Building a better house for us all
To the graduating class of 2020, and to all of us,
Here’s something you might not expect to hear in a regular commencement speech: It’s time for us to unlearn much of what we think we know.
There’s been so much talk — and rightfully so — about the unprecedented nature of our times. It’s true. There is no challenge or crisis in recent memory that compares to the particulars of this public health pandemic, its ensuing economic instability, and the protests for racial justice in cities and communities everywhere. We are in uncharted waters. We all sail with our unwavering trust in an ever-present God to guide us.
“Unprecedented” is a word that casts an awfully big shadow, and those kinds of words can sometimes serve to obscure things that actually want — and need — to be illuminated. We can’t lose sight of what preceded this moment or of what this moment is showing us about ourselves and our society. We have to look back — and look around — before we can look ahead.
We live and labor in communities where determination and hard work aren’t always enough. Where inequalities and prejudices are among the strongest forces that shape daily lives.
What we see is both good and bad. Our current circumstance is scary and stressful, and I think it’s safe to say that none of us are stepping into the tomorrow we might have imagined. But that’s been true for a lot of families around the world for a very long time. Families who have struggled to make ends meet, much less get ahead. Families who have suffered from redlining, racial inequality and the housing disparities that follow. And now their struggle is all the harder. None of this is new, it’s just laid bare. We live and labor in communities where determination and hard work aren’t always enough. Where inequalities and prejudices are among the strongest forces that shape daily lives.
And yet, at the same time, the stories of individual kindnesses and ingenuity are legion today, as they were so often before. In some ways, we’ve never been further apart. But we’ve also never been closer together. Neighbors caring for each other, communities rallying to fill the gaps in a frayed social safety net, unexpected figures stepping up to offer solutions, people coming together to make a difference for each other. Push has come to shove in so many places, and the push that survives is concern for others, solidarity with vulnerable groups, a sense of active citizenry and interconnectedness, the joy that comes from helping others.
When we see all of this, we should see the tomorrow we always should have been imagining anyway. And not just imagining, but actively building. If so many of us right now have a sense that we are all in this together, that our fates are intertwined, our health and well-being inseparable from those of our fellow citizens, then we absolutely must work every day — today and beyond — to make that actually be true.
Let’s make this world a fairer place; let’s make our communities beacons of equality. Don’t just worry about your own needs and challenges; see those of all the people around you.
The Persian poet Hafiz said that the words we speak are the house we live in. I’ve been on many build sites around the world, and the most important nail, the most important brick, is always the first one. We will never live in a better house if we do not — today — begin to speak about important things. Your voice matters.
Live what you believe.
Stand with others.
Roll up your sleeves.
Don’t just participate in the systems that surround us. Do everything you can to change them — and yourself — for the better.
Let’s make this world a fairer place; let’s make our communities beacons of equality. Don’t just worry about your own needs and challenges; see those of all the people around you. Because when you do and when we join together, every improvement we make will envelop and uplift us all.
“Normal” wasn’t actually OK. “Unprecedented” can’t be a reason to look away.
Habitat for Humanity has always believed in the power of coming together to transform lives. That transformation story lives in the children who have grown up in the homes we help build. Their parents had the courage to take a deep breath and an enormous leap faith. How much we all can learn from the example they have set in applying action, sweat equity and sacrifice to bring a long-held dream to life! Not only for today, but for tomorrow. That kind of commitment is what we all need now.
Today, let’s begin to build a better house. For us all.