Most Memorable Words from The New School’s Six Commencement Speakers

Boldly breaking with an age-old collegiate tradition, The New School this year presented not one, but six celebrated and inspirational figures to speak at its 80th commencement exercises: Actress Laverne Cox, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson, media critic Anita Sarkeesian, International Rescue Committee president and CEO David Miliband, and forensic anthropologist Mercedes Doretti.

Dispensing with the formalities and cliché speeches, the honorary degree recipients took turns delivering impactful, five-minute talks that got to the heart of their advice to The New School’s graduating class. Check out a few of the most memorable quotes from their speeches:

The New School 2016 Graduation Jacob Javitz Center, NYC, USA - 05.20.16 Photo - J Grassi

Laverne Cox: “How does a black transgender women from Mobile, Ala., raised by a single mom from a working class background. . . end up here? It’s because I had so many people who believed in me and supported me, a mother who was a teacher and believed in the power of education. Education has been so crucial and so critical as I go forth into the world.”

“When I got the chance to be on a show called ‘Orange is The New Black’ that highlighted the issues of women in prison . . . when I had the opportunity and the platform, I tried to use it to give back, to be of service.”

Quoting author Julia Cameron: “When we move toward our dreams, we move toward divinity. And as you move toward divinity, be of service, give back. I believe that’s when you align with a higher purpose for yourselves.”

The New School 2016 Graduation Jacob Javitz Center, NYC, USA - 05.20.16 Photo - J Grassi

Diane Von Furstenberg: Her mom, a Holocaust survivor, always told her: “God saved me so I can give you life. By giving you life, I got my life back. This is my torch of freedom.”

“Frustration, rejection, humiliating moments will be your best memories, your best souvenirs. And when you’re successful, those are the stories you will always tell.”

“The most important advice I have: That the most important relationship you have in life is the one you have with yourself.”

The New School 2016 Graduation Jacob Javitz Center, NYC, USA - 05.20.16 Photo - J Grassi

DeRay Mckesson: “Protest, at its root, is this idea of telling the truth in public. We stood in streets and used our bodies to tell the truth that Mike Brown should still be alive, that Rekia, that Akai, that Amir should be alive today … We told a simple truth that we continue to tell today: black lives matter.”

“The work of social justice will always be more important than it is popular. So, if you’re getting into this work to be famous, to get money, you’re not in the right line of work.”

“There’s a difference between being woke and staying woke. I know a lot of people who understand it yesterday, but don’t get it today. When we say, ‘stay woke,’ that is a reminder that the work has to continue every day.”

The New School 2016 Graduation Jacob Javitz Center, NYC, USA - 05.20.16 Photo - J Grassi

David Miliband: “Think about the word ‘academic’; it can mean rigor, and standards, and independence. But it can also mean abstruse, detached from reality. Today, I hope and believe you stand for rigor and action, not rigor instead of action.”

Speaking about the International Rescue Committee, the organization he directs, and The New School, which was founded as the University in Exile, and the work of both entities to assist people fleeing persecution: “More people around the world are suffering the perils of exile than at any time since the second world war. One in every 120 people on the planet is displaced because of by conflict. Sixty million people are fleeing for their lives.”

“I look forward to working with you as you seek to fulfill the mission of The New School: To engage with the modern world, not just to study it.”

The New School 2016 Graduation Jacob Javitz Center, NYC, USA - 05.20.16 Photo - J Grassi

Mercedes Doretti: “If you are able to find your own sound in life, your own noise—that is, what you feel passionate about—and be able to make that your work, then you will be part of a very small group: the ones that have the privilege to do what they love for a living.”

The New School 2016 Graduation Jacob Javitz Center, NYC, USA - 05.20.16 Photo - J Grassi

Anita Sarkeesian: “As New School graduates, you have had the privilege to receive an education focused on critical and in-depth study of society, the arts and culture. I challenge you to take the knowledge you have earned here and not only apply it to the insidious messages supporting sexism, racism, classism and other forms of injustice . . . but to also share it out to others. Share it with those who may not have had the privilege of studying in the liberal arts … apply what you know in ways that break down the barriers between academic thought and people’s actual lived experiences.”