Transcript of Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker's remarks for Stanford's Commencement 2012
Following is the text of the address by Mayor Cory Booker, as delivered, at the 121st Stanford University Commencement on June 17, 2012.
Thank you. Thank you. All right. Thank you. Last time I was on this field some guy from UCLA tried to bury me right here. It's good to be back on top of the soil.
I feel so lucky to be here. I really do. It's a feeling that Stanford has given me for all the years I've been involved with this amazing university. I know there are some people here that felt like me after freshman orientation. You got back to your dorm, you closed the door, and sat on your couch and said, "Why did they let me into this place?"
I began from that moment on when people got impressed that were not from the Stanford community and said, "You went to Stanford?" And I said, "Yes." Well they let me in because of my 4.0 and 1,600. And I said it was 4.0 yards per carry and 1,600 receiving yards my senior year in high school.
Every step of my Stanford career this university has given me immensely more than I have ever been able to give it. And I feel on this day when we celebrate the Class of O-12 (audience: O-12) that we – is this going to go on my whole speech, guys? I'll be very careful when I use that then. I feel that this university and this moment for me just fills me again with a sense of gratitude.
For me and this great class, today is not just a day of celebration, but it is a day of appreciation. And, allow me, with the class, to just give my thanks.
First, thanks to the trustees of this university. I had a chance to serve with them for five years. It is one of the most incredible assemblages of human beings on the planet and they pour their heart and their spirit into this university to protect its highest values and to ensure that it endures. Thank you, Board of Trustees.
I want to thank the faculty and staff. I have never, ever, in my life, seen folks that have not just mastered their discipline, not just mastered their academic endeavor, but showed to me and other students a level of love, caring, involvement and spirit that sustains me to this day.
My connection to faculty members, here, at this university, has not been severed just by leaving here. Indeed, it's a faculty member every time I've gotten inaugurated as an elected official; it was always my family there and even a Stanford faculty member, Jody Maxmin, who joins me on that stage. Please thank all of the faculty members, as well, for all that they've done.
And I want to thank another group that I probably did not say thank you to enough – a group that is often first forgotten. Those are the people that really keep this university running. They are the secretaries and the assistants. They are the people that mow the lawns and water the grass. They are the people that clean toilets and bathrooms and windows. They are a part of the Stanford community and their caring and concern has made this day possible, as well. Please thank them.
And, finally, I want to thank the families. You are the ones that really made this day possible. Each and every graduate has someone tied to them by blood and/or spirit who was there for them, who planted seeds in their spirit, who nurtured the ground on which they grew. You are responsible for them being here and, while they were here, you sent care packages, made phone calls, sent money. And that's, perhaps, what I want I want to talk about today. Family, not the money part. All us politicians are focused on more than just that.
The family. Today is Father's Day and I thought I would focus, really, on two men in my life. I am one of those guys that knows in my heart that women in this globe – philanthropists are finding this out, so many people are seeing that – if you support women, that you will help change neighborhoods, change cities, change countries. And from a man who is part of the African-American tradition, which is rich with matriarchal power and strength, please do not think that while focusing on men today that I do not understand that truth. But, today, for a very specific reason, I want to focus on two men in my life who were at my graduation. And I know they would like to be here today but, for reasons I'll mention later, they could not make the trip.
These two men are my dad and my grandfather. They taught me what it means to be a man. And they both are these outrageous spirits with the corniest jokes imaginable and they would show up to my graduation and both of them would be like a stereophonic bad joke-telling machine as they would weigh in to me.
My grandfather, this huge, big, man would sidle up to me and say, "You see, boy, the tassel is worth the hassle." Yes, granddad, yes. And then, of course, he would look through the program and say, "I see that you're not Magna Cum Laude or Summa Cum Laude. You're just thank ya, laude, I'm outta here."
My father would not be undone. He, too, was at every one of my graduations and his jokes got more painful as the years went on. He and my mom would love to say – they'd look at me and they would whisper to another parent and they would take the line and say, "You know, behind every successful child, is an astonished parent. I really can't believe this unbelievable."
