“Every place should allow the freedom to laugh”

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Gloria Steinem, who was made an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at Wesleyan’s 190th launch, called on the Class of 2022 to build on the steps their generation has already taken to tackle the ills of the world and to do with laughter.

“You are already the generation of Black Lives Matter and Bans Off Our Bodies. You know that the amount of melanin or hormones in our body does not change the fact that each of us arrives on this Earth as a unique miracle; an event that could never have happened before and could never happen again,” Steinem said.

Steinem is known as a fearless political activist, feminist organizer, and writer who has dedicated her life and work to dismantling patriarchy and other forms of social injustice. In 1972, she co-founded M/s. magazine, and remained one of its editors for 15 years. In 1968, she participated in the foundation New York magazine. Steinem helped establish the Ms. Foundation, one of the first and largest women’s funds in the United States; the Women’s Media Center, a non-partisan media organization dedicated to telling the stories of women and girls; and the National Women’s Political Caucus, a group that continues to work to advance the number of pro-equality women in elected and appointed positions at the national and state levels. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Steinem made the following remarks at Wesleyan’s 190th launch ceremony on May 22:

Early 2022

Dear dear graduates, families, friends of graduates, teachers and administrators, all the workers who prepared this day, and all those who have just passed because, like me, you like graduation ceremonies. This is because degrees are both an end and a beginning. Statistically speaking, they are more permanent than marriages. And they’re also a celebration of learning and friendships that will last you a lifetime.

For me, this campus has a very special meaning. When I was a student, this was a rare place that hosted Vietnam veterans in classes. Later, my dear friend, the late Sheila Tobias, established one of the first women’s studies programs here. Before that, the story was literally His narrative.

Also, once, while I was speaking here in the 1970s, a guy decided to follow the tradition of the time, which was to run across the stage with no clothes on. According to someone whose memory is better than mine, I managed to say, “For men, release may be streaky, but for women, it’s not having to streak.” Now I’m glad the tradition is gone for men too.

I say all this to capture in our imaginations the many futures you will create. You are already the generation of Black Lives Matter and Bans Off Our Bodies. You know that the amount of melanin or hormones in our body does not change the fact that each of us arrives on this Earth as a unique miracle; one that could never have happened before and could never happen again.

And with new global technology and a new Democratic consciousness, you will challenge the artificial boundaries that have divided us in the past. Thanks to everything from technology to COVID, we now know that we are all passengers on Spaceship Earth. Just as we all share a global danger, we all share a global hope.

As you may have guessed, I am a hope junkie. I believe that hope is a form of planning. Statistically speaking, about a third of the country still appears challenged by racial and gender justice. The first generation which is mostly babies of color, however, has already been born. Diversity and democracy are like a tree, they don’t grow from the top down, but from the bottom up. And they grow, and you are part of that growth.

So just remember that what you do every day matters – what you say, what you encourage, what you oppose, what you imagine, what you love with all your heart – and that includes the laugh.

In Native American traditions, there is a spirit of laughter, a will-o’-the-wisp that is neither male nor female. After all, fear can be coerced, just like love, if we stay addicted long enough. But nothing, nothing on Earth, can force laughter. It happens when we suddenly learn something, see a contrast, or witness the freedom of a child or animal. And also laughter, it turns out, is good for our health.

So try never to go to a place that does not allow you to laugh, not even a church, temple or mosque. Each place must allow the freedom of laughter. And then you will know that you are free, as we all are on this great day of entering the future. Thanks thanks thanks!

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