Commencement Speech

To my dear students, Class of 2010, Escuela Argentina of Washington, DC:
Lara Bes, Carolina Galdiz, Carolina Fermoselle, Julián Palau, Juan Manuel Segura, Luciana Giorgio, Melissa Minniti.

Léalo en español

And here we are, 14 years later. But, didn’t a famous Argentinean say that 20 years were nothing? Of course, he spent them in Paris. I know you want me to give an endless speech, but I’m going to disappoint you. I’m only going to tell you three things I have told my students a million times in the last years: think, think, think.

1. Think, so that you free yourselves and help to free the world from the chains of bigotry and superstition that condemn us to eternal conflicts and futile hatred.
2. Think, so that you question everything that you are told with too much certainty but little evidence.
3. Think, so that you don’t repeat like parrots old truths and so that you value life experience over precepts.

And when you oppose hackneyed truths and traditions, do it with conviction and strenght. Don’t allow us, the old generations, to limit your horizon. Don’t allow our fears to curtail your wings or our prejudices to limit the flight of your mind, the expansion of your soul. It is not true that the past was always better. To assume that the past was better means that men’s actions are vain and that you are not agents of history. The future has to be better because you will build it better. Listen to us, yes, but with critical ears, because the current state of the world leave plenty to be desired regarding the ability of past generations. Don’t be afraid to imagine a different world in which the strong can still be good and where the happiness and confort of the few are not borne by the missery of the many. And when they tell you that life has always been like this, answer that the only thing that has been constant in history is change and that the greatest social transformations have occurred when young people like you have said: what has always been has been wrong and doesn’t have to continue. Just think how many things society thought of as Gospel look to us now as incredible absurdities with the evolving standards of decency that mark progress in a maturing society.

And, what about love? What can I tell you? We have spoken about love a lot during these years. We have talked about the terrible loves of people who didn’t know themselves and were looking in lust for an answer to something they could only find inside themselves. People like Rebeca or the Colonel Aureliano Buendía, who as he faced the firing squad remembered that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. The love of people condemned to one hundred years of solitude and without a second opportunity on earth. The love of Penélope and Julián carried a weight too heavy for their young souls. The love of Daniel and Bea found its purpose in helping others to find answers. I wish you find yourselves so that you can find the truth.

Flee from the easy, because only the difficult is exciting. Everything that is serious is difficult, and everything is serious. Remember Rainer Maria Rilke’s advice: that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.

For instance, it’s easy to believe that brave people are good and cowards are bad. But if that was the case, the good ones would always win, easily. Think of Fermín who was so afraid of Fumero but overcame it to defend his friend. Think of Fumero, who had no fear…or scruples. Men and women are complex and it is that complexity that makes us human and what makes life worth living.

When I was writing this good bye of sorts, I remembered the poem of Borges we recited in the Maratón de poesía three years ago: “What can I hold you with?” I imagine that’s what I want to ask you now. What can I hold you with? And, like Borges, I only have empty words, warring grandfathers and memories that fill the air but are useless to stop history, that is, your history. I can offer you news about yourselves that I presume to know but that are only based on having being your age a couple of centuries ago. What can I hold you with?

To you and to your parents, for the privilege of sharing with you these years I can only dedicate the luminous word of the offering: thanks.

Your teacher, Isabel M. Estrada Portales.
Léalo en español


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