My father got tired of graduations after a while. He's a guy that went to college and then went to work and he saw me graduate from Stanford once, graduate from Stanford twice, then go to England and study and get another degree, then go to Law School. And, finally, he said at my last graduation, "Boy, you got more degrees than the month of July and you ain't hot! Get a job!"
I want to pick up on these two incredibly corny men and really get to their two specific lessons that they imparted to me on graduation.
My dad would touch me almost like he was trying to feel my very spirit. He would look at me and he would say in ways that are eloquent, he would impart to me this truth, he would say to me, "Boy, you need to understand that who you are now, you are the physical manifestation of a conspiracy of love. That people whose names you don't even know, who struggled for you, who fought for you, who sweat for you, who volunteered for you – you are here because of them. Do not forget that."
My father said those words on a graduation day and he knew that I would not forget that because this was his consistent theme to me all of my life. He wanted me to know where I came from.
Now, my father, in his own charismatic way, would always talk about his own journey being one that was a result of a conspiracy of love. And I listened to those stories year after year. By the time I was 40, I would start arguing with him because the scenes would get so much more dramatic with time and change. And I'd be like, "Dad, I can't believe this, you were born a poor boy." He goes, "poor? I wasn't poor, shut up, man." I said, "Dad." He goes, "No, I wasn't poor, I was just p-o. I couldn't afford the other two letters. Don't exaggerate my, my material well-being, son."
I'd have to argue with him and try to convince him that he was not telling the full truth when the weather patterns began to shift over the years from, you know, raining in the mountains of North Carolina, then the thunder storms started, then the hail period began, where it went from hail the size of golf balls, then footballs, then soccer balls, then small Cadillacs.
This last year I argued with him because he tried to tell me, and I couldn't accept it, I had to be respectful of my dad, but I could not accept it – "There's no way, dad, you were in the mountains of North Carolina, you could not have had a tsunami in your childhood."
But as much as my dad seemed to exaggerate aspects of his childhood over the years, the truth is he was born very poor. He was born to a single mother who could not take care of him. He then was raised by his grandparents, like many children in my community, but then his grandma could not take care of him. And then he was out in the community but it was that conspiracy of love –people whose names I do not know in a small, segregated, North Carolina town – that rallied around this boy, would not let him fail, got him to school, put a roof over his head, put food on the table, taught him discipline and respect, and he made his way. And then when it was time for him to graduate high school, he was not going to go to college. He thought his destiny was to go to work, get a job. But it was that conspiracy of love that would not let him turn his back on higher education.
I couldn't believe it; this last Thanksgiving as my family was going around talking about what we were thankful for, here is my father that begins to cry because he could not remember all of those people in the town. He could not say their names, who put dollar bills in envelopes so that he could afford his first semester's tuition at North Carolina Central University and then get a job and stay in school. But they are a part of that conspiracy of love.
And then, in college, my mom and dad would not let me forget the truth of that time – it was the early '60s. And I had this privilege last year being the Commencement Speaker for my mom's university, Fisk University, on her 50th reunion. And she reminded me about what happened at her university.
At the night before dinner, she took me around to table after table, stopping and saying, Cory, this is the young lady that led our voter registration movement at a time that it was dangerous in the South to go out and register people to vote – you all remember Goodwin and Chaney and Schwerner.
She would take me to another table and say, this is a young lady that led our boycott of a downtown store that would not serve African-Americans. At every table, it was almost like she was talking to me again as boy, snapping her fingers and saying, "Pay attention! This person marched for you. This person protested for you. This person sacrificed and risked expulsion for you."
The conspiracy continued.
My parents would tell me about landing in Washington, D.C. – that's where they met, two college graduates, African-Americans that confronted the reality that many companies would not hire blacks. But it was this conspiracy of love – black folks and white folks and Latinos, in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere in America – that were forming organizations that were challenging companies and working with them to hire blacks.
