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High School Graduation Speeches

07/13/2010 02:37 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Alan Singer Social studies educator, Hofstra University

Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn got Katie Couric. David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama spoke at his alma mater, Stuyvesant. A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner addressed students at the Bronx High School of Science. Grammy award winning singer-songwriter Mary J. Blige, a native of the Bronx, entertained graduates of the Women's Academy of Excellence, an all-female public school in the South Bronx. The students at University Heights High School, formerly located at Bronx Community College, were stuck with me as their graduation speaker. I don't know what those other graduation speakers said, but this was my speech in a small auditorium on the campus of Fordham university, not far from where I grew up in the Bronx.

I came tonight to thank you for giving me hope for the future.

I am proud to be part of the University Heights family.

The Bloomberg-Klein machine that is destroying the New York City public school system has made some powerful enemies, including students from University Heights High School.

You may not prevent Mayor Moneybags and Chancellor Clueless Klein from moving your school off of the Bronx Community College campus, but in your struggle to save the school, you learned how to be organizers and agents for change. No one can ever take that away from you.

Bloomberg, Klein, and their wealthy friends better watch out. Their attack on this school has provided you with the best education you could possibly receive. It has have helped to create a new generation committed to the struggle for social justice.

The abolitionist who fought against slavery in the 19th century gave great speeches, much better than me, and they provide good advice for activists. I want to quote from two of my favorites.

In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison, the editor of the newspaper The Liberator wrote: "Many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD."

Remember those words: You must not equivocate -- you must not excuse -- you must not retreat a single inch -- AND YOU WILL BE HEARD.

Henry Highland Garnett was a former slave who escaped to freedom and became an abolitionist. In the 1840s, speaking at a convention in Buffalo, New York, but really addressing enslaved Blacks in the South, he said: "Let your motto be RESISTANCE! RESISTANCE! RESISTANCE! No oppressed people have ever secured their liberty without resistance. What kind of resistance you had better make, you must decide by the circumstances that surround you, and according to the suggestion of expediency. Brethren, trust in the living God. Labor for the peace of the human race, and remember that you are FOUR MILLIONS."

RESISTANCE! RESISTANCE! RESISTANCE!

In 1996, the Children's Defense Fund organized a march in Washington DC and invited Americans to "Stand for Children." That's what we are talking about today - - we need people who will "Stand for Children" -- WHO STAND FOR ALL CHILDREN. WILL YOU STAND WITH ME! WILL YOU STAND WITH ME!

Isidora Dolores Ibárruri Gómez, "La Pasionaria," was a leader of pro-republic forces during the Spanish Civil war. She is best remembered for the slogan "No Pasarán! "They Shall Not Pass".
If she were here today she would speak with us en Español, so please forgive my Spanish --
Ponte de pie! Defender los derechos de los niños! Aguante el sacrificio antes que conceder la victoria de las fuerzas que representan la opresión y la tiranía. Los maestros! Los padres! Los estudiantes! Todos lugar de defender la educación pública! El irrita a toda la ciudad con furia a los salvajes que quieren hundir la educación pública en un infierno de terror y destrucción. Sin embargo, no pasarán!

Stand up! Defend the rights of children! Endure sacrifice rather than grant victory to forces that represent oppression and tyranny. Teachers! Parents! Students! Everyone rise to defend public education! The whole city roils with fury at those savages who want to plunge public education into a hell of terror and destruction. But they shall not pass! Sin embargo, no pasarán! Venceremos! We will win!

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