2017 Commencement Address

Delores Huerta giving the 2017 Commencement address

The following is a transcript of keynote speaker Dolores Huerta’s address to the class of 2017.

Thank you, thank you very much for this great honor. I want to thank President Stephens, the faculty and all of you, the graduating the class of 2017 for this very, very great honor. I feel very, very humble.

I just want to say to you that I think one of the great things is that, I believe that I share the values of this organization, of this great university. And one of the challenges that we have ahead of us — I believe it is probably the greatest challenge that we have right now in our United States of America and if not the world — is to kind of erase the ignorance. Erase the ignorance that we have in our society right now that creates the racism, the bigotry, the homophobia, the misogyny, you know that we have now that exists in our society.

There was a great Spanish philosopher named José Ortega y Gasset. He was in Spain before the Franco regime, dictator, took over. He wrote a book called “The Revolution of the Masses.” And his thesis in that book was, that if we do not have an educated citizenry, if we do not have an educated population, then the greedy and the powerful will rule and govern.

What this means is we have to step up to this challenge that we now have. You know, when they talk about putting somebody on the moon, putting somebody on Mars, you know, as the scientific talk is now, we have to somehow think, how can we use all of our resources that we have in our society to fight the racism and the bigotry and all of these other “isms” that we have right now. Because we know that it is a huge cancer that we have in our society.

What that means is that somehow, when we think of our educational system, and you are of course the products of our educational system, that there are things that are missing. We do not read in our grammar school books or our high school books about who built the White House and the Congress.

[cheers, applause]

It was African slaves. Or that Native Americans were the first slaves that we had in our society. And so what we need to do is somehow we’ve got to instill into our educational system, starting from pre-K, pre-kindergarten, K through 12, we’ve got to have ethnic studies so that people will know —

[cheers]

what the contributions of people of color have been to this country.

[cheers, applause]

Yet, and with the Mexicans — yes, I’m a proud Mexican American. Fourth generation. My great-grandfather fought in the Civil War on the Union side! And yet we have this huge attack that we have on our immigrants in our community, these huge deportations of these splitting families, having children that are left behind when their parents are deported. And we have had a legalization system in this country since the time that this country was built. Every single immigrant that came here to the United States of America had permanent residence and was legalized. Every single person. So we can all say that we are all the children of immigrants to the United States of America. We’ve got to stop the bigotry against immigrants right now.

We know that immigrants are workers. Immigrants are workers. They’re the ones that are doing the heavy lifting in our hotels, picking our food. When we eat every day, look at our food and think, some undocumented immigrant out there picked the lettuce, you know, and the apples and all of this food that we’re eating today. And to give them that respect.

[applause]

We have a tendency, again in our educational system, that we kind of honor the wealthy. Well, what about people that work with their hands? What about workers? And the workers have a right —

[cheers]

Workers have a right to have their own organizations and those are called unions! Yes! Labor unions! Because without labor we wouldn’t have an eight-hour day. We wouldn’t have minimum wage. We wouldn’t have Social Security. We would not have safety standards. So we’ve got to make sure to support labor unions. And right now in the United States of America we are very, very close to having what they call right-to-work. What does that mean? Right-to-work means right to work for low wages, without any benefits, without an organization. So you’ve got to be aware of this, because when you go back to wherever your home states are, this is what’s going on in your home states. That there is a big push to get rid of labor unions. So we’ve got to have labor studies that have got to be part of the education that we receive.

And then, science, OK? Science is so important, not only when we talk about global warming and what’s going to happen to Mother Earth, that we’ve all got to get out there and fight to make sure we that have a planet to be able to leave to our children. And part of when we talk about science, there’s something else that we don’t think about.

Where did our human race begin? Our human race began in Africa!

[cheers]

crossed across the planet, you know, went to Asia, came down through the Bering Strait to the Americas. And one of our tribes lived way up where it’s really cold, and sorry, they lost their color. So now they have to go to the tanning salon and to the beach to get their color back!

[laughter]

And so, you know, this is important that we remember this, that we are all the descendants of the first people, who were Africans. So that means —

[cheers]

What does this mean? That we are all Africans of different shapes and color!

[cheers, applause]

So we can say to the “alt-right,” to the white supremacists, to the KKK, get over it, you’re Africans!

[cheers, applause]

And what that means too is that as one human family, which we are, only one human race, that we have to support each other. That we have to take care of each other. That we have to fight for each other. And in this fight that we all have to do together, one of the things that we have to fight for — and I know you’re going to love this one — free education!

[cheers, applause]

Now, that is not a pipe dream. I mean, and just like countries in Europe, if little tiny Cuba can have a free education for all of their residents and citizens, why can’t we, the richest country in the world, the United States of America? We need to fight for that.

[applause]

We need to fight for universal health care so that we don’t have to worry about pre-existing conditions or if people have ___ for health care.

[sustained applause]

But we know that we say, where’s the money going to come from to pay for all this? Well, there’s another little thing that we rarely think about. We are the only industrialized country that does not own our natural resources. We are the only industrialized that does not own our resources. Corporations own our oil, our transportation systems, our telephone systems, etcetera. So if somehow, the people could own those systems, we would have plenty of money to pay for education and health care.

This is just something to think about in the future, OK? I know something, we can’t do a thing about it now, but it’s some day we have to do it in the future.

