“Be tenacious on behalf of life on Earth” Ayana Johnson commencement address
Ayana Elizabeth Johnson delivered the commencement address at Middlebury College with wisdom and encouragement for graduates to “be tenacious on behalf of life on earth” and recognize that “every job can be a climate job.”
“Here we go. The only way out is through.
In the past four years, even if you didn’t do all the readings (same, don’t worry), you’ve learned a lot about the crumbling systems of nature, of government, and of justice. An intertwined morass of crises. Now, you must use those truths to keep a fire in your belly, to fuel all the good you must do in the world.
Moments like today’s celebration are not a foregone conclusion, even for the most fortunate among us. The future is not guaranteed. And, most importantly, the future is not yet written. Every single person here—you—can help shape it.
So, what I want you to hold on to today are two words: transformation and possibility.
To address the climate crisis, the all-encompassing challenge that will touch whatever life and work you will go on to, requires that we not just change or adapt, but that we transform society, from extractive to regenerative. This is a monumental task. And it requires that we focus not on endless analysis of the problem, but on summoning an expansive sense of possibility, on harnessing our imaginations and our creativity. This is not to sugarcoat the horrific scientific projections. I am a scientist; I know what we are up against. And I will spare you that litany on this, your graduation day, and just say: it’s going to hit 89 degrees today, in Vermont, in May.
What this moment in history requires is a tenacious focus on solutions, and a vision of what we are working toward, of what is possible.
Much of college is about parsing literature, pondering details, and wallowing in the sweet mud of nuance. I am here to encourage you to enter this next phase of your life with as much simplicity and moral clarity as you can muster. Some things are simply right and some things are simply wrong. And the devil does not need an advocate.”