My dad soon became one of the first blacks hired by an oil company, then one of the first black professionals hired by a department store. Then, he and my mom became part of a wave of the first blacks hired from this small tech start-up you all out here in Silicon Valley may not have heard of called IBM.
The conspiracy continued.
When my parents got promotions after doing so well at IBM, they got moved to the New York City area. They were looking for towns to move into and, immediately, found out that many of the nicest towns with the best schools would not show the homes to black families.
And so my parents worked with this group of conspirators who formed something called "The Fair Housing Council" and every time my parents would go look at a house and were told it was sold, they would send a white couple there to see if that was the truth. I was told that white couple's name was Mr. and Mrs. Brown but they were not brown.
My parents fell in love with a home. They were told it was sold. The Browns were there next; told it was still for sale. They put a bid on the house. On the day of the closing, my father went instead of the Browns with a young lawyer whose name I don't know, walked into the real estate agent's office and said, "You are in violation of New Jersey Fair Housing Law." And before he could finish his piece, this young lawyer, bright and ready to confront injustice, the real estate agent stands up and punches the lawyer in the face. He sics a dog on my dad. Now, the size of the dog has changed over the years. My father now insists it was spawn from Hell, it was Cujo. My mom will whisper to me it was just Toto, Cory, it was really a small thing.
And so, there I was, 1970, a baby growing up in this town. My father and my mother, my brother and me – as my father referred to us "four raisins in a tub of vanilla ice cream."
And in this amazing town, in this nurturing community, I grew strong and had my share of success – high school All-American football player; I was in the Honor Society, president of my class. But, if my parents saw me gettin' too big for my britches, if they saw me lookin' proud, my father would be right there. He would say to me, "Boy, don't you dare walk around this house like you hit a triple, when you were born on third base!" He would say to me, "You need to understand something, you drink deeply from wells of freedom and liberty and opportunity that you did not dig. You eat lavishly from banquet tables prepared for you by your ancestors. You sit under the shade of trees that you did not plant or cultivate or care for. You have a choice in life, you can just sit back, getting fat, dumb, and happy, consuming all the blessings put before you, or it can metabolize inside of you, become fuel to get you into the fight, to make this democracy real, to make it true to its words that we can be a nation of liberty and justice for all."
And so, in answer to my father's call, when I had exhausted most of the degrees available to any bright student, I moved to Newark, New Jersey. And I tell you, it was not some great altruism. I was looking to be the man that my father raised me to be. I was in search of myself and I found a community of heroes that embraced me and brought me back full circle to family.
When I first arrived in Newark, I decided to answer that call from that great American philosopher, Chris Rock, who said "Why is the most violent street in every city is named for the man that stood for non-violence?"
Newark had so many strong neighborhoods but I sought out one that was in struggle and found it on Martin Luther King Boulevard. It looked spectacularly troublesome to me. My eyes saw abandoned homes being used for drugs. My eyes saw violence. My eyes saw graffiti. But the first person I met, the tenant leader in high-rise projects that I would eventually move into, Miss Jones, she said to me, "Tell me again what you see. Describe what you see around you." And I described what I saw.
And she looked at me and she said, "Boy, if that's all you see, you can never help me." And I go, "What do you mean?" And she goes, "You need to understand something, that the world you see outside of you is a reflection of what you have inside of you. And, if you see only problems and darkness and despair, that's all there's ever gonna be. But, if you're one of those stubborn people who every time you open your eyes, you see hope, opportunity, possibility, love – even the face of God – then you can help me make a change." And I remember, after she said that, looking at her, scratching my head, and thinking to myself – OK, grasshopper, thus endeth the lesson.
I worked with this woman, this tenant leader, and I would sit at her kitchen table and watch these other African-American women sit around that table in these projects being run by a slumlord and they would sit there and strategize about how to take care of the kids in the community, how to keep a family in their housing when they missed a rental payment. I stood there and I watched them thinking about how to support that community and I found it, I found conspirators.
