Brandeis Alumni, Family and Friends

Jainaba Gaye, Heller MA’21: 'Have the Courage to Pursue Your Dreams'

May 26, 2022


Wow. I did not think that I would be back here in person delivering this speech. But I'm happy to be here. First of all, I want to commend each and every one of you for the efforts that you've put in to reach this incredible milestone. To President Liebowitz, the deans, members of the Board of Trustees, honorary degree recipients, faculty, staff, alumni, and to every loved one gathered here today. It is my honor to welcome you as I speak on behalf of the graduate students, walking across the stage at this special celebration.

While preparing for my speech, I had a lot of thoughts that ran through me. As I reflected on the past year and my time at Brandeis, I had a fear that really struck me that I feel compelled to share with you this evening. As fellow Brandeis alumna and social justice activist, Dr. Angela Davis greatly put it, “I try never to take myself for granted as somebody who should be out there speaking. Rather, I'm doing it only because I feel there's something important that needs to be conveyed.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been devastating on so many levels. In March of 2020, it forced us to close our doors, homes, and businesses. And as we anxiously waited to exhale, unsure of what was to come next, time still fleeted by; life still went on. But in a way that we have never experienced before. Some of us, myself included, were miles away from home while still trying to excel in various degree programs and take care of ourselves. Now, the pandemic is in no way over. But as we are slowly picking up the pieces and rebuilding our lives, if there's anything that the pandemic has highlighted, it is the true value of time, especially the time that we get to spend with loved ones. More importantly, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of competence, social structures and institutions.

I believe that every person who has passed through, or is still passing through this institution of higher learning is seeking to positively impact those institutions. And, while navigating through such a complex world, we can count on our experiences here at Brandeis to guide and inform us. The knowledge and experiences that I obtained here have allowed me to contribute in my own ways, to causes dedicated to fostering positive change. All over the world. Brandeis alumni like us are relentlessly carrying forth this knowledge and moving beyond the theoretical approach.

While doing such work, self-confidence is key. The belief that your voice matters and deserves to be heard and amplified is just as relevant in creating change. In the words of Daniel Pope, you were created to do good work, work that empowers and inspires, liberates and transforms, restores, and softens. I think that we sometimes get so caught up in trying to fix, change and heal the world that we forget that it starts with us, and that seeking to cause positive change is not meant to harden us or break our spirits.

This reminds me of a lecture I attended, given by Dr. David Steele titled, “Caring For the Peace Builder, Caring For Oneself.” I was a poetry major. The lecture explored ways in which we as peacebuilders can cater to ourselves while tackling conflicts, especially in challenging contexts. This is something that I hope continues on a larger scale here at Brandeis and beyond. In our quest for social justice and advancement. I hope that we also recognize that this also means standing with oppressed people everywhere.

So, as you walk out of these doors today, may you have the courage to fearlessly pursue your dreams and walk your path and embody all that it means to be resilient and graceful. May you have the capacity to be patient with yourselves while life continues to unfold for you. Most importantly, I urge you to recognize that time is one of the most precious and irreplaceable resources that you have, and I hope and pray that you are always acute with the discernment to use it wisely. And lastly, I hope that today and in the future that you will always remember that you're worthy of celebration and that you continue to do so for yourselves and others, even for seemingly minute milestones.

Thank you and congratulations.


Visit Commencement 2022 for full coverage of Brandeis commencement day for the classes of 2022, 2021 and 2020.