Help Search Campus Map Directories Webmail Home Alumnae Academics Admission Athletics Student Life Offices & Services Library & Technology News & Events About the College Navigation Bar
MHC Home Office of Communications

Vista College Street Journal Articles from the MHC Community

The New SAT Policy The Plan for Mount Holyoke 2010

Musicorda Odyssey Bookshop (MHC's textbook seller) Facts About MHC MHC Events and Calendar Five College Events Arts Calendar Academic Calendar This Week at MHC Faculty Bios Contact Information Press Releases

Holly Hanson's Baccalaureate Address

Following is the baccalaureate speech delivered by Assistant Professor of History and African and African American Studies Holly Hanson for the 2002 commencement weekend.

Honored guests, most loved parents, Class of 2002. Thank you for giving me the privilege of speaking to you this evening.

That you are graduating now is wonderful, because our world needs what you have to offer. It needs your skills, your insight, your passion. Tonight I want to offer you a tool for engaging the world. It is simple.

There is no 'they.' There are no people who are fundamentally different from us in ways that matter. There is no 'they,' there is only us, all of us. To divide humanity into 'us' and 'them' naturalizes injustice.

According to the United Nations, twenty percent of the world's people control eighty six percent of its wealth, which means eighty percent of the people have access to fourteen percent of the world's wealth. We accomodate this appalling reality with categories of 'us' and 'them': developed and developing, first world and third world, modern and traditional. We are rich because we're knowledgeable, wealth-producing, and progressive. They are poor because they are uninformed, not entrepreneurial, and bound by tradition.

It sounds natural, it seems inevitable, but the world has not always been this way. The overabundance of wealth and economic hyperactivity in some regions and the lack of material resources and economic stagnation in other regions are aspects of one process of technological innovation, production and exchange which has involved all the parts of the planet over the past five hundred years. The distribution of the world's wealth has a history, and part of that history has been profound transformation of social structures and political institutions everywhere. Latin American silver, shipped to Europe and to Asia from the 16th century to the 19th, created wealth in the world, but Andean institutions ceased to function, and the region was impoverished. The plantation labor complex which depended on enslaved African workers, created tremendous wealth from the 17th to the 19th centuries, but Africa lost its people and its social and political institutions got distorted and almost destroyed. Industrialization in Europe created tremendous wealth for a few, but the colonies and ex-colonies that provided raw materials and consumed finished goods paid the costs without experiencing the benefits.

All of us, and our parents and grandparents and ancestors for about fifteen generations, made the world we have. There are no people on the planet who are centuries behind, who have been left out of some process of progress which the rest of us have enjoyed. There is no 'they' that need to catch up to us who are superior, no others who have not been involved in building the world we have. The rich world and the poor world are the same world. The developed and the developing world are the same world, they came into being together, they have made each other. There is no 'they' just us, all of us, burdened with a world that embodies grotesque, unbearable injustice.

I want you to be unwilling to live with 'us' and 'them' because these categories hide injustice.

Dividing the world into 'us' and 'them' also obscures our responsibility. It is a way of thinking that lets us off the hook. 'They' cause the problem. 'They', the neo-colonial multi-nationals. 'They', the ignorant, over-populating third world masses. The fat cat international institutions. The airy-headed eco-feminist intellectuals. It is all their fault. And, if it's their fault, we're innocent. But there is no 'they', there is only us, all of us, together. All of us hold the world in its current patterns and structures in the way we act and the way we think and the way we engage each other.

We are the cells and the sinews and the bone of the tightly integrated, coherent organism which is the world, and all our actions have an effect far beyond ourselves. We have power as consumers, and if we choose to, we can use that power to create equitable working conditions for the producers of the goods we consume. We have tremendous power as citizens of a democratic society, and if we choose to use it, we can wield that power to elect leaders who are committed to overcoming global inequality. We can only take these actions if we refuse to divide 'us' and 'them', if we recognize ourselves as part of a fundamentally connected humanity, if we embrace the power we have to shape the world.

There is no 'they', there's only us, all of us, together. We are blessed with the strength to ask ourselves hard questions, to sacrifice what is comfortable, to create patterns of production and social structures more equitable than the ones we have inherited. We can do this. Class of 2002, you can do this. We have tremendous confidence that you will engage the world with a passion for justice, with insight and intelligence and determination.

Come back and tell us what you are doing.

Home | Directories | Web Email | Calendar | Campus Map | Search | Help

About the College | Admission | Academics | Student Life | Athletics
Offices & Services | Giving | News & Events | Alumnae | Library & Technology

Copyright © 2005 Mount Holyoke College. This page created and maintained by Office of Communications. Last modified on March 17, 2005.

History of Mount Holyoke College Facts About Mount Holyoke College Contact Information Visit Mount Holyoke College Viritual Tour of MHC About Mount Holyoke College