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DLCL 2024 Commencement Address

DLCL Commencement Ceremony with Fatoumata Seck providing speech 2024


Fatoumata Seck, Assistant Professor of French and Italian and, by courtesy, of Comparative Literature, delivered the 2024 Commencement Address on Sunday, June 16, 2024 at the DLCL Diploma Ceremony in Dinkelspiel Auditorium with the following speech:

"Hello and welcome everyone. Graduates: congratulations!

Parents, friends, allies, and supporters, thank you for being with us today to celebrate our graduates.

My name is Fatoumata Seck, I am a faculty member in the Department of French and Italian and I am delighted and honored to speak to you on behalf of the Division of Literatures Cultures and Languages.

Dear graduates, the entire Division—the faculty, staff, and fellow students you have journeyed with for years in pursuit of knowledge—all join me in saying: we are proud; proud of your achievements, proud of your learning journey, and proud to happily usher you out of Stanford!

Don’t worry, we’re not changing the locks just yet. You can always return if you miss thought-provoking humanities discussions.

Joking aside, I truly mean it. While pursuing an education in the humanities—especially in literature, cultures, and languages—may begin as a foray into the vast world of human knowledge; it soon becomes a grand return, a return to our own humanity. As we parse through texts, images, and artworks that span decades, centuries, and millennia, we not only gain and deepen our understanding about a subject matter, but also grow as individuals.

Developing your intellect and analytic skills, alongside your communication, research, and critical thinking skills through literary analysis and language learning also appeals to your moral and ethical reasoning. More than items in a toolbox, however, these skills are your companions in the next steps of your journey. They will accompany you as you begin this new chapter, will expand and transform as you go on to the next one, and will grow stronger with practice.

And so today, I would like to contemplate your academic journey at Stanford by sharing a story from which to reflect on your trajectory. And don’t worry: I will be brief! This story comes by way of visionary filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambety, in a film titled Le Franc, based on a short story he had written. It is part of an unfinished trilogy entitled “Tales of ordinary people,” through which Mambety paid an homage to ordinary people and the vicissitudes of everyday life in times of dire economic conditions.

The story is about a broke musician who owed rent to his landlady. His name was Marigo and he played thumb piano, which the landlady had confiscated until he paid his rent. Sad and lonely without his instrument, he went downtown where he purchased a lottery ticket, which he glued to the door of his room for safekeeping. Precaution turned into misfortune when he discovered he had in his possession a winning ticket. As you can guess, Marigo was unable to remove the ticket without damaging it. So, he decided to take the matter into his own hands—quite literally—and took the door off its hinges. He carried the cumbersome yet precious door throughout the bustling streets of the city. When he arrived at the lottery office, they told him he still needed to detach the ticket from the door.

I’m sure you understand his predicament: either tear off the ticket and hope it would still be accepted or imagine alternative ways to remove it from the door.

Telling you how the story ends would defeat the purpose, because Mambety’s focus was less on the resolution of Marigo’s dilemma than on the journey itself to find a solution, which he accompanied with music. As Marigo crossed the city with his door, Mambety transformed the film into a musical odyssey of hopes and dreams.

Mambety gave to the world this musical tale of ingenuity and creativity to remind us, among other things, that the journey was the true prize.

As you are at the end of a journey of your own and about to begin exciting new adventures, I invite you to reflect on the process that has brought you here. Think about moments when you were uncertain, when you got lost, and when you went through challenging times—when you struggled but nonetheless still found your way to this auditorium, today, ready to receive your hard-earned degree.

So, what have you gained along the way?

When Samba Diallo, the main character of Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s novel The Ambiguous Adventure, was asked why he decided to study philosophy, he confessed having a “morbid attraction of danger” before adding, “I have chosen the itinerary which is most likely to get me lost.”

While philosophers among us may not share the protagonist’s “morbid attraction of danger” they would agree that being lost can be a desirable outcome. As the saying goes: “To get lost is to learn the way.”

