The keynote speaker at Grinnell College Commencement this morning was a woman who was a member of the Communist Party and the Black Panthers and who argues that prisons should be abolished. Sixty-three-year-old Angela Davis was first in the national spotlight back in 1969 when she lost her job at U.C.L.A. because of her membership in the American Communist Party and then in 1970 she was on the FBI’s list of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives for the murder of a judge. In 1972 — after 16 months in prison — she was acquitted of that crime.
Davis urged the Grinnell College Class of 2007 to remember the work of Grinnell College founder J.B. Grinnell. “Will you remember that you attended a college established by a 19th century abolitionist who made this town — Grinnell, Iowa — a significant stop on the Underground Railroad?” Davis asked. “Will you remember that you attended a college founded by a man who unabashedly referred to himself as a radical?”
Davis told the graduates they will not have an easy future. “I wish I could earnestly suggest that young humanists and scientists will, with minimal effort, discover exciting passageways of progress for your future trajectories but that would be to trivialize both your education and both the global and local context in which you will work and study,” Davis said. Davis urged the graduates to read between the lines in life.
“Treasure the approaches and ways of thinking that you have learned more than the facts you have accumulated, for you will never discover a scarcity of facts and these facts will be presented in such a way as to veil the ways of thinking embedded in them,” Davis said. Davis closed by suggesting education is linked to freedom.
“Freedom then becomes a state for which one yearns, but rather an incessant struggle to remake our lives, our relations, our communities and our futures,” Davis said. Grinnell College officials gave Davis an honorary degree — a Doctorate of Humane Letters.