Transcription of Remarks made by Desmond Tutu at the 247th Commencement Ceremony


This is a transcription of remarks made by Desmond Tutu at the 247th Commencement ceremony of the University of Pennsylvania, May 19, 2003, in Philadelphia.

Heartiest congratulations to all of you graduating today. Im sure you want to extend a very warm thank you and congratulations to those who supported you: your families, your spouseswhere it applies, your children, and even your teachers.

Thank you to this splendid University for this honorary degree that I have received. A few years ago, my wife and I were visiting West Point Military Academy and at the end of the visit, the cadets thought they should give me a cap to commemorate the visit. When I tried it on it didnt fit. A nice wife would have said, Well, the cap is too small. My wife said, His head is too big. And today I have a very substantial reason for being slightly more swollen-headed through this wonderful degree from this prestigious institution.

I dont know whether you remember the story of the farmer who was surveying his field. The corn was swaying beautifully in the breeze. A traveler came by and stood next to the farmer and said, What a splendid job you and God have made. The farmer puffed away a little bit on his pipe, and then he said, You should have seen what it looked like when God had it all to himself.

One of the paradoxes is that we have a God, the omnipotent, all-powerful one who was able to create all there is without our assistance. The paradox is that this omnipotent God now wants to wait for human partners, collaborators, fellow workers such as you and I. And we see how frequently God spent a long time trying to persuade somewhat reluctant human partners. Knock, knock. Whos there? Gabriel. Gabriel who? Gabriel the Archangel. Hi, Mary. Hi. Mary, God would like you to be the mother of his son. Mary said, What? Do you know in this village you cant scratch yourself without everybody knowing about it, and you want me to be what? An unmarried mother! Sorry, Im a decent girl; try next door. We would have been in a real pickle except that Mary, of course, said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.

And so this God waits on all of us to try to turn all kinds of aridities into glorious, gorgeous blossoming gardens. When there is poverty and hunger, God wants to perform Gods miracle of ending that poverty, that hunger. But it wont be by God sending down hamburgers to feed a hungry person. It is as you and I and you and you and you who are willing to be Gods partners, providing God with the wherewithal so that God can perform Gods miracle. And God looks on the aridities, the wildernesses of injustices, of oppression, and God wants to end injustices and oppression, but usually it isnt by God sending a lightning bolt to strike down the perpetrators of evil. It is as a Nelson Mandela, and others such as Mamphela Ramphele, who are willing to be Gods fellow workers, that you end a vicious system such as is apartheid. And you in this country helped us to become free. You helped us to become democratic. You helped us to become a country that is seeking to be non-racial and non-sexist. You didnt bomb us into liberation. We became free nonviolently. And the country demonstrated that there are other ways of dealing with difference, with disagreement, with conflict: the way of forgiveness, the way of compromise, the way of reconciliation. And we learned in South Africa that there is no way in which you are going to have true security that comes from the barrel of a gun.

True security happens when there is justice. And so we weep as we see what happens in Northern Ireland. Our hearts bleed as we see what happens in the Middle East. And we say, it is possible. If it could happen in South Africa, it is possible for there to be peace, for there to be justice, for there to be equity in Northern Ireland, in the Middle East. We say it will come when Israel is recognized as a sovereign state with sovereign boundaries that are recognized and respected by all. But it will come and come only when there is a viable Palestinian state, sovereign, recognized and accepted. It is possible for enemies to become friends.

And God calls on you. God says, I have a dream. I have a dream, that my children will recognize that they are members of one family, that they are sisters and brothers. When we recognize that we are family, then we know that the ethic of family applies. In the family, we say, from each according to the ability, to each according to their need. And so you and I will be those who protest when nations spend obscene amounts on budgets of death and destruction when we know that a small fraction of this will enable our sisters and brothers everywhere to have enough clean water to drink, enough food to eat, enough proper education and healthcare that is affordable. God says, I have a dream, that all of you my children will realize that you belong in one family. This is a family in which there are no outsiders; all are insiders. All. When Jesus spoke about his death, he said, If I be lifted up, I will draw -- he didnt say I will draw some. He said, I will draw all -- black, white, rich, poor, American, Iraqi, Afghanistan, gay, lesbian, straight. All belong in this family: Arafat, Sharon, George Bush, bin Laden. And God says, I have no one except you to help me realize my dream.

Will you help me? says God. I have no one except you.

Thank you.