Senior Oration – Tatenda Mashanda (’17) “A Charge to Fellow Millennials”

This evening is the start of Passover, so to all our families who are celebrating, I wish you Chag Kasher V’Sameach.

My vacation continues, so here is another pre-post.  This is from Tatenda Mashanda.  I met Tatenda once and he is a remarkable guy indeed.

Happy reading!


“A Charge to Fellow Millennials”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I might not be as popular as George Washington or as exciting as Joe Biden memes, but for the next 5 minutes, I ask you to pretend that you love me because we are stuck with each other. I should admit, however, that I would love to see what a black Joe Biden would look like, especially with dreadlocks.

Many of us are happy today, because this day marks the culmination of all of our achievements here at school. Today, we embark on our journey into the real world, equipped with an outstanding education that is a sure sign of a good life to come. Though our futures will vary greatly, I can be certain of one thing— the Alumni development office will stay friendly with us all. As the famous Chinese proverb says, when you drink the water remember its source. It is important that we take time to say thank you to everyone who made our journey through Wake Forest bearable. We survived. To our professors, we say thank you, I know you are excited to see us do great things, but I am sure you are hoping that my 5 minutes’ speech be even shorter because you had to sit through many of these addresses. To our parents, who potentially no longer have to be human ATMs, thank you.

My story began in a dusty dilapidated village at the back of the beyond in rural Zimbabwe. I was born when the International Monetary Fund had just introduced Economic Structural adjustment programs in my country and, like many youths from poor families, I grew up with the disastrous economic consequences. The obsession with diligence and hard work that I developed had nothing to do with the urge to quickly abandon my social and economic class. Instead, I was greatly influenced by my efforts to prevent exploitation at all costs, being neglected and taken for granted by society myself. My suffocating experiences early on in life robbed me of my childhood—I had to toil as a child in search of a better education.

My mother passed away before I could even etch her face in my memory. I would sometimes walk to school with an empty stomach, tired and listen to my teachers tell me that education and social mobility would be our ladder to success. But I had no Idea how to climb it. The walls on which the ladder rests were never mentioned. Throughout my high school years in Zimbabwe and Swaziland, I sensed the importance of talking about these walls but I wasn’t yet up to the task.  Wake Forest University provided me with an opportunity to be able to understand those walls so that I could silence the impending doom in my heart. I was provided with space to think and forge new dreams and a new spirit that I hope one day can trouble many despots around the world.

This is my story, but could be the story of many other village boys and girls who are still languishing through struggles similar to mine. This could be your story too, or you have your own story, one which someone elsewhere is experiencing. What matters is not the incredulity of our experiences or the fact that we have travelled through punishing jungles to be where we are today. What matters is how we are going to use our experiences to impact those around us and give back to our communities. This is my plea to you my fellow Millennials. First, use the values that you have learned from Wake Forest to work for the betterment of society, not out of the desire for the limelight but out of conviction. Remember that Pro-Humanitate means more than just a nice phrase on a pamphlet, more than just letters on a free T-shirt, but values, principles, lifestyle and a drive to always work to help others. As Millennials, we can help inculcate a culture of tolerance, respect and accountability. That doesn’t mean we have to give up some of the principles that we hold so dear. We can be open-minded, tolerant, susceptible and still be original in our thought processes. Let’s strive to be mavericks who are willing to be wrong and learn from their mistakes so they can be better people. According to Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, “The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see”, the evidence that we have so much in common that can unite us.

Second, do not give up. The long, barefoot walks to school in the torrential rains and punishing savannah heat did not stop me from working hard. My late parents always told me that if you want a place in the sun you should expect blisters. With the same token, let’s not let extremism, ignorance and most importantly, our own egos limit our ability to positively impact the world. In this era of uncertainty and new realities, let’s not run away from conversations because we are too timid or we deem them controversial; these conversations and experiences are hard to have, because they are so important.

Now that we are going into the real world it is my fervent hope that as Millennials we embrace change. Some of the yesterday beliefs and notions about life are heading fast into the dustbins of history. Wake Forest taught me that no ideas, norms and hegemonic truths are sacred. This process of learning has taught me that being terrified of change at dawn will make me daft at dusk. However, I am not naïve to believe that all change is benign. Beware of noxious ideas disguised as change and coated with complicated slogans and rhetoric. I hope that through our unshakable determination like the phoenix bird, we will re-learn, challenge ourselves to stand up against intolerance and appreciate the richness in our diversity as a people. This is the day which the Lord has made, I will rejoice, be glad in it and proudly call myself a Demon Deacon.

 

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