I just want to say to all of you, is one of the things that you have to worry about as you go out there, is, worry about people who might want to dominate you. People who are going to get in your way. That are going to try to get you to do what they want you to do for them, and not for yourself. And when I’m thinking about domination, I’m thinking about, of course, political domination. We don’t want that. But also physical domination. Physical domination, OK? Do not let people try to steer you away.

And yes, beware of addictions. And one of the addictions I’m going to talk about is materialism. So, hopefully you will all get great jobs as you go out there. But as you make good money, don’t get addicted to buying things, OK? Because — I know you’re not thinking about when you’re going to leave this world, but when you do leave it, whatever you bought, you can’t take it with you. You can’t take it with you.

[applause]

You can’t take it with you. And what you do want to leave behind, you want to leave a legacy of justice. A legacy of justice.

[applause]

So that your children and your grandchildren will remember what you did to make the world a better place, not how much wealth you were able to accumulate. We want you to be, we want you to have a comfortable life. But we also want you to remember, think about those people who did not have the privilege of having a great education like you did.

And also remember this: that the people out there that did not have a college education, didn’t get a chance to go to college, that doesn’t mean that they’re not educated. They are civil, you know? They’re civil. They know a lot. They may have a lot of knowledge that you don’t have. So always treat those people with respect.

[applause]

So think about yourself also, and we’ve talked about all of the great gifts that you have, to always be of service to others. Think, what can I do with my education that will help the people that don’t have an education? Because remember those people that I talked about, that work with their hands? They are really the ones that built the wealth of the country. So your job is to go out there and to serve those people, and to see how many leaders that you can create. Not only that you can be a leader, but how many people you will be able to help out there so that they can also become leaders.

So think of the term as “servant–leader,” because this is, I think, what a college education prepares you for. Not so much about yourself but about others and about your community.

And, as we go and we try to educate other people, I wanted to share a phrase with you from the great Mexican president named Benito Juárez. So when we were trying to educate people on the issues of women’s reproductive rights, on the issues of getting rid of the homophobia that we have in our society, quote Benito Juárez. You probably never heard of him. Maybe some of you that took Latino studies did.

Benito Juárez was a great president of Mexico, an indigenous president. And he had a phrase. So, when you’re talking to other people and they don’t understand why we, as women — and I say this as the mother of 11 children — why we need to have the right of abortion, remember Benito Juárez. And he said this: respecting other people’s rights is peace. Respecting other people’s rights is peace.

I have 11 children. My daughter Juanita, she wants us to have a lot of dogs, OK? No kids!

[laughter]

Who people wants to marry, who they want to live with, you know, who they love, that is their business and nobody else’s business, right?

[cheers, sustained applause]

And the last thing I want to say to you is be involved, please. Be aware. Who is your city councilman? Who is your board of supervisors? Especially those school boards. We have to support people that are going to get elected to these office, because remember this: The people that get elected, they are the ones that make the decisions where our tax dollars are going to go. Are they going to go to health? Are they going to go to education? Are they going to go to science? Or are they going to be to build more prisons? We have to stop the school-to-prison pipeline.

[cheers, applause]

Because we have more people in prison than in any other country in the world, including India and China, who have millions of people in their populations. And yet, we have more people in prison. So you have to really be involved.

And please, be engaged politically. You know, be involved in campaigns. Go out there and support people, progressive candidates that are running for office. Because they are the ones that are going to make the decisions. And, please, I hope that some of you will also get involved and some of you will also run for office.

[applause]

And I want to quote Coretta Scott King. Coretta Scott King said this: We will never have peace in the world until women take power!

[cheers, sustained applause]

So I think the word that fits this graduating class, and will serve you when you go out there in the world, is courage. Courage to be able to have faith in yourselves, have faith in people, have faith in the world and go out there and do the work that we have to do to make a really free and a justice society.

So, I’m going to ask you to join me in a couple of “vivas.” For those of you that are bilingually challenged, OK? —

[laughter]

“Viva” means “long live.” So, I’m going to say, I’m going to say this first and I want you all to shout a great, big, old viva. OK? I’m going to say, “Viva the graduating class of 2017,” and then everybody’s going to say, “Viva!” OK? All right.

“¡Viva!” OK? All right.

Viva the graduating class of 2017!

[audience joins in] ¡Viva!

Viva Mount Holyoke!

[audience joins in] ¡Viva!

Viva the parents out there that helped all of us get here!

[audience joins in]  ¡Viva!

OK! And then one more thing. Let’s all together say, are we going to be able to go out there? Are we going to be able to do the work that we need to do? Are we going to create a just society, not only for the United States, but for all those other women in the world, you know? We are the ones that can do it. We have to be the missionaries. We have to be the organizers.

So, can we do it? What do we say? “Se puede?”

[cheers]

That means, “can we?” Individually and collectively we say, Yes, we can! as Obama said. When I met President Obama, he said, “I stole your slogan.” I told him, “Yes, you did!”

[laughter]

So, let’s all do it together. We’re going to say, “Yes, we can,” but we’re going to do it in Spanish, OK? And it is, “¡Sí, se puede!” Can you say that? ¡Sí, se puede! So let’s all do this with a big organized hand clap, let’s go. All together, collectively. Let’s go!

[audience joins in, clapping]

¡Sí, se puede!
¡Sí, se puede!
¡Sí, se puede!
¡Sí, se puede!
¡Sí, se puede!
¡Sí, se puede!
¡Sí, se puede!
¡Sí, se puede!

Thank you very much! Thank you very much.

[cheers, sustained applause]