In my Commencement address for today’s virtual ceremony, I say that members of the Class of 2020 graduate into hard times, and that the world needs not only their talent, but their insight, courage, and compassion. Though I recorded that speech less than two weeks ago, intervening events have reminded us that COVID-19 is not the only tragic challenge facing our students and our world.
We have witnessed yet again how this nation’s long legacy of racism continues to damage and destroy the lives of black people. The heartless killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis occurred soon after the unjust shootings of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. It coincided with the appalling harassment of Christian Cooper in New York’s Central Park, an incident that demonstrated how easily a racist complaint could put a black man in danger. The COVID-19 pandemic itself has killed black and brown Americans at higher rates than other groups, magnifying disparities in healthcare and economic well-being.
We all have a responsibility to stand up against racism, wherever and whenever we encounter it. Commitments to diversity, inclusivity, and human rights are fundamental to the mission of Princeton University. I ask all of us to join the graduates in the Class of 2020 in their quest to form a better society, one that confronts racism honestly and strives relentlessly for equality and justice.