is a moral universe, that good and evil matter, that right and wrong matter, that life and truth matter.  And, that, yes, there are frequently many, many times when we think that evil is on the rampage, that evil seems to be going to have the last word.  It doesn’t; it’s doesn’t.  Isn’t that exhilarating?  It isn’t Hitler who has won; it is those he tried to destroy.  They have survived; they have survived and have left the world an incredible, incredible legacy.  It isn’t Stalin who has won.  Communism, fascism, nazism have bitten the dust, have bitten the dust ignominiously.  It isn’t slavery that has won; slavery has been done away with and people are entering into what has been called the glorious liberty of the children of God.  It isn’t Apartheid that’s won.  No, no, no.  It may be, it takes a long time for goodness to be vindicated, but goodness in the end is vindicated.  For God has created this world for laughter and joy and caring and compassion, and so you and I find we admire a Saddat, a Begin, a Peres, a Rabin, an Arafat.  We admire a Barak.  And there are people who are ready to work for something that we find precious -- peace, goodness.  And yes, those who had thought that by their belligerence, by their toughness, would win out, don’t.  And so the world admires a King Hussein who wasn’t king of a huge successful monarchy.  He’s admired because he worked for peace.  We admire a Dalai Lama, for we know as we stand in his presence that we’re in the presence of someone good, of someone with an incredible kind of serenity and with a great sense of fun.  That I mean, despite all he has suffered, what a tremendous gift of laughter he has.  We admire an Aung San Suukyi, petite, beautiful, attractive, and the military are running scared of her.  She’s small physically, but her moral stature is something that no one can deny.  And on this stage we have someone we are going to be singing the praises of for a very, very long time, for I think we didn’t give the recognition that we should have given to someone who because of his moral stature was able to bring some crazy people in Northern Ireland to work together.  And I think we want to give a really warm hand to George Mitchell (lengthy applause).  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

            It’s possible, it’s a possible ovation.  But friends, courses like Martin Luther King, Jr., I, God, have a dream too.  I have a dream that my children one day will recognize that they are members of a family.  Really, truly, that they are sisters and brothers one of another, that they belong together in a family where there are no outsiders.  All are insiders, that they are family.  They are family in which the ethical family obtains, and where the ethical family obtains you don’t say, “Hey, granny, granny, your contribution to the family budget is, you know.  And baby, yours is nil; and you’re going to get from the family in proportion to what you put in.”  No family, no good family, no healthy family says that.  The true family says from each according to their ability, to each according to their need (applause).  If we are family, how can it be that we can spend such obscene amounts of money on what we call defense budgets?  How can we when we know that a small fraction is enough to satisfy God’s children so that they would have enough clean water, enough to eat, a good education, a safe environment?  If we are family, how can we let those called to belong in the Third World to continue to groan under the burden of an unpayable debt if we are family?  If we are family, how can we, how can we have problems about a budget surplus?  Ha, ha.  A budget surplus -- God gives us a budget surplus and says you’ve got sisters and brothers over there who are hungry.  I have given you these resources so that you can be my hands and my feet, so that you can feed your sisters and brothers over there.  You can’t be arguing about this; this is not for your sake.  It is for your sisters and brothers over there.  It is that we are family and all belong, all belong - rich, poor, black, white, red, green, educated, not educated, gay, lesbian, straight, all, all belong.  All belong, and God says this is my dream, this is my dream (lengthy applause). 

            You know the story of the farmer who in his back yard had chicken, and then he had a chicken that was a little odd looking, but he was a chicken.  It behaved like a chicken.  It was pecking away like other chickens.  It didn’t know that there was a blue sky overhead and a glorious sunshine until someone who was knowledgeable in these things came along and said to the farmer, “Hey, that’s no chicken.  That’s an eagle.”  Then the farmer said, “Um, um, no, no, no, no man.  That’s a chicken; it behaves like a chicken.”  And the man said no; give it to me please.  And he gave it to this knowledgeable man.  And this man took this strange looking chicken and climbed the mountain and waited until sunrise.  And then he turned this strange looking chicken towards the sun and said, “Eagle, fly, eagle.”  And the strange looking chicken shook itself, spread out its pinions, and lifted off and soared and soared and soared and flew away, away into the distance.  And God says to all of us, you are no chicken; you are an eagle.  Fly, eagle, fly.  And God wants us to shake ourselves, spread our pinions, and then lift off and soar and rise, and rise toward the confident and the good and the beautiful.  Rise towards the compassionate and the gentle and the caring.  Rise to become what God intends us to be -- eagles, not chickens (lengthy applause).


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