June 8, 2019
It’s graduation time all over the Nation and the World. So many young women and men everywhere are preparing to seize the day and change the World. We are fond of saying they will come down to Earth once they start looking for jobs and paying rent. We often think their graduation speeches are “pie-in-the-sky” platitudes that do not reflect reality. Every generation has its dreams, only to be shattered by the harsh realities of life.
This year I think something different is emerging. I truly believe our nightmares are about to be shattered by their dreams, hopes, and courage. Even in the midst of terrorism and discord, young women and men are rising up to build a better World. We need only think of the youth in movements across the United States who have become politically active and civilly involved. They are savvy with technology, knowing how to communicate across the World with the social media now available to them. They are more and more aware of the injustices that rip the fabric of society when human rights are denied, women are oppressed, and so-called “minorities” are ostracized.
One young woman comes to mind. She is the valedictorian of her high school. Denied by the school administrators to deliver her speech, she and her family protested. After appropriate apologies and the support of her classmates, her speech was published on the school district’s website. She is a remarkable young woman, achieving the highest honors. She said in her speech what we need to never forget. An immigrant of an immigrant family, she humbly attributed her great success to her family. She reminds us how much we need one another. She exemplifies how interdependent we are as a people, a Nation, and a society. Her voice will not fade. Rather, her wisdom and the wisdom of so many other students around the World, will change us for the better.
Kriya Naidu from South Africa delivered her speech to the Orange County, Florida, school district one week after she graduated. She first delivered her words on You Tube to the delight of her classmates:
You see, in 1995, my parents emigrated from South Africa and moved here, to America, with only $500 to their name. And with all the opportunities that this country has afforded them, they were able to build a life for themselves and eventually myself and my sisters. And thanks to that, I have made it here today.
But they faced their fair share of challenges. Prejudice, difficulty securing jobs, pay parity and much more. But every time they were knocked down, they got back up. Their success is an example of what immigrants, people of color and everyone can achieve with hard work even when they find themselves in a country that seems to work against them. As Lin-Manuel Miranda said, “Immigrants, we get the job done.” But my parents and I aren’t the only immigrants: Most everyone here in this arena today, if not an immigrant themselves, is descended from someone who moved to America with a dream in their hearts as well.
The School Board apologized. We are grateful for that but wonder what motivated them in the first place. We applaud her for her courage, wisdom and humility. Her story is the story of so many Americans who must now reach out to others who seek their dignity, freedom, and self-respect. She and so many like her will change the World.
Thomas P. Bonacci, C.P.
The Interfaith Peace Project