I found people coming together and they weren't just in those projects – all over Newark I saw more and more people who had a courage, who had a spirit, who had a love.
And so, for my father's sake, I want to explain to you the three things that these conspirators all had in common. One was they embraced discomfort. They did not seek comfort and convenience. They went to where the challenges were.
Here were people around me in Newark doing extraordinary things outside of their comfort zones. Like the man who was a retired state worker that got his stimulus check in the mail and, instead of just spending it on himself, he went out and got a lawn mower, marched into one of our troubled drug lots – there was this big grassy, overgrown, field with trash and debris – and he started cleaning it. He made it look like the White House lawn. Never confronting a drug dealer but, eventually, they left.
Like the woman who came to me in my office hours, an 80-year-old woman, complaining to me about how dirty her street was. And the next day, I go out there and here's this 80-year-old woman outside of her comfort zone on that street, sweeping the entire block showing that, he who has a heart to help, definitely does have a right to complain.
It's about the guy I know who was driving to work in Newark and didn't like the graffiti. And instead of just driving by it and accepting what was, like so many of us who just fall into a state of sedentary agitation when we're upset about what's going on but we don't get up and do something about it, he stopped at a store and began making a routine out of his commute to work where he would stop and take paint and paint over graffiti. In my city I see that conspirators know you do not go through life comfortable.
Democracy is not a spectator sport. It is a difficult, hard, challenging, full-contact, competitive, participatory endeavor. And this, this is critical, people who get comfortable of body get fat. People who get comfortable of mind and intellect get dull. People who get comfortable in their spirit, they miss what they were created for. They were created to magnify the glory of the world, not simply reduce in size and fail to reflect that spirit.
I've come to learn in my life to embrace discomfort because it's a precondition to service. I've come to realize to embrace fear because, if you can move through fear, you find out that fear is a precondition to discovery. I've learned in my life to embrace frustration because, when you get really frustrated, that is a precondition to incredible breakthroughs.
Now, the second thing I've seen amongst conspirators is this idea of faithfulness. Mother Teresa was once asked how she judged success. And she said, "God didn't call me to be successful, he called me to be faithful."
I didn't need to read Mother Teresa, I just simply needed to look at people in my community in Newark. Miss Virginia Jones, that tenant leader, was once telling me a story when I was peppering her with questions about her life. I had lived with her now, in those buildings, for years, and I never knew that she had a son.
She told me about one day somebody knocked on her door, she opened her door and there was this woman crying who could not speak. She dragged her down to the lobby and there, on the lobby floor, was her son, a veteran, who had come back to visit her. There he was on the lobby floor with three gunshots, bleeding that lobby floor red. She sat there and telling me the story that she fell to her knees, crying in her dead son's chest. And when she finished telling me the story, I looked at her and I said, "Miss Jones, I'm sorry but, why do you still live in these buildings where your son was murdered, walking through that lobby every day?"
And she looked at me, almost like she was insulted by the question, but I knew that she and I were two people that paid market rent to live in this housing. She had choices of where to go, and she looks at me and she says, "Why do I still live here?" And I said, "Yes." She goes, "Why do I live in Apartment 5A still? And I said, "Yes." She says, "Why am I still the tenant president for over 40 years?" And I said, "That's electoral longevity, I want you to tell me about that, but, yes, why?" And she crossed her arms looking at me and she said, "Because I'm in charge of homeland security."
Here is a woman that remained faithful. And I want to tell you graduates of all the lessons of conspirators, this is the hardest one for me, personally. To stay faithful in a world that can be so cruel. To stay faithful in a world that justifiably emotes cynicism. I have seen things in my life that have broken me in spirit, have ground me down to the floor.
