On May 19, Chimamanda Adichie, dressed in a dark, flamboyant top and a giant afro, stood in front of a lectern draped with a Yale College banner, and gave a riveting Class Day speech that lasted just a few seconds shy of 29 minutes. “So last year, the Class Day Speaker was Hilary Rodham Clinton,” the globally celebrated novelist said at the start. “This year you got me.” The crowd cheered.
Class Day is a Yale College tradition dating to the 19th century. It includes student reflections on the class’s four years at Yale, the awarding of undergraduate prizes for academic, artistic, athletic, and community accomplishments, and, of course, an address by a prominent figure.
In a way, it was a sort of homecoming for Adichie, whose writings have been translated into more than thirty languages. She received her master of arts in African studies from Yale in 2008. “I’m looking forward very much to being back on campus,” Adichie said, when she accepted the invitation.
The speech she gave was memorable. And I have decided to share some of the quotes and life lessons I gleaned from it:
1) It is human and okay to have contradictions.
2) Confidence is a journey. A continuous journey and not an absolute destination.
3) Be open to changing your mind. It is often a sign of growth. Be open to the possibility that you might be wrong.
4) Marry being idealistic with being pragmatic.
5) Engage with the world as it is, otherwise you won’t really get anything done but as you do it is important to have as a guiding light a clear vision of what the world should be.
6) On equality and submission; why will a well-balanced person need another person to submit?
7) For those in the corporate world; hire women in executives and not just in human relations!
8) Journalism should be about the truth not about balance…and if you do become a journalist, please learn how to say I’m sorry.
9) Knowing how to say I am sorry and meaning I am sorry will serve you well no matter what course your life takes. And if you are one of those people who seem unable to say those words – I am sorry – there is hope. Practicing in front of a mirror helps. Don’t change the subject. Don’t pretend that nothing happened. Don’t buy a gift and deflect. Don’t ride it out in silence hoping it will go away. Just say I am sorry. A few times if necessary and of course it helps if you actually mean it.
10) Do not ever apologize for existing or for taking up space in the world or for having a well considered opinion – particularly to women.
11) You do not have to make room in your life for people who wish you harm.
12) Always look at primary sources first. A useful lesson especially in this age of easy outrage.
13) Honour the doubts that you have. Honour the questions that you have. Do not silence yourself.
14) Don’t be that person who attacks or demeans because you are unable to convince.
15) Nurture your ambitions. Seek to be successful. But keep in mind that there are hollows that success will not fill.
16) Have friends. Many friends. Or just one friend. Hold your family close and family doesn’t necessarily mean those to whom you are related by blood or by social institutions. Hold your friends close. Stand up for your loved ones. Tell the people you love that you love them. Tell them often. Find reasons to laugh. Gravitate towards people with whom you never feel that pressure to perform or to be what you’re not.
17) Never admire quietly. We do not always recognize what is beautiful in ourselves, in our spirits, until somebody has pointed it out to us. And remember that people will hardly ever forget small acts of kindness.
18) Be kind. Paying attention is one of the most beautiful acts of kindness. The people you will come across in your life will not forget when you are kind and they will not forget when you are unkind. ✚
Onwukwe is a contributing writer to The Question Marker. She is a lawyer whose love for African Literature is unmatched and the host of The AfroReader Podcast – where she talks about books and how they mirror culture, society, and lifestyle.