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Dear Grads: Don't Lie. And Don't Be Miffed If Someone Messes Up Your Name

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke to the Class of 2018 at Harvard. If you have trouble pronouncing her name, she told the graduates, she is forgiving — as long as it was an honest mistake and not out of malice.
Paul Marotta
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Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke to the Class of 2018 at Harvard. If you have trouble pronouncing her name, she told the graduates, she is forgiving — as long as it was an honest mistake and not out of malice.

As members of the Class of 2018 get their diplomas, they're also getting lots of advice from commencement speakers. Here at Goats and Soda, we're especially interested in global angles. So we listened to many commencement speeches, were duly inspired and found four relevant excerpts to offer up.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Half of a Yellow Sun, spoke at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

"If I were asked the title of my address to you today, I would say: Above all else, do not lie. Or don't lie too often. Which is really to say, tell the truth. But lying — the word, the idea, the act — has such political potency in America today that it somehow feels more apt. Above all else, do not lie. I grew up in Nigeria through military dictatorships and through incipient democracies. And America always felt aspirational. When yet another absurd thing happened politically, we would say, 'This can never happen in America.' But today, the political discourse in America includes questions that are straight from the land of the absurd. Questions such as, 'Should we call a lie a lie? When is a lie a lie?' And so, Class of 2018, at no time has it felt as urgent as now that we must protect and value the truth."

In the spirit of global humor, Adichie also made fun of the way people mispronounce her name, which means "my personal spirit will never be broken" in the Igbo language. At a London event, the woman introducing her wrote out the name phonetically on a piece of paper but then said, "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Chimichanga." Which made Adichie laugh: "She ended up calling me a fried burrito because she had tried very hard and then had ended up with an utterly human mistake." The point of the story, Adichie says: "That intent matters, that context matters. There is a difference between malice and a mistake."

King Letsie III of the southern African kingdom of Lesotho spoke at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio

"In what some have called the age of fracture, where the world seems all the more fragmented, it is crucial that you have both a strong sense of connectedness to the world and a coherent sense of self. Today's world is interlocked in new and complex ways, such that local conflicts often have international implications, sometimes at an unprecedented rate and scale. The threats facing the world today are well known to you. They range from yawning inequalities ... to rising unemployment rates, political instability and, of course, climate change. From Syria to South Sudan, there are heroin wars. In my own country Lesotho, and in much of sub-Saharan Africa, we face challenges of malnutrition, HIV and AIDS, and abject poverty. And even here, in the United States, the biggest economy in the world, the nation is grappling with multiple social and economic challenges. These challenges, global and domestic, require urgent and organized action. The work of repairing the international system, of restoring frayed relations and of proliferating justice, belongs ... particularly [to] you as young people."

Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, spoke at New York University

"When a kid from Montreal meets a Korean fisherman living in Mauritania, befriends a Russian veteran of their Afghan war, or a shopkeeper and his family living in Danang, interesting conversations always happen. Now maybe some of you have talked about doing something like a great trip ... after graduation, but I'd be willing to bet one of the first things you heard was a warning. You can't do that in this day and age, it's not safe. But here's my question: Is it really just the issue of physical safety that makes our loved ones so anxious at the idea of us getting out there, or is it the threat that if we look past our frames, the frames of our own lives, of our own community's structure, values and belief systems to truly engage with people who believe fundamentally different things, we could perhaps be transformed into someone new and unfamiliar to those who know and love us? There's no question that today's world is more complex than it was in the mid-1990s. There are serious and important problems that we are grappling with ... and will continue to grapple with, but we are not going to arrive at mutual respect, which is where we solve common problems, if we cocoon ourselves in an ideological, social or intellectual bubble."

Brendan Tuohey, director of Peace Players, which sets up youth sports teams in countries dealing with conflict, spoke at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

"It's been the same everywhere we've gone. Whether watching Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot young people for the first time in a generation cross their border to interact with the other, in refugee camps in Ethiopia, working with former combatants who are coaching mixed basketball and soccer teams side by side. And now, in the United States, with leaders from police and community developing safer neighborhoods through sports. It's normal, everyday people who are the ones who are often the most courageous ones, striving for shared and peaceful existence."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sara Kiley Watson
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