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Graduation Speech Celebrates Diversity

Andrea Deyto, Reporter

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“Back in the day, it was real,” Chris Matthews, MSNBC anchor and political pundit, said.

Kennedy was lucky enough to have Matthews serve as their guest speakers at the 2016 graduation ceremony on Monday. He started his speech by speaking about Muhammad Ali, reminding us that Muhammad Ali was more complex than the “candy canes” that we read about now. Ali was not afraid to say no to Christianity, the government, and the draft.

“He became a hero in the world for saying what he believed and being who he was… He was a world figure at the age of twenty-five,” Matthews said.

Then, Matthews continued by asking the graduating class what they knew about Marian Anderson.

“Today in Constitution Hall, since we’re here I’ve got to do it. I’m not known for tiptoeing around issues. There’s another kind of character I want to salute today. It’s a woman, an African American woman, an American hero, her name is Marian Anderson,” Matthews said.

Thus began Chris Matthew’s graduation speech.

“She was born and raised in South [Philadelphia]. She went on to become one of the world’s greatest opera stars,” Matthews said.

However, due to her ethnic background, those who had power in the music conservatory in South Philadelphia refused to train her, saying that they do not take color. Nonetheless, this did not stop Anderson.

“After years of training in Europe, she performed in the Paris Opera House. A renowned conductor said, ‘She had the voice you’d hear once in a hundred years.’ And then came the invitation from President Franklin Roosevelt for her to come to the White House, the first African American ever to perform at the White House,” Matthews said.

After listing several of Anderson’s accomplishments, Chris Matthews finally told the connection of Marian Anderson to the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall.

“In 1939, three years after her first recital at the White House, Marian Anderson’s manager tried to book her here at Constitution Hall. And even though by then she was one of the top box office draws in the world, the people who ran this place refused to let her sing here,” Matthews said.

Many people disliked the fact that Anderson was not permitted to perform in the DAR Hall and complained. One of the people who was unhappy was Eleanor Roosevelt.

Matthews said, “She had an idea. She arranged for Marian Anderson to sing to a far larger audience than you can fit in this room. On an Easter Sunday, audience out in front of the Lincoln Memorial, 75,000 people came to hear Marian Anderson sing. It was a historic and unforgettable performance, Easter Sunday 1939, and people were talking about it onward and ever since.”

After Marian Anderson, Chris Matthews began to talk about Martin Luther King Jr.

Matthews said, “One of the people listening on the radio, NBC radio, that day was Martin Luther King. He was ten years old. And when the time came for Dr. King, a quarter century later, to give his great “I Have A Dream” speech, also in front of the Lincoln Memorial, he quoted lines from the song Marian Anderson [sung] in front of the Lincoln Memorial, ‘My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty… Let freedom ring.’”

Matthews tied together a story from over seventy years ago about the way history has changed and who can sit and perform in the hall today. That message was not lost on JFK’s class of 2016 who come from many places: Peru, Cambodia, Honduras, Nigeria, Iraq, and many more.

After telling his stories of Muhammad Ali, Marian Anderson, and Martin Luther King Jr., Chris Matthews ended his speech and left the students with advice for the real world.

“If you want a job, say you want a job. If you want something in life, ask for it,” Matthews said. “Don’t ever say no to yourself, ever.”

As Chris Matthews sat down, the choir began to sing a rendition of Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.” The song’s lyrics accompanied Matthews’ message.

Dalal Tambal, SGA president, sat on stage listening to both Matthew’s speech and the song. “The significance of that hall and all the stories behind it is that every year, class after class, the diversity increases. It shows how our society is changing for the better and that anything is possible,” she said.  

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Graduation Speech Celebrates Diversity