On May 22, internationally recognized scholar, public intellectual, and social justice advocate Dorothy Roberts delivered a powerful address to the Rutgers University-Newark class of 2019, calling on the graduates to imagine a more humane, equal, and just society and to work towards building it.
"One of the most common questions I’m asked about my work is, How do you keep going? When you see so many problems and so little progress, don’t you want to give up?” she said. “My answer is always, No: it makes me want to work harder. Here’s what I’ve learned over three decades of teaching, writing, and activism for social change: The key is you have to be willing to imagine a different world."
The ceremony, held at Prudential Center in Newark, included the first class of Honors Living Learning Community to receive their degrees and a packed house of graduates and their guests. In all, the class of 2019 is made up of 3,319 newly minted graduates.
Roberts has written and spoken extensively on the interplay of gender, race, and class in legal issues, including a Ted talk entitled "The Problem with Race-Based Medicine" that has been viewed over a million times, and is a leader in transforming public thinking and policy on reproductive health, child welfare, and bioethics. In her address, she told the graduates that without imagination, the world can't change.
"Without imagination, you might go nowhere. And even if you start, you might go wrong. And in the end, you might give up," Roberts said. "You can’t know what changes to work toward today if you can’t imagine where you want them to take you."
"You must imagine that world and then act as if it were possible to create it. And you can't do it alone. You have to work with others who share the same vision and commitment as you."
Becoming agents for change was a theme that carried over throughout the ceremony. In her opening remarks, Chancellor Nancy Cantor spoke of the strength of voice, and exhorted the class of 2019 to use their voices to build a better world.
“Strong voices are precisely what higher education aims to cultivate—” she said. “Voices speaking up and out; voices speaking for and with others; voices speaking against; and voices speaking by listening to others and therefore learning from them.”
Student speaker Christine Bernadette Beltran Garcia, a Biology major and Honors College student, told her fellow classmates that “Now it is our turn. We are the future.”
“We are the ones we have been waiting for—to build a world where our children can say ‘I matter’ instead of ‘me too.’ If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
Photos: Anthony Alvarez.