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Commencement Address by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, May 19, 2003

We All Are Family

Desmond Tutu

Madame President, Chairperson of the Trustees, Class of 2003, all of you dear friends, good morning.

Heartiest congratulations to all of you graduating today. But I'm sure you want to extend a very, very warm thank you and congratulations to those who supported you: your families, your spouses--where it applies, your children, and even your teachers. Thank you, this splendid University, for this honorary degree that I have received. A few years ago my wife and I were visiting West Point Military Academy and at the end of the visit, the cadets thought they should give me a cap to commemorate the visit. When I tried it on it didn't fit. A nice wife would have said well, the cap is too small. My wife said, his head is too big. And today I have a very substantial reason for being slightly more swollen-headed through this wonderful degree from this prestigious institution. I don't know whether you remember the story of the farmer who was surveying his field. The corn was swaying beautifully in the breeze. A traveler came by and stood next to the farmer and said, "What a splendid job you and God have made." The farmer puffed away a little bit on his pipe and then he said, "You should have seen what it looked like when God had it all to himself."

One of the paradoxes is that we have a God, the omnipotent, all-powerful, one who was able to create all there is without our assistance. The paradox is that this omnipotent God now wants to wait for human partners, collaborators, fellow workers such as you and I, and God is prepared to put a risk whatever project God has in mind. And we see how frequently God spent a long time trying to persuade somewhat reluctant human partners. "Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Gabriel." "Gabriel who?" "Gabriel the Archangel. Hi, Mary." "Hi." "Mary, God would like you to be the mother of his son." Mary said, "What? Do you know in this village you can't scratch yourself without everybody knowing about it, and you want me to be what? An unmarried mother! Sorry, I'm a decent girl, try next door." We would have been in a real pickle except that Mary of course said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord."

And so this God waits on all of us to try to turn all kinds of aridities into glorious, gorgeous blossoming gardens. When there is poverty and hunger, God wants to perform God's miracle of ending that poverty, that hunger. But it won't be by God sending down hamburgers to feed a hungry person. It is as you and I, and you, and you, and you, are willing to be God's partners providing God with the wherewithal so that God can perform God's miracle. And God looks on the aridities, the wildernesses of injustices of oppression and God wants to end injustices and oppression but usually it isn't by God sending a lightning bolt to strike down the perpetrators of evil. It is as a Nelson Mandela, and others such as Mamphela Ramphele, who are willing to be God's fellow workers that you end a vicious system such as is apartheid. And you in this country helped us to become free, you helped us to become democratic you helped us to become a country that is seeking to be non-racial and non-sexist. You didn't bomb us into liberation. We became free nonviolently. And the country demonstrated that there are other ways of dealing with difference, with disagreement, with conflict. The way of forgiveness, the way of compromise, the way of reconciliation. And we learned in South Africa that there is no way in which you are going to have true security that comes from the barrel of a gun.

But true security happens when there is justice. And so we weep as we see what happens in Northern Ireland. Our hearts bleed as we see what happens in the Middle East. And we say, it is possible, if it could happen in South Africa, it is possible for there to be peace, for there to be justice, for there to be equity in Northern Ireland, in the Middle East. We say it will come when Israel is recognized as a sovereign state with sovereign boundaries that are recognized and respected by all. But it will come as well only when there is a viable Palestinian state, sovereign, recognized, and accepted. But it is possible for enemies to become friends.

And God calls on you. God says I have a dream. I have a dream, that my children will recognize that they are members of one family, that they are sisters and brothers. When we recognize that we are family, then we know that the ethic of family applies. In the family we say, from each according to the ability, to each according to their need. And so you and I will be those who protest when nations spend obscene amounts on budgets of death and destruction. When we know that a small fraction of this will enable our sisters and brothers everywhere to have enough clean water to drink, enough food to eat, will have enough proper education and healthcare that is affordable. God says, I have a dream, that all of you my children will realize that you belong in one family. This is a family in which there are no outsiders, all are insiders, all. You see when Jesus spoke about his death he said if I be lifted up I will draw, he didn't say I will draw some, he said I will draw all, black, white, rich, poor, American, Iraqi, Afghanistan, we all. Gay, lesbian, straight, all belong in this family; Arafat, Sharon, George Bush, Ben Laden. And God says, I have no one except you to help me realize my dream. "Will you help me?" says God. "I have no one except you." Thank you.


  Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 34, May 27, 2003