Toni Morrison's Commencement Address to the Wellesley College Class of 2004


“Being your own story means you can always choose the tone. It also means that you can invent the language to say who you are and what you mean.”

The renowned and prolific author, who was the first African American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Toni Morrison delivered a thought provoking and inspiring commencement speech to the Wellesley Class of 2004.

I have to confess to all of you, Madame President, Board of Trustees, members of the faculty, relatives, friends, students. I have had some conflicted feelings about accepting this invitation to deliver the Commencement Address to Wellesley’s Class of 2004. My initial response, of course, was glee, a very strong sense of pleasure at, you know, participating personally and formally in the rites of an institution with this reputation: 125 years of history in women’s education, an enviable rostrum of graduates, its commitment sustained over the years in making a difference in the world, and its successful resistance to challenges that women’s colleges have faced from the beginning and throughout the years. An extraordinary record—and I was delighted to be asked to participate and return to this campus.

But my second response was not so happy. I was very anxious about having to figure out something to say to this particular class at this particular time, because I was really troubled by what could be honestly said in 2004 to over 500 elegantly educated women, or to relatives and friends who are relieved at this moment, but hopeful as well as apprehensive. And to a college faculty and administration dedicated to leadership and knowledgeable about what that entails. Well, of course, I could be sure of the relatives and the friends, just tell them that youth is always insulting because it manages generation after generation not only to survive and replace us, but to triumph over us completely.