Bell Hooks once described “education as a practice of freedom” and the classroom as a “location of possibility.” Throughout your education, you have explored multiple possibilities and contemplated different futures. Your time here has been a time of exploration of the boundlessness of knowledge but also a time for self-discovery and personal growth.

You have navigated many worlds—past, present, and future—and in doing so you have become familiar with the discomfort of the new. This not only made you more adaptable and able to engage with ambiguity and contradiction, but also able to adjust to an ever-changing global landscape.

And in today’s world, we need such skills more than ever.

You have evolved in an environment where many languages not only coexist and thrive alongside one another but also engage in dialogue through the universal medium of literature. While people may joke about their capacity to remember the acronym DLCL, they will always recognize it as a space where intellectual nourishment and cultural consciousness are acquired through exchange rather than in isolation.

You have embraced multilingualism as a passport to other worldviews, sometimes making them your own. And throughout the patient process of language learning, you have acquired new lenses through which to observe attentively, understand critically, and connect deeply with distant lands and cultures. In doing so, you have translated Frantz Fanon’s words into action when he said: “To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture.”

This rich experience would not have been possible without the generosity, guidance, and comradery of those who dedicated their time, effort, and care to you. As Edwidge Danticat reminds us, “you have pencils and paper only because the trees gave themselves in unconditional sacrifice.” In other words, your successes don’t happen in a vacuum; you stand on the shoulders of generous beings, and in extending our hands to those who follow, we are nurturing the growth of others.

As you navigate the complexities of the world, remember the humorous wisdom of Machado de Assis, whose narrator Bras Cubas, recounting his life story from the grave with great sincerity and a little dose of cynicism, shared the following maxim that should help you take things lightly: “Do not feel bad if your kindness is met with ingratitude; it is better to fall from your dream clouds than from a third-story window.”

Fortunately, you’re skilled at building bridges, not windows. These bridges foster exchange and create connections. By studying world civilizations, you safeguarded their legacies. And in so doing you heed the cautionary words of Aimé Césaire who contends: “A civilization that withdraws into itself atrophies” and that “for civilizations, exchange is oxygen.”

So, dear graduates, investigate those commonalities that trump differences, for as one of novelist Maryse Condé’s most memorable characters rightly argues: “In a world that often thrives on division, unity remains our greatest act of defiance.”

As graduates, you are entering a world filled with challenges yet ripe with opportunities. Strive for peace and make steps toward restoring to our world its part of humanity. This requires not just extinguishing the fires that are burning in many parts of the world but also healing ancient wounds and planting new seeds for new beginnings.

It is a challenge that humanists are poised to take up, not only as decision-makers and knowledge-producers but also as conscious dreamers in a world that needs alternatives. For we have learned as we read and write to imagine the world otherwise. In our critical analyses, we learn to discern truth from equivocation and by reading the world closely, we peel away the complex layers that constitute it.

Hannah Arendt reminds us of the power of an education driven by love, a love that thrives on its power to release control. She noted that, “education . . . is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, . . . but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.”

As you are sent off into the world, I have no doubt that you will innovate; while you are at it, do not forget to embrace the irrational and the unexpected. Just as works of imagination have altered reality by expanding our ways of knowing, seeing, and being in the world, I ask that you thrive to expand your horizons in every little task you undertake. And in so doing, keep in mind these wise words from Fyodor Dostoevsky: “If everything on earth were rational, nothing would happen.”

Congratulations, graduates. May you go into this world with the worlds and words that have shaped your journey over the past few years. Open your minds and souls with generosity and kindness. Embrace your uniqueness, for it contributes to a greater understanding of our shared existence. Deploy your skills with intentionality and responsibility, put them to the service of causes that are close to your heart and at the service of society. Never cease to be curious. And when faced with a tough dilemma, think of Marigo’s musical journey to unglue his lottery ticket. You have many exciting journeys ahead and each with its own riches to come.

Thank you"