Jodie Geddes, a native of Jamaica, spoke on behalf of the Class of 2014 at Commencement on May 17.
Jodie came to Guilford from in Brooklyn, N.Y, and she graduates with a degree in community and justice studies and a minor in education. She feels called to create change in her community; as a Bonner Scholar she found herself while working with refugees and immigrants in the Triad. She will be entering graduate school at Eastern Mennonite University in order to pursue a degree in conflict transformation.
What follows are Jodie’s remarks as prepared:
I speak to you today without fear, in part because of my work as a student at Guilford.
Bonjour, buenos dias, peace, good morning and congratulations to the class of 2014! I am very proud to be graduating with change makers, heart warmers and angelic troublemakers. Words have always been my canvas, but today my words emerge with joy in front of this large crowd. Let me start with the words of my favorite troublemaker, Tupac Shakur, who once said, “I’m a reflection of the community.” I am certainly glad to be the reflection of this community.
Bayard Rustin coined the term “angelic troublemaker” during his service to the civil rights movement while being the chief organizer of the March on Washington, despite his lack of recognition because he self identified as gay, black and a Quaker. Rustin stated, “Our power is in the ability to make things unworkable.” Bayard is referring to the dismantling of unjust systems and practices. During my time at Guilford, my fellow students and I have learned to voice our ideas, even when those ideas are unsettling to those in power. We have developed ways to question and create.
How did I arrive at Guilford? I was born in Jamaica, West Indies, by way of Brooklyn, New York. When I stepped alone off a 10-hour bus ride onto Guilford’s campus, I felt powerful nervousness and excitement. Here the world was new and different. I did not have my mother by my side, and I remember stepping onto the grass, surrounded by the sound of cicadas and the shifting leaves of magnolia trees above me. Despite my nerves, I instantly knew this was where I belonged.
I later recognized that attending a predominately white institution would not be as easy and pretty as that first day on campus. I searched for a place to call my heart, my home. I became a Bonner Scholar and a Multicultural Leadership Scholar, and I gained important organizational, cultural competency and analytical skills. These skills allowed me to recognize that it didn't matter where I was, but who I was with. I heard these very same words echoed at a black LGBTQ civil rights conference where Mandy Carter spoke, one of the cofounders of Southerners On New Ground. Her words resonate with me to till day.
I need to be with people who want to shake foundations and clear out cluttered rooms to create space for those whose voices have yet to be heard. I became a Project Coordinator at Elimu Learning Center, which serves refugees and immigrants through tutoring services; this experience reveals that my commitment was not to a job but a practice I want to be engaged with for the rest of my life. I was living a divided life, however, between the joys of my passion and the requirements of my academic life. A Quaker troublemaker, Parker Palmer, wrote, “The more dividedness we perceive in each other the less safe and sane we feel.” After I began to open myself up to the young people I work with and my peers, I felt safe and committed to service as a way of living.
Paulo Freire stated in his most famous text, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “No one is born fully-formed: it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are.” I want you to close your eyes and ask yourselves, who have I become? This is not a speech but a call to performance. Leave Guilford today invested in a joyful life, one devoted to change.
Let me end with this story from West Africa:
The Sankofa is a mythical bird, a creature known for flying forward but looking backwards. Accompanying it are these words of wisdom: “Do not be afraid to go back to that which you have forgotten.” Remember this place when you leave Guilford: the canvases you have created, the words you have spoken, the laughter and tears released. These are the moments that will guide you.
In Jamaica we do not say good bye; we say, “Link up with you later.” Faculty, students, parents, friends, Link up with me later.