Onye Ozuzu is a performing artist, choreographer, educator, and researcher currently serving as dean of the University of Florida College of the Arts. Actively presenting work since 1997, Ozuzu has dedicated much of her work as a dance artist to cultivating space for diverse dance forms to exist in pluralist relationship to one another.
Good Morning Gator Graduates! What we, the gathered University of Florida leaders, and faculty, staff, your families, friends and loved ones …; are here to do is to collectively put the weight of our hearts and minds into this moment in your honor, to help launch you into your dreams, aspirations, and the impacts you will make on the world to come.
We have a special person on the stage with us today, iconic singer and songwriter, and Gator, Stephen Stills. He can, perhaps be introduced by the lyrics of what was one of his most impactful songs:
“For What It's Worth
There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down”
So … I COULD talk about the timelessness of this song, the way that it echoes in our ears and with the way the world looks to us today. I could talk about the critically transformative nature of the times during which you are graduating. I could talk about the preparations you’ve made to be an author of the solutions, the innovations, methodologies and revolutions that will propel humanity forward through this time of unprecedented technological advancement, migrations, political upheavals, and existential shifts for the human condition. But I don’t need to. Because it’s all already there. Resonating in the images and connections that the lyrics stimulated in YOU. The song connects us all, through an experience that is at once shared and individual. We each populate the lyrics with our own personally lived circumstances.
This is how you know that it’s a masterful song. And this is how a masterful song becomes an anthem.
So … instead of pointing out what the song is already doing; I’d like to suggest that we also consider that the education that you have just achieved at the University of Florida could also be an anthem.
The song, an account of Stephen’s experience happening across a students’ protest, is perhaps a translation, or an echoing of that experience, one that invites the world into it, that offers to house the experiences of others.
This song has reached millions of people across generations of experiences far flung from the circumstances that initiated it…what has facilitated this is perhaps its structural spaciousness. Stephen held loosely to the particularity of his experience and instead lifted from it a skeletal structure and design, an organization of awareness …. A way of being, a way of entering and a way of attending… it was a sort of a code of conduct it said stop…..listen…..look… and then ask…
What I am proposing to you here today is that you allow your education, the sum of the experiences in and out of classes, with the people that you walked with and the people that you walked by once a week… experiences you had a thousand times, or experiences you had just once…even the glance exchanged a few minutes ago with the unknown person at the end of your row. I am proposing you let this time that you have spent, the degree that you have accomplished, I am proposing that you let it manifest in your life like an anthem.
Hold on to it. As a way of being, of listening, of looking, a way of engaging …. hold on to it, loosely, let there be spaces in it.
What you have learned can manifest and re-manifest for you in countless ways…. it can ring and resonate through you, through your life and out into the world like an anthem….something that brings meaning. That defines the times. That amplifies voices with perspective.
What you have accomplished is complete and yet it is just beginning. And it is just that, the not knowing…that is the power of receptivity to opportunity.
You are sharing this experience with all these graduates around you and with UF graduates before you and you will share it with those that come after. There is meaning in that shared experience, like the power of singing an anthem with thousands of people. That person at the end of your row might show up in your life, in an idea, a project, a venture. Your shared educational experience will function as an entry point. So stay connected, to one another and to the network of Gators spread across this globe. And come back, we will be here for you along the way. Hold on to what you have accomplished, loosely, let the song of your impact on the world come through…. like an anthem.
Congratulations Graduates. GO GATORS.