'Do not forget the claims of social justice,' Nikki Pareño Serapio tells graduates

Following is the text, as prepared, of the student address by Nikki Pareño Serapio, delivered at the Baccalaureate Celebration on June 16, 2007

Nikki PareƱo Serapio

Nikki Pareño Serapio

Following is the prepared text of the student address by Nikki Pareño Serapio, delivered at the Stanford Baccalaureate Celebration on June 16, 2007.

The key insight of Commencement is that there's a big world outside of Stanford. For many of us, we will soon come to believe in the largeness of existence through the demands of professional life. If you thought those 15-page papers were difficult, then prepare yourself for the 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. workday. If we really did think the quarter system was too stressful, then parents, please shake your heads and give your sons and daughters a wise hug: Tell them kindly that it's their turn to prepare tuition for their future Stanford-bound children.

I want to talk for a few minutes about the largeness of existence. Arguably, the best way to do this is to describe for you the cosmopolitan content of a Stanford education. I can list for you the topics that I've learned about in classes, and the list would be a good picture of the world. Chuang Tzu; the brave anti-totalitarians in the Spanish Civil War; the brave philosophy of John Rawls; Pablo Neruda's poetry; why wars make states and states make war; why people continue to starve despite there being enough food in the world to feed everyone—all of the students here can take an inventory of their coursework, in order to report that, yes, Stanford has allowed us to more fully realize the heft and potentialities of human knowledge.

Before Stanford, I went to Catholic school for 14 years, and for me the most important lesson from that period is this: Good works trump all. It is not enough to observe the largeness of the world, when there are things in it that we must strive to change. It is not enough to know the content of books in order to earn the comfort of salaries, when there are so many great social problems that demand our attention.

Of course, this is a tried-and-true and righteous reminder, and perhaps the bullhorn is about to run out of battery. Every Stanford Commencement is a variation on a theme called "Do not forget the claims of social justice."

But I appeal to you via repetition: Do not forget the claims of social justice.

My spiritual journey at Stanford has been marked by the ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan, and by my participation in advocacy to stop this genocide. If you come from a religious background like me, then I am sure the most monumental moral question has jumped into your conscience at one point or another. Here's the question applied to a specific case: What power, what creator, what kind of concerned agent would allow the destruction of an entire people? Would allow more than 500,000 innocent civilians to die in Western Sudan? Would allow countless Darfuri women to be raped and spat upon by a government that continues to enjoy absolute impunity?

Now, this is not a forum for theological debate, and I don't have the intellectual resources to answer a question about the persistence of evil. I only mention the above so that we, the Class of 2007, might leave Stanford with the certain knowledge that bad news can be the groundspring for hope.

Faced with the largeness of injustice after injustice, Stanford students have responded passionately and decisively. In order to speak up for the people of Darfur, last year Stanford students organized a vigil across the entire Golden Gate Bridge, where we got over 5,000 people to create a 1.7-mile-long procession of conscience. Last year, Stanford students helped draft a Darfur op-ed that was published for the over 2 million readers of the Sunday New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. And today many of us continue to fight for the men, women and children of Darfur, and we will stay committed to this line of work for however long it's necessary.

My one hope for us, the Class of 2007, is that we realize our serious responsibility to those who were shirked by the natural lottery. Some of us have grandparents who speak about the seriousness of their generation, about the moral battles that it waged, about a genocide that it finally stopped. Make no mistake: We face the same and similar challenges today. When mass atrocity occurs in Africa, or in Europe, or anywhere, our human dignity is at stake; when injustice manifests itself closer to home, our human dignity is at stake. And for every one of us, an essential question will come home sooner or later: How did we use our Stanford education?

Let us promise today: We will do some good in this world. And we will strive our utmost to be healers of this world.

- 30 -