The News Service
The 237th Commencement Senior Orations
Sage Morgan-Hubbard: “Story and Voice: Passing on Brown’s Legacy”
Graduating seniors Sage Xaxua Morgan-Hubbard, of Hyattsville, Md., and Joshua Isaiah Wilson, of Haleyville, Ala., delivered the Class of 2005 senior orations during Brown’s 237th Commencement, Sunday, May 29, 2005, at 12:20 p.m. in the First Baptist Church in America. The text of Hubbard’s oration follows here. (Return to news release 04-140; see also Joshua Wilson’s oration.)
The two most important gifts I have received from Brown are the gifts of voice and story. We all have personal, collective and historical stories. My personal story here began with painful reminders of history and human limits. A day before I arrived at Brown, my grandmother who lived with me for many years, died. Known simply as Sava, she was the person who urged me to go to Brown, saying “Sagie, you apply and go, yes? Uck, do not listen to what people say, you will do it.” She always encouraged me to speak my mind.
After her death, I was speechless and heartbroken, unprepared for so many changes so suddenly. I lost the capacity to express myself through words. And yet, once I got to Brown, I met Minority Peer Counselors, Dean K from the Third World Center, and my fellow entering students – all of yoiu, who welcomed me and comforted me with open arms, allowing me to express my grief. I had never found such sincere caring so quickly. I realized that I had found not only a school, but a genuine community.
We all share the collective story of September 11th, 2001, just two weeks into our time at Brown, when the World Trade Center, located directly across the street from my aunt’s house in New York City, was suddenly reduced to toxic ruins. Once again I found in my first-year unit and across the campus an openness to connect in the midst of much pain, sorrow and fear that allowed us all to cope.
Intense discussions continued and later on that fall, our president, Ruth Simmons, a woman with an extraordinary story of triumph, was inaugurated as Brown’s first truly brown president and we became the first graduating class to have lived our entire Brown career under her leadership. And yet, Brown, like other elite universities, is also a place with a story of a troubling past – a history of complicity in and the benefit from our nation’s most egregious trade in and enslavement of human beings. This past also includes abolitionists who worked against the slave trade, for this history is complex and multilayered. Our stories are all shaped by this past and it is important that all of our stories are told. Poet and activist Audre Lorde reminds us, “Our silences will not protect us.” She hassaid, “I have come to believe over and over again what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared ... We must speak the unspoken.” Speaking allows us to change history, for “we cannot alter history by ignoring it.”
As a member of the Slavery and Justice Group Research Project, I have recently come across the story of a 19th-century Brown graduate named Inman Page. Born enslaved on a Virginia plantation in 1853, Inman Page ran away during the Civil War. He made his way to Howard University, transferred, and years later became one of our first known Black graduates, graduating with the Class of 1877. Page dedicated his life to sharing stories through teaching, went on to the presidency of five different Black colleges, and in his late 70s, as a high school principal, he had a profound influence on the life of a young Ralph Ellison. At the unveiling of the Page memorial portrait at Brown, Ellison said, “Inman Page chose to enhance his freedom by coming to Brown ... Who would have thought that Brown’s standards of education could influence the lives of so many thousands without even knowing it?”
Brown has given us the tools we need to find our voices. It has encouraged us to see the totality of history and to savor its lesson. The next step is to use our skills and talents and to exercise our voices to benefit others in the tradition of Inman Page and Ralph Ellison.
We all have unique stories to tell. Speaking gives us great agency. Through speech, formerly unseen and voiceless peoples rise from the grave and take their place on the human stage. They remind us of where we’ve been and to guide us forward. Retelling our stories, speaking them out loud, sharing them with others, allows us to learn, acknowledge the past and to move beyond its limitations.
I want to end with my voice, parts of a poem I wrote, inspired by the poem “Graduation,” a collaboration between Langston Hughes and the great painter, Jacob Lawrence. I share my verses with all of you here today, keeping in mind the many stories and voices that have yet to be heard.