Michelle Au at the Wellesley podium

Wellesley College commencement speaker Michelle Au ’99 urges grads to work across difference

Image credit: Joel Haskell

Author  Stacey Schmeidel
Published on 

Wellesley College commencement speaker Michelle Au—a member of the Georgia House of Representatives and a physician, author, and strong gun safety advocate—urged Wellesley’s class of 2024 to reject cynicism and find common ground with people from differing viewpoints in order to make a better world.

Au shared with the graduates the lessons she has learned from working across the aisle as a Democrat in the Georgia House of Representatives. “Even when we disagree,” she said, “there are common goals we can identify. And when we allow ourselves to eschew absolutism, and interrogate our assumptions, we can move forward, and do good work together.”

Addressing a crowd of some 5,000 people, including 571 graduates, under a large tent on the Wellesley campus, Au spoke about her dual careers in medicine and politics.

As a member of the minority political party in Georgia, where she represents the state’s 50th House District, Au wrote the first substantive gun safety legislation to be heard in a Georgia House subcommittee in more than six years, framing the issue of gun violence as a health epidemic in what she called the Pediatric Health Safe Storage Act.

Au said she gave the bill that name “because I wanted to make clear that secure gun storage was not a political issue, but a public health issue, and an issue of protecting kids.”

People from all parties agree on the importance of pediatric health and child safety, Au noted. “Find where you agree,” Au advised Wellesley’s senior class, “then work backward.”

A 1999 graduate of Wellesley, Au also recalled her student days at the college, where she stood out as a cartoonist for the student newspaper—and where she was less successful as an actor and with an improv comedy group. “It’s OK to not be good at things, or not be right all the time,” Au said. “The important thing is to say ‘yes’ to things, even when they’re scary. Because saying ‘yes’ invites the question of ‘What’s next?’”

Wellesley College President Paula A. Johnson echoed this idea in her own remarks, encouraging the graduates to reject simplistic narratives and strive for intellectual humility.

“Class of 2024, the world truly needs you,” Johnson said. “We need you to help us move beyond the binary views that dominate our public discourse, toward a deeper understanding of the complexities—one that admits a hope of solutions. … We need you to help us knit together our frayed civic life, with a willingness to listen to others and to work with them on shared goals. We need, above all, your patience, your kindness, your thoughtfulness, and your ability to view challenging situations through the eyes of love.”

A video of Wellesley’s 146th commencement ceremony will be available online.