It’s so good to be back at Bates [applause], and I want to congratulate all you graduates. I know what it’s like to struggle for something you really want, to start out and be in a sea of people. You don’t know who’s going to be your friend; you don’t even know if you’re going to get along with your roommate.
I remember the first time I came to Bates it was spring of my junior year of high school, and my mother and I took a plane from Boston up to Lewiston on Bar Harbor Airlines. The plane was eight, nine, 10 seats. We came up here, and I remember thinking that it was an outpost. I felt I was somewhere near the North Pole [laughter]. I come from Colorado; that’s where I was born and raised, so it was so far to travel.
At the time, I just wanted to get out of Colorado and see the world. It’s funny that I chose Bates to see the world [laughter]. But then, when I look at all y’all, I can see that you are the world, and even more so than when I was here. When I was here, there was a flavor of international students, there were different people, different ethnicities walking around. But as I see Bates today, I see that’s intensified and there’s even more of you out there; there’s a real mosaic. So I want to congratulate you on that as well [applause]. The second time I came to Bates was during a minority student weekend. I was a senior in high school, and I remember being so excited to come here, to meet all these other black and Latino students, and to dream about coming to a place like this.
I traveled after I left Bates, and I realized that I wasn’t a minority. In fact, there’s no such thing as a minority. You can box off a place and count off the people and say, “You’re the minority.” But if you’re looking at the whole planet, I don’t like to talk in those terms. And I feel that Bates really helped me to expand my view of the world. It was at Bates that I got to interact with people I never thought I’d interact with: people from Africa, people from the Caribbean, people from East Asia, from West Asia, from all over the world. This was my jumping-off point to discover the world.
As I said before, I’m from Colorado. I was saying this last night, so I’ll just be frank. When we would leave Colorado and go other places, people didn’t still have Jerry Curls. We would come back home, and we were still rocking the old styles. There was always a sense that I was always behind the times. But when I came to Bates, I got to meet different people, see different viewpoints, and really get into discussion with other people. I am just so grateful to Bates for giving me that opportunity to expand my mind.
I would like to give some advice. I would like to say that as you leave Bates, that you be careful how you spend your money. I remember when I got here; I never had a credit card. And I got to my mailbox the first week, and there were all these credit card offers. I thought, this is great! Luckily, I didn’t take up on all that. But looking at the state of the economy, looking at the housing market, looking at the high amount of debt that Americans carry, I think it’s very important that the young people start to endow themselves, and not go out and get a new card and pay a high note. Don’t go out and buy the new clothes and new technology. Don’t go out endlessly and spend your money with your friends.
Use your time wisely. I’m 38 years old, and it seems just yesterday I was sitting where you all are right now. Take your time and use it well. Use well the money that you make. Save your money, because you’re going to need it in the future. Always remember that education doesn’t ever stop. It always keeps going. I remember after I left Bates — I had spent a whole year writing an honors thesis — I was tired. I thought, I don’t want to go back to school for awhile. I started playing music, and here I am. I would tell y’all it’s very important to always educate yourselves. Always think of others. And always nurture your intellect and your soul.
I’d like to end with a brief quote from Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia. He said, “The key for betterment and completeness of modern living is education. But, man cannot live by bread alone. Man is also composed of intellect and soul. Therefore, education in general, and higher education in particular, must aim to provide, beyond the physical, food for the intellect and the soul. That education which ignores people’s intrinsic nature and neglects their intellect and reasoning power cannot be considered true education.”
I remember the poet Yeats once said, “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” So, I encourage you all to keep the fire burning.” Bless you; thank you.
(Corey Harris address at Bates College, 2007, the year he also won a MacFound Grant)
edit to add: Bates was founded in 1855, yo.