"Be bold. Be courageous."
PRINCESS ANNE, MD – (March 16, 2014) – The University
of Maryland Eastern Shore awarded some 500 degrees today during spring graduation
exercises where the Class of 2014 heard from a civil rights icon.
Congressman John Lewis of Georgia delivered a
compelling 14-minute commencement address – his fifth this spring – that
skillfully blended humor with advice gleaned from 50 years in the public
As is the tradition at UMES, Lewis shared the day’s speaking
honors with Kiera Pettus of Piscataway, N.J., who delivered the student
“Here we are,” said Pettus, who earned a degree in
rehabilitation psychology (cum laude), “with our caps and gowns on … showing
the world our thick skin – our head held high symbolizing we made it.”
Justin Thompson of Fort Washington, Md., UMES’ 2013-14
student government president, introduced Lewis, reminding listeners of the
Democrat’s storied place in American history.
The capacity crowd in the William P. Hytche Athletic
Center sat enthralled as Lewis told self-deprecating childhood stories about
raising chickens on a sharecropper’s farm in Troy, Ala., talked reverently of meeting
Nelson Mandela, and shared his astonishment over President Obama’s election in
“If someone had told me when we were walking across
that bridge in Selma, left beaten and left bloodied and unconscious that one
day I would live to see a man of color as president of the United States, I
would have said you must be crazy, you must be out of your mind,” he said.
Lewis was badly beaten March 7, 1965 in Selma by police
when he tried to lead a peaceful protest march across Alabama to draw attention
to segregation and voting rights. It was a crowd control strategy that Lewis encountered frequently during the Civil Rights movement. But the violence that day captured on film and broadcast
on TV news shows shocked the nation.
A former member of the Ku Klux Klan who assaulted Lewis in May 1961 visited
him after Obama took office to apologize and seek forgiveness.
started crying. He started crying. I started crying. He
called me brother. I called him brother," Lewis said.
Lewis then looked out on the UMES graduates and
said, “You have the inner faith to help create the beloved community. It doesn’t
matter, in the final analysis, whether we are black or white, Latino, Asian American
or Native American.”
“We are one people, we are one family, we are one
house. We all live in the same house. Not just in the American house, but the
world house,” he said.
Lewis also invoked the words of his friend and
mentor, the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who famously said, “We must learn
to live together as brothers and sisters, or we perish as fools.”
King and Lewis spoke at the 1963 March on Washington,
a seminal event in the push in America to end segregation policies and the rule
of Jim Crow attitudes toward blacks.
In recognition of Lewis’ historic appearance at
UMES, the university arranged for each graduate to receive a copy of the
congressman’s best-selling graphic novel memoir, “March.”
“That was pretty cool,” said Jamaal Peterman of
Glenn Dale, Md. “It’s an interesting way to tell an important story. I thought
it was very well done.”
Pettus challenged Peterman and her other classmates “to
make a promise. Not for me, not for your parents, teachers or peers, but for
“Promise yourself that you will never give up on
your dreams and never let obstacles stand in the way of what you were born to
do,” she said.
Lewis followed her with similar advice drawn from being
a foot soldier on the rugged frontlines of the American civil rights movement.
“Go out there and fight the good fight,” Lewis said.
“And never, ever give up. Be bold. Be courageous. And find a way to get in
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