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"Antigone's Legacy: On the Virtues of Making Trouble”
Speech by Rachel M. Isaacs '05
Whew…we did it. My fellow members of the class of 2005, We. Have. Done. it.
We have all taken different paths to this common point, but we are all here, together, to celebrate this singular achievement. As citizens from a variety of nations, as mothers, as daughters, as sisters, as teachers, as students, we all come here today to commemorate the closure of our undergraduate experience at Wellesley, and to contemplate how this day serves as a point of departure for 553 distinct adventures. With the support of family, of incredible friends, of faculty, of administration, and of our wonderful class dean, Julie Donnelly, we have come to mark the end of our tenures at this institution. To all of those individuals who have helped us along the way, please grant me the honor of saying on behalf of the Class of 2005: Thank you. We did not make it here alone.
The significance of this day will evoke a multiplicity of emotions for all of us. I am sure that we all will feel an immense sense of pride for all that we and our peers have accomplished. Many of us will be overcome by recollections of intense joy, togetherness, and growth that Wellesley has made possible through the dedication and vision of countless people. At the same time, many of us may experience legitimate feelings of resentment and disappointment for those times when as a college, as a class, as individuals, we betrayed the values and ideals of this amazing place. Nevertheless, as we all come to sit in this place of celebration and reflection, I hope that we all take a moment to experience one shared feeling: gratitude.
We must occupy a moment of gratitude because though we came to Wellesley with varying degrees of privilege, and will leave with significant differences as well – we are all graduating from a college that has provided us with advantages that are incomprehensible to most people in this world. In every waking moment, Wellesley has been a place of revelation. We have revealed our constantly evolving selves to this community, and through our classes, our commitments, and our controversies, the complexities and richness of our common world have been revealed to us. Most importantly, it has also been revealed to us just how much more we all have to learn and how dire is the imperative to fix the world we all currently inhabit.
It is typical during graduation speeches, to be charged with the duty of “making a difference in the world” – to be told that because much as been given to you, much will be expected. However, as we are sitting in this moment of appreciation, I would like to make a related, but somewhat unusual request for an audience of Wellesley women: Please, make trouble. Make a stink, stir up a commotion, rouse rabble. This might seem like quite the challenge to some of us because to a certain extent -- we all got here because we were the girls who followed the rules, who almost always colored within the lines. Yet, as we are gathered here today to give thanks for all that we have acquired – it is necessary to question how much we are willing to sacrifice, how much trouble we are willing to make, in order to create enduring difference.
As the class of 2005, we were faced with the previously unfathomable threat of terrorism within our first two weeks at Wellesley. The world has changed radically since that surreal day in September. As the cloud of this national threat has come over our nation, the dawning of a new age of political responsibility has emerged. We are taking our places on the political stage at a time when it is just as essential to confront terrorism as the movements that have exploited this national tragedy for personal, commercial, and political gain.
We are breaking out of the protective cocoon that Wellesley has provided us, just as coalition soldiers, hundreds of whom are younger than we are, are making the ultimate, noble sacrifice for the freedom of others. And all of this at a time when as a nation, we have been forced to critically examine what exactly freedom means, and how to safeguard it within our own nation as we are seeking to bestow it upon others. These are not pleasant realities to confront, but they have shaped the world we are about to occupy and mold.
We must contemplate whether we will command the courage to follow in the footsteps of Antigone, who died for her most deeply held convictions in order to combat injustice -- or whether we will fade into the background of history like her sister Ismene who suffered and disappeared in silent obedience.
However, making trouble, good trouble, messy trouble, constructive trouble is not about always taking your place behind the battle lines. We often speak of our current political realities in terms of those who are progressive and those who are regressive, from red states and blue states, who are holy and profane, and those who are worthy of recognition and those who are not.
But we must come to recognize that, the old paradigms have become prisons – they have paralyzed our imaginations and prohibited us from thinking beyond self-serving categories of righteousness and villainy. We must come into our power in new and imaginative ways that recognize the dignity of all individuals, whether they agree with us or not. As we continue to take moral stands, we must do so by coloring outside the lines.
For if we do not redraw the larger picture, if we merely continue to color within the boundaries set for us by others, we may wake up and realize that we have painted a terrible vision for ourselves and those for whom we are responsible. Making trouble can often seem hopeless, but the words of renowned poet, author, and activist Audre Lorde, provide both guidance and strength. She states: “I know the limits of my nation lie within myself.” Within each of us is the power to reconstruct and sculpt a new paradigm, to challenge society by challenging and changing ourselves.
Class of 2005, wonderful and inspirational women whom I have had the privilege of calling my classmates and sisters, I have continually witnessed your power and potential to engage the challenges of our world. May we all have the courage and compassion to fulfill our promise. Mazel tov, congratulations, and thank you.