Fall 2016 Commencement Address by Arisa White
“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” – Cornel West
Faculty member Arisa White delivered this commencement address to the Fall 2016 graduates of the Undergraduate Studies and BFA in Creative Writing programs on September 18th, 2016.
Thank you to the graduating class for inviting me to be your commencement speaker. I’m truly honored. To the administration and faculty, parents, family and friends, thank you for supporting them along the way.
As I sat with your questions—all very good questions that address self-doubt, success, and sustaining relationships after Goddard—love continued to appear as the answer.
This has much to do with the fact that we are in a state of lovelessness. We are socialized to keep from utilizing the creative power that comes from love. Systems of oppression do not want us well; do not want us to know the weight of love. This state of lovelessness doesn’t just exist in our external environment—each of us is internally tending to the master’s house.
Where in you have you bulldozed sacred ground?
From what unconscious place are you consenting?
Where is the slaughter of your wild horses?
How often do you lie, steal, dissimulate, and cheat yourself?
Where can’t you breathe?
Who did not show up for you?
What resources are you hoarding?
How often do you set the feminine on fire?
When I speak of love, I do not mean hedonism, narcissism, where you get stuck on the ripples on your face, but love that encourages you to survey the waves—it is a transformative renewal of ourselves.
A love that refuses to stroke the personal and social ego, refuses to situate itself comfortably in systems of thought that require you to dominate and dehumanize all life so that you can feel a sense of hegemonic esteem.
It is a love chock full of care, allowance, appreciation, a commitment to nurturing the emotional, physical, and psychic wellness of ourselves and others.
A love with roots in personal inquiry, fierce interrogation, and the sense of responsibility to interrupt behaviors that keep us from deep and fulfilling connections.
We need to feel the intelligence of this love as a source of power and liberation, because it is a catalyst for change.
It is a radical love ethic that shows us that when we redirect the energy devoted to maintaining and obfuscating the traumas in our body politic, we have the generosity of spirit, strength, and courage to truthfully be who we are.
“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public,” says Cornel West.
This kind of love I speak of makes you an ally.
There was this moment, when I was a senior in high school, when my mother, with the beauty of her fear and despair, wanted to know if I was gay. In my face, she held up a flyer to a lesbian club she found in my coat pocket. She particularly wanted to know if it was an older woman who turned me out. Stunned by her language, which was replete with dogmatic beliefs, anxieties regarding sexuality and her own stories of sexual wounding, I replied with an unequivocal and disembodied, “No.”
It is easy to lie when people come at you with their walls. You meet a wall with a wall and there is no truth to be seen. There is no invitation to be who you are, but my younger brother did not allow me to capitulate.
Shortly after my mother left me in the kitchen, because the confrontation yielded dead silence, no breath, and nothing living between us, my brother maneuvered his head and upper torso between the railings of the staircase—this was impressive because his head was disproportionately larger than the rest of his lean body. From this tight space, he shouted: “I love you, Arisa. I love you, even if you’re gay.”
To this day, I feel the sound of his voice at the base of my skull, reverberating through my bones, and warming the back of my heart. This is the love you need, guarding your back, holding you completely, as you step forward into the world. A love that wills itself between the tight and the difficult, that insists on its presence in your becoming. As compassionate witness, this love bridges, makes you want to be in the now because you can stand eye to eye, know I and I, and not be complicit in your own or another’s disappearance. In this kind of love, you will not abandon your hereness, leaving your life and “the arena to the fools.”
When we challenge domination with love, we encounter another space of possibility. It is a generative space capable of fostering 3-D emotional expression, healing, and creative thinking. Goddard and your love and desire have equipped you to live in 3-D.
It is in this space of resistance, of disobedience to structures that be, where at times you will feel like a fugitive, homeless, and without belonging, that you have condemned the master’s house.
You are now the house that houses you. Graduates, live well in love.
 “Do not leave the arena to the fools”—Toni Cade Bambara