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NewsMay 18, 2019

Anita Hill lauds graduates as partners for social change

Historic champion for gender equity says shared sacrifice can build a better world

Anita Hill speaks at Commencement 2019

Civil-rights champion Dr. Anita Hill was visibly moved when she received her honorary degree, which cited her courage in the face of mistreatment during the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She was also warmly received by the crowd, who gave her a standing ovation, with one person shouting, “Thank you, Anita!”

“You created a space for others, even a generation later, to say ‘Me, too,’” said Dean of Faculty Diana Direiter in presenting the honorary degree.

But, as the honored speaker for the 2019 Commencement ceremony for our College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and College of Art and Design, Dr. Hill applauded the graduates – and other members of the millennial generation – for raising the same issues, and fighting the same fights, that have made her an important, transformative and historical figure.

She applauded Lesley students’ and other millennials’ social-justice activism, organizing walks against gun violence, exposing sexual assault and violence, and advocating for a more equitable world.

“The world hears you and we thank you for your efforts,” Hill said, acknowledging that millennials are “met with resistance” every day, from previous generations and the media, which presents young people as selfish, indolent and technocratic.

Anita Hill poses with students at Commencement
Student speakers Tianna Rivera and Vita Franjul pose with Dr. Anita Hill (center).

“These are some of the same pundits who called my generation baby boomers, the most spoiled generation,” Hill said, adding that in her three previous visits to Lesley she saw students who were passionate, committed and serious about making a better world.

“Many of the battles you fought,” she said, “…are my battles, my concerns.”

Hill, without going into detail about her own oppression and mistreatment at the hands of Thomas, for whom she had worked, and male Senators, indicated that the present generation is owed a debt of gratitude in the fight for gender equity.

“Your activities have laid the groundwork of what we call the #MeToo Movement,” Hill said. She urged the graduates to be undeterred by naysayers and those who advise meeting violence with violence. In addition, graduates need to resist the temptation to give into cynicism and separation from those with different beliefs and opinions.

photo of audience and mortarboards at commencement
Lesley awarded nearly 600 degrees during the afternoon ceremony.

“Division and isolationism, they are the problems. They are not the solutions,” she said.

Hill said she has seen the nation come far since her days as a student at the University of Oklahoma, and the life her parents faced under segregation. However, she also pointed to the words and example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and said the fight continues, with millennials and baby boomers as partners.

“I remain committed, realizing this race is not a sprint,” Hill said. “I don’t think of it as a marathon, I think of it as a relay, and the goals for equality are broadening in every leg of this race.”

The theme of partnership and support permeated the afternoon ceremony.

‘The spectacular people’ of the Class of 2019

Tianna Rivera, the graduate speaker for the College of Art and Design, decided at age 12 that she would be the first person in her family to graduate from college, but, she told her fellow graduates, it never felt like something she had to do alone.

“It was about a team effort. For my whole life, my parents have been looking forward to this moment. Even this morning they said, ‘we are graduating today,’” said Rivera, joking that her mother came better dressed than she did.

A graphic design major, Rivera saw her whole college experience as collaborative. She recalled a team printmaking competition last spring, “the equivalent of March Madness’s Final Four.”

“Knowing that every move I made affected the people around me both inspired and terrified me,” Rivera admitted. But even in the team’s frenetic preparations, she embraced the responsibility of working together toward a common goal.

“We understood we had to sacrifice our comfort zones and creative boundaries in order to better our team,” she said.

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences speaker Vita Franjul also spoke of sacrifice in her address to the Class of 2019

Franjul turned her attention to “the spectacular people” who didn’t have an easy path to graduation: those who raised children, who worked full-time, who traveled hours to get to class each day, who struggled with hardship, but who now sat before her in cap and gown. The education major highlighted the achievements of her peers, from organizing the first undocumented and students of color graduation to working on a community mural with youth at a Brazilian LGBTQ+ shelter.

Franjul said Lesley had been a place where she and her classmates were given opportunities to act, to speak, to challenge ideas and to find their niche.

“Thank you, Lesley, for all the spaces you allowed us to create and fostering an environment that centers student action and empowerment.” Urging her peers to continue the good work, she said, “It is imperative that you utilize the tools you possess to be an agent of change.”