In address to fellow graduates filling the stands of Meehan Auditorium on Sunday morning, Hamidou Sylla opened with a summary of the historical role enslaved laborers played in Brown’s past, drawing direct lines to the Class of 2023’s future.
“Every time I walk past [University Hall], I can’t help but place my hands on those walls, knowing that an enslaved Black African a couple of generations removed from me laid the bricks and the very foundation of the institution that I attend and earn my degree from today,” said Sylla, a master of public affairs graduate who emigrated from Guinea to the U.S. as a child.
But instead of drowning in that past, Sylla said — paraphrasing the literary great James Baldwin — graduates have the responsibility to learn from it and leverage the power of their Brown education to oppose injustice: “We are on this Earth but for a period of time. As such, how we choose to spend our time matters,” Sylla said. “For we are the products of our ancestors’ prayers and sacrifices.”