Sunday, May 21, Morehouse College, the nation’s largest liberal arts college for men, celebrated more than 300 members of the class of 2017. Van Jones, a CNN political correspondent and former White House policy adviser to former President Barack Obama, was the guest speaker for the institution’s 133rd Commencement Ceremony.
Morehouse College Interim President Bill Taggart shared why Jones was selected.
“As Morehouse College celebrates its 150th year of serving scholars, we are honored to have Van Jones, a world-renowned journalist, political insider, and best-selling author as our graduation speaker. At Morehouse, we groom scholars to become change-agents in business and government, in math and science, and in the arts.
“Our students not only grow intellectually; they also grow in their understanding of their responsibility to serve their communities,” Taggart said. “Van Jones’ work in social justice and the environment will inspire our students to become servant leaders in their careers.”
Jones is the host of “The Messy Truth,” a popular town hall political series on CNN. His work as green jobs adviser to Obama in 2009 spurred the growth of a skilled workforce in the nation’s environmental and green energy sectors. Jones helped lead the inter-agency process that oversaw $80B in green energy skills training and economic recovery spending.
During his address to the graduating seniors, he shared, “Now begins a new era. You leave here with a new set of opportunities and obligations. You are uniquely positioned [to meet challenges and opportunities we discovered]. There is not one center of power in America.”
Jones went on to share there are four power centers: Wall Street, the plutocracy; Washington, D.C., the democracy; Silicon Valley, the technocracy and Hollywood.
He added, “If there will be Black progress, it’s because you decided to upgrade the strategy for Black [advancement] in the same way that Thurgood Marshall … Ella