24 May 2017, Norwich, Connecticut, USA
Jose B Gonzalez is a Fulbright scholar and author of International Book Award Finalist, Toys Made of Rock.
Coming back to Three Rivers is always a homecoming for me. This is a college where I taught students who were as talented, as driven, and as hardworking as any other students I’ve ever met.
It’s a college that I loved nearly 25 years ago and it’s a college that I love to this day. And I use the word, “love” intentionally.
We are at a time in which we consider people who use the word, “love” as weak, but we view those who use the language of hate as strong. And we have become so desensitized to the hate that we’re inhaling that we sometimes forget to exhale it.
My advice to you, Class of 2017, is that no matter where you are in the next stage of your life, whether it’s in a new job or a new college, run from the language of hate.
Instead, remember a line so powerful that it can be found in two classics, One Hundred Years of Solitude and a Raisin the Sun, “There is Always Something Left to Love.”
As you move forward, the winds of hate will try to push you backwards but love will make you a better student, a better worker, and a better person.
In your next math class, if you’re going to tell your professor that you hate decimals, as if decimals have ever done anything to you, tell her how you love pi. Everyone loves pi.
In your new job, if you’re going to tell your boss that you hate the pay, tell her that you love the hours.
If you’re going to tell your boss that you hate the hours, tell her that you love the pay. Everybody loves to get paid.
Nothing productive rises out of hate.
You are part of a world where political campaigns are built on pillars of hate, where we don’t always recognize that hatred of immigrants means nothing more than a hatred of self, where hate speech has become common speech, where we can too easily become part of a hate wasteland.
Hating is easy. It requires much less work than love.
There is always something left to love.
And that is true about yourselves too. In fact, as I’ve visited community colleges throughout the country, there are three things that they have in common. One is that they all have a crazy uncle who shows up at graduation. Where is that crazy uncle today?
Two is that they all have overworked faculty and staff.
And three—they all have students who have spent years beating themselves up and being tougher on themselves than any professor ever could be.
It’s no wonder we are caught up in Photoshopping our flaws, fixated on this myth called perfection.
We all have something we hate about ourselves. Look at me, I’m short, I have bad eyesight, and I love Krispy Kreme doughnuts a little too much. There is a lot to Photoshop and hate here.
Throughout my life the winds of hate have howled at me. As much as I love Three Rivers, I certainly hated that moment when I was teaching a literature class here on a September day when even the board was smiling and the autumn trees were singing. That day, someone opened my classroom door, walked in slowly and informed me that my father had died.
I hated the moments when people made fun of me when I was learning English and the moments when others hated me for the color of my skin.
But it was my love for my brown skin that led me to study Brown Literature, and it was my love of language that led me to become a writer and a professor of English.
We’ve got to love our skin and what’s inside that skin. There is always something left to love.
The fact is you’ve had so many reasons to hate that you could have allowed yourselves to become poster children for hate.
As you commuted to school, I’m sure you didn’t exactly love traffic on 395 or on the obstacle course called I-95.
As you attended classes, you had jobs that were unforgiving, cars that wouldn’t behave, coughs that wouldn’t go away, and deadlines that wouldn’t cooperate. Yet, you refused to allow hate to defeat you.
It’s your love that has brought all of us here together on this memorable day.
Society needs people like you. Students who have persevered through storms of hate, and are ready to show the world that with the love of family, with the love FOR family, with the love of learning, and the love of self, anything is possible.
Your diplomas are proof that you are ready to use love to make Three Rivers Community College prouder and make our communities and the three rivers that surround us stronger.
And that’s why, tonight, after all the hugs, after the crazy uncle who always stays too long leaves your celebration, be sure to take a look at yourself in the mirror.
Stare hard, and stare long, and say to yourself, “I’m ready to show the world what love can accomplish. I love that I worked hard for this degree, I love that my family is proud of me. And I love myself.”
Congratulations and much love to you, Class of 2017.
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