In 2004, in April, I was walking through one of the neighborhoods of my city and I heard gunshots going off. It sounded like cannon fire between the buildings. I raced towards where the gunshots were fired and I saw kids screaming and yelling. I saw one boy falling backwards off of some steps. I went to catch him and I caught him and I looked over his shoulder and I saw the white T-shirt he was wearing filling up with red blood. I laid him down and put my hand on his chest trying to stop the bleeding but the blood was coming everywhere. I screamed at someone to tell me his name and they did, and yelled at people to call the ambulance. And I start screaming his name. "Don't leave us, don't leave us." Foamy blood was pouring from his mouth.
It was one of the most gruesome things as I sat there trying to stop the blood. But he kept bleeding, and he died right there in front of me.
The ambulance came and pushed me away, opened his chest and I saw the number of bullet holes in him and, I tell you, it was over, I was broken. I was done.
I went back to my apartment and tried to scrub the blood of this boy off my hands but I felt my heart fill up with anger and blackness. All I could think is, what kind of world do we live in where everybody I know knows who Jon Benet Ramsey is or Natalee Holloway but few people I know can name the name of one black child killed in my city today? What is going on with this world?
That we seem to value life so little that dozens of kids, of boys, of men, are murdered every week. I wanted to give up. I was done. And then I left my apartment and walked out to the courtyard and I saw the back of Miss Jones's head. She turned around and she saw my expression. She said, "Come give me a hug." And I hugged this woman and I wept in her arms. She held me and all she said is, "Stay faithful, stay faithful, stay faithful."
I'm telling you right now, courage does not always roar. It's not when you stand up and beat your chest and you're ready for the big game, the big fight, the big speech. That is not real courage in my book anymore. It's not running into a burning building.
Real courage is that when life has beaten you down so low, when you are broken, when you have wounds that you wonder if they could ever heal. Courage is when you've done something wrong and you feel the weight of shame on your chest so heavy that you can barely breathe. Courage is when you're curled up in a ball on your bed sleepless throughout the night and when the sun comes up, courage isn't the roar, courage is that small voice in your mind that says, get up, get out of bed, put your feet on the floor, brush your teeth, wash your face, comb your hair – God, if you have it – put your hand on that door knob and go outside for another day of loving and stand with all of your might and look up into the heavens. And courage has you say in a defiant spirit, you can take everything from me, you could cut me deep, you could render me in shame, but you will never, ever, stop me from loving. From loving those who mock me, from loving those who hate me, from loving those who don't forgive me, from loving the cynics, from loving the darkness so much that I myself, through my small acts of consistent, unyielding love, will bring on the light.
And this brings me to the final point of conspirators that my dad and my community have shown me is that conspirators are the ones that show up. They just show up. And what do I mean by that? I mean that, we go through life all the time but we don't always show up. We may be there in body but we're not there in spirit. And we begin to erode the truth of who we are, we fail to live our authenticity.
A great president, Lincoln, said that "everyone is born an original but, sadly, most die copies" because they don't show up.
I've learned that what you think about the world says less about the world than it does about you. And when you show up in this world and have the courage to tell your truth in moments big but more importantly, in moments small, then you are the architect, not only of your own destiny but you're the architect of transformational change.
Showing up. Forgive me, I've got just a, a bad story about that. But I was on my way to Stanford as a freshman, coming back to "the farm." And here I got on a plane and it was packed with people but, somehow, God shined his grace upon me, because, as they closed the door to the plane, there was two seats open next to me. And I thought to myself, look at all these other people, it's such a shame that they have to deal with all of that cramped space but I have this whole seat. God, obviously, loves me more than them. Well, just as I was sitting there so satisfied, the door to the plane opens and, all of us shot to attention because it sounded like someone, some beast was coming in. Some screams were happening. We couldn't understand what was going on outside the plane, and then we understood because the beast came onto the plane and it had three heads – it was a woman and a little boy and a baby.
Immediately everybody on that plane looked at them and then slowly turned their heads to me. And I could see everyone was thinking, you smug little man. And that woman and her two children came to stand before me and said, "I'm sitting there." And I said, "Are you sure?"
