Peter Gabel received an honorary doctorate this year from San Francisco State University. Below is a transcript of his speech:
Thank you very much. I’m especially honored and grateful to be receiving this recognition from such a wonderful and important university that has always placed in the forefront its commitment to linking education with the creation of a more humane and just world. From the breadth and diversity of your faculty and student body, to your role in pioneering the development of ethnic studies and other socially progressive courses of study, to the words of your university mission statement that affirm your (and I quote) “unwavering commitment to social justice,” to the actions taken by the university in support of those words including the recent public stance taken by your President Les Wong in opposition to the legislation in Indiana that could have legitimized discrimination based on sexual orientation, San Francisco State has always embodied my ideal of what a public university should be. And in addition, I’m happy and proud that my son Sam is a student here studying among other things the relationship between hiphop, globalization and social change. So thank you very very much for inviting me to receive this honorary degree.
When I graduated from college in 1968, my father gave me two choices: either make a million dollars by the time you’re thirty or get a seat on the Supreme Court. Fortunately for me (although possibly not for him), in 1968 there was a radiant spirit of idealism in the air that drew me into the great social movements of that time—the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, the women’s movement, the environmental movement, the gay and lesbian movement, all movements that sought to transform the world in a more loving and just direction. In the years following my graduation, I came to realize that at the heart of all these social movements was a deep longing in all human beings for mutual recognition of our common humanity, a desire to become to fully present to each other as who we really are, to see each other, in the words of Martin Buber, as an I and Thou in a relationship of authentic human connection. And I also came to see that the world that we have inherited is too much infused with a fear of the other, with a fear of each other, that divides us, leads us to deny our desire to truly see and connect with one another, and leads to see the other as a threat rather than as the source of our completion as social beings. What I learned from the social movements of my youth was that we really can overcome the racism, the sexism, the more pathological forms of nationalism, and the other manifestations of the legacy of fear of the other that we have inherited—but only by building movements and organizations and workplaces and neighborhoods that foster empathy, compassion, and an open-hearted spirit of cooperation that allows our underlying longing for mutual recognition to spontaneously bubble up to the surface, and allows the underlying vulnerability that exists within each of us to become visible to the other person and to have it be met by the affirmation and love and grace that it deserves. As we build what Martin Luther King called “beloved communities” of this kind, with this kind of open-hearted spiritual and moral depth, I’m confident that we will gradually thaw the legacy of fear that separates us and create a world based on cooperation, economic and social equality, and concern for each other’s welfare .
So what I would say to you graduates today is this: Don’t listen to your fathers! Actually, I’m only kidding—my father was a wonderful person and I learned an enormous amount from him. But I am saying that another world is possible, and that whatever you may decide to do as you move your life forward, use your life energy to recognize the true humanity of the others you come into contact with, and through your efforts, help to give us all the confidence that the longing for a loving world that we each feel within ourselves actually exists in all of us, no matter how much out of fear we may at first conceal it. At some point, we really will emerge into public space as a great evolutionary social movement and we will transform the world for the better. As a poet of my generation put it: “You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one; I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.” Or as my son Sam puts it today in one of his verses, “When the masses come together intertwine the sounds//When it happens conquer Never and apply the Now.”