By Christopher Hearn, Special to the AFRO
The following is a speech delivered by at New York University’s commencement on May 16 by a graduating student. It has been lightly edited and condensed for space and clarity.
Before I begin my formal speech, I want to acknowledge that we are on Lenape land and I want to give honor to the people who called this place home before there was a New York City and before there was a Yankee Stadium. I also want to pay honor to my ancestors who came from bondage to give me the blessings I’m now receiving today.
My name is Christopher Hearn and I am from the greatest city in the world—Columbus Ohio. I am graduating today with a Bachelor in Music Business from the Steinhardt school. I cannot explain how thankful I am to be addressing you today – over 17,000 graduates from over 18 schools here in New York City and campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai.
There is no way to condense our experiences of NYU into a single narrative. So instead I will bring you my story – and hope that it illuminates some kind of truth about this university and the transformative experiences that happen here.
My mother brought me into this world when she was 16 years old. And now, on May 16th, 2018, I have the honor of helping to bring all of us into the next phase of life. But I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have made it here without the ones who helped me. I drew energy from teachers, mentors, my OGs at the barbershop, and my best friends. They contributed to my life in different ways, but the one thing they all had in common was they advised me to stay in motion. I took their advice and it landed me here as an incoming student in fall 2014 as a Martin Luther King Jr. scholar.
As great as all of that is, it took me about one month to realize that I wasn’t good enough for this school. On my first midterm I received a C- — It was “Intro to Microeconomics” and I remember it like it was yesterday. Of course, I had an existential crisis on the NYU shuttle and I realized I had two options: Go back home to Columbus and start over, or stick it out in NYC and try to make it work somehow. As you can see, I chose the latter option.
While a student at NYU, I served as vice president of the Gentlemen of Quality, a mentorship and community service group for men of color. I was on staff at the Academic Achievement Program, which gives social and academic support to students of color. I was Director of Diversity in student government. While I’ve had success in these roles, I would be lying if I said I felt ready for all of them when I started. Sometimes even after I had completed them I didn’t feel ready. But no matter what, I resolved to stay in motion until I did.
At NYU, I learned that to realize your full potential, you have to act without always being fully sure. Often, we are presented with magnificent challenges and opportunities that cause us to freeze up because we feel unprepared or ill-equipped. But the truth is that the skills needed to rise to a challenge are not brought in with you. They are developed only once you set yourself in motion towards completing the task.
I suspect that we all have been tempted to stop during this journey. Academic struggles, family concerns, knowing that graduating means losing HBO Go (and then, how am I going to watch Season 3 of “Insecure”). But, if you are here today, it’s because you resolved to stay in motion, to keep going.
Even the name of this event urges forward motion. This is a commencement ceremony. Not a farewell, or a concluding celebration. It’s a beginning, a start, it’s a call to initiate motion. I urge all of you to treat it as such. And we may not have noticed, but most powerful forces in our world are communicating the exact same message.
The blood moving through our veins does so continuously. If it stops, we wouldn’t be able to continue living. The ocean is never still. Life above and below it depends on its motion to sustain. Our planet never stops spinning on its axis, the days and nights depend on its motion.
This is not a “focus on the journey not the destination” speech. I am urging you to stay in motion because it is necessary for survival; vital for any progress we hope to see in the future. You can ask my people about that. To the NYU graduating class of 2018, I applaud you for making it this far, I encourage you to reflect on what it took to get here, but more than anything, I am urging you to stay in motion. Thank you and congratulations.
Christopher Hearn graduated with a Baccalaureate of Music Business. He is a Martin Luther King Jr. scholar and during his time at NYU, served as the Vice President of the Gentleman of Quality (a mentorship and community service group for men of color), Director of Diversity for NYU student government, co-chair of the NYU Diversity Committee, and chaired sessions for the Academic Achievement Program (a group which gives social and academic support to people of color).