And they moved in and they sat down and, immediately, as a 19 year old man I had, suddenly, I had an evolved thought – that I could accept this now as being the worst flight of my life or I can make it different. Because, in life, you get one choice over and over again, that is, to accept conditions as they are or to take responsibility for changing them. To yield to the circumstances around you or to show up and do something about them.
I decided that I was going to make this the best flight of my life. I started telling this little boy jokes and he started laughing at my horrible jokes, like my grandfather would love, like, why did Tigger and Eeyore have their heads in the toilet? Because they were looking for Pooh. Like, why, what do you call your mother's sister who runs away and gets married? An Antelope.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I had to try.
By the time we landed, we were all having a ball. The woman who came on the plane embarrassed suddenly felt like she was lifted. We exchanged addresses as I was getting ready to come down here to the farm and we never kept in touch but, five years passed, 10 years passed, 15 years passed and I was running for Mayor of Newark.
On my most discouraged day in that campaign, I got a letter from this woman saying, "You don't remember me but I met you on a flight to Stanford 15 years ago and I will never forget your kindness then."
She said to me, "not only do I remember your kindness but we're actually here in Newark, we own a factory here."
Her son became a great volunteer on my campaign. They got me involved with their company, and she ended up being something that all politicians love – a campaign contributor.
And now the second man, my grandfather, who was with my father in spirit.
It's one simple thing that he would say to me at graduations. He would say to me, "Boy, understand that you have a role in this world and that's to get along with others, to join your spirit with them."
I tell you this is one that I struggle with. You see, conspirators need to embody those things I mentioned before but they also need to join together.
My grandfather, this amazing man, his life was all about the joining together of disparate elements of our society. He was born, also, to a single mother. But he was born in a difficult circumstance because he was born with red hair and much lighter skin than his siblings. It was obvious that he was born to a white man at a time that it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry.
He grew up feeling that he had, inside of his spirit, so many different parts of his country. He ended up becoming a person that did everything he could to unite people. He was a union organizer bringing people together for justice. He was a Democratic activist working within the party to support FDR. He was an entrepreneur, bringing people together for business endeavor. And he wanted his children and then his grandchildren to understand that what makes this country great is how united it is.
He used to load us onto an RV and drive us around the country to show us how great this nation is. He would tell us history of our country even if he didn't know it.
We would ask him questions when we were driving through Arizona. "Grand-dad, why do they call this town Yuma, Arizona?" And he would say, "Well, let me see, that's because when this town was founded, there was a gun fight and one guy shot the other and he grabbed his heart and said, 'You ma' and then died."
I talked to my grandfather all the time about this country. He tells me that, son, this country, we forget we talk always about the Declaration of Independence. But really, this nation was founded on a Declaration of Interdependence – this recognition that we need each other.
When I talk to my grandfather now, I anguish to him that we are a nation that has become so polarized, where people are so quick to identify themselves as Democrat or Republican before they say, first and foremost, that I am an American.
They're so focused on left and right that they forget that this nation must go forward. I anguish to my grand-dad when I talk to him now, how can we have come so far as a nation that the word compromise is a curse and the word patriotism is not used to unite us all but it's used to demean others and to esteem yourself? Like I am the true patriot and because of you and what you believe, you're not. This is not the America that my grandfather believed in.
He said we were formed to come together and make a more perfect Union. And, to me, this is what I found in my work. That the change we make really comes about when we come together across party lines, come together across religious lines and racial lines.
When President Hennessy introduced me he talked about a hunger strike. The great feeling that I got from that experience was how the city came together to deal with a problem and that's what we need in America today.
My grandfather would love that every nation that makes up this nation, every heritage has this ideal of unity.
It's like the old African saying that says if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together. It's like another saying that he loved, it said, when spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.
It's like what Golda Meir said, that when Jews come together, they're strong, but Jews with other people, are invincible. It's like the Islamic faith, that one of the Pillars of Islam is that word Tawheed, which means we all share one God, one spirit, one soul.
It's like this wonderful man in a jail cell in Birmingham who wrote the truth of our nation in 1963 when he said we were all caught in an "inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a common garment of destiny that injustice, anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere."
And when I stand in a conspiracy in Newark, I feel that connection to conspirators who understood this truth of coming together like those people who came together – scientists and engineers that turned the moon from a dream into a destiny, like those conspirators on the Underground Railroad, black and white, who came together saying that we must overcome this slavery, like the conspirators who took us as a nation from child labor to public education, from sweatshops to workers' rights.
They were all conspirators who came together to exult our highest ideals, to celebrate our common aspirations, to live the truth of our founding which is that this nation is nothing if it stands apart but everything if it stands together. That, ultimately, we must live our hallmark – those three words from a dead language – e Pluribus Unum.
And, so, graduates, I tell you today this from my heart. And it pains me to tell you that my grandfather and my father, who would have so wanted to be here today, to pillar you all with their corny jokes, to tell you that "the tassel's worth the hassle." The two men are not here today.
My father is not here because he's at home in Atlanta. I talked to him this morning. He is struggling with Parkinson's, in the latter stages of that disease. Oh, what 20 years have brought. From my father, the man that was running after me on football fields to, now, a man who this terrible disease is stripping of his physical mobility, stripping him of his mental faculties. But, when I am with him, I see that this disease can take everything from him, it can make him not even recognize me when I sit before him, but I still see in this man his spirit, his kindness and his love. I see within him the manifestation physically of so many conspirators.
My grandfather is not here today either. My grandfather also had his struggles with a terrible disease. Cancer kept coming at him, again and again, and my grandfather, with his spirit and his humor, kept beating it back, time and time again.
I'll never forget, once I was visiting him as he was struggling with cancer, I said, "How you doing, granddad?" He says, "I'm doing fine." I go, "Why?" And he pulled out one of the pills he was taking by his doctor and he said in his best quote from one of his favorite films, he lifted it up to me and said, "Say, hello to my little friend."
The last time I talked to my grandfather his big body was now shriveled and weak from radiation, from the sickness, and the last thing he said to me before I left him was, "I love you, son. I love you, I love your children and I love your children's children."
I left him confused. I'm not married. I have no kids. I thought he was just delirious but as I struggled to make sense of his words, I got a cruel phone call that explained them to me.
It was almost 10 years ago to the month that I got that cruel phone call. I was in the midst of a campaign for mayor, and I was on Spruce Street in Newark, and it was a family member of mine that said, "Your grandfather is dead."
And I remember not doing what they told me to do – call my grandmother, they said – but I couldn't. I just pulled over to the side of the road and I wept at the loss of my hero. And then, suddenly, in the midst of my tears, I remembered his final words. He said, "I love you and I love your children and I love your children's children." And it made sense to me.
One of my friends who's an astrophysicist told me that the stars we see at night, millions and millions of light years away, some of them could be gone already but the light and the energy they gave off you can still see it today.
Well, that was my grandfather. He loved so much that his love will affect generations yet unborn. He loved so much that he may be gone for a decade from me but I still feel him today in every cool wind that breathes in my face, in every deep breath I take, his love is with me and I hope you feel it today.
And thus, I say to you, on this graduation. I say to you, in the name of my father, Cary Alfred Booker, I say to you, in the name of my grandfather, Limuary Jordan, to join the conspiracy, to be a class of people that rejects cynicism, that is not joining the ranks of the denizens of divisiveness or the nattering nabobs of negativity but be lovers.
Join the conspiracy and love with all of your heart and all of your courage. Let your love be defiant. Let your love be rebellious. Join the conspiracy and make change in your life because change will not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, it must be carried in on the backs of lovers.
Class of O-12, I say stand up and be lovers of life, be present, take the more difficult road, and love in a way that you can make true the words of children being said in Newark almost every day that you can be responsible then making for this world and our nation true of the fact that we are one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
God bless you, O-12.