Words From the Wise
Marc Morial to 2017 Grads: “[To] choose not to show up at the ballot box is a surrender of power -- and a surrender of history.”
It wasn’t his first time at the Bowie State University campus. Marc Morial, now president and CEO of the National Urban League, was 13 years old in 1971 when he came to the home of the Bulldogs with his dad as the commencement speaker. There’s a good chance that flying on a plane to the DC metro area from New Orleans may have been more exciting to him at that time than listening to his dad give the commencement message.
But now it was his turn and the message wasn’t entirely different than that of his dad’s 46 years ago: the call to action for new thinkers to become doers.
In the senior Morial’s era, black social activism was up as a result of the civil rights movement, the 1968 elections and black power mobilizations.
But black voter turnout in federal elections hovered at 52% in 1972, at 50% in 1996 and steady in that range until then-candidate Obama ran in 2008 at 60.8%. Mid-term elections, as with other ethnic groups, typically showed lesser black voter turnout for decades.
The challenge remains that African American voter turnout is still nowhere near its true voting clout.
“In these times of great difficulty, I want this generation to in 2018 and 2020 to become those who vote with a vengeance and in record numbers,” Morial said to great applause of 380 graduating students. “This idea that we can choose not to show up at the ballot box is a surrender of power -- and a surrender of history. This generation must chart the course of the future of America and the future is in your hands.”
The veteran leader praised the graduating class for its unique global position and generosity.
“In a world that you will embrace I’m excited about your generation,” Morial said. “Your generation is the smartest generation, the most aware, the most technologically apt and the most global of any generation in world history. You have a spirit of service, of generosity and giving back. Today, you have equipped yourself with a tool that no one can take away from you.”
But the former mayor of New Orleans warned that ability without action is a dangerous trap.
“You can stage a message on Twitter,” Morial said. “You can sure put great information out on Facebook. You cannot vote by way of the Internet. You must march, you have to walk, you have to go down to the polling place. If you want change, you must vote and participate. If you want to see leaders in this nation and state who ensure that BSU gets the dollars that it needs for first class facilities, the scholarships it needs then you must vote. If you want to make sure that the cities we all come from have quality housing and great playgrounds and first class schools, then we must vote.”
“If we do not then your generation will be relitigating the battles that my parents and grandparents fought so that we could be here today. This is your charge,” he said.
The occasion also marked the first commencement for newly appointed Bowie State University President Dr. Aminta Breaux. President Breaux is the first woman to hold the office in the university’s 150 year history. Breaux’ vision, Racing To Excellence, is already becoming a part of the elevating operations and culture within the campus.
Now, with the honorary doctorate, it’s safe to say that Dr. Morial, BSU’s newest Bulldog, enjoyed commencement a lot more than the flight home.
Congratulations to the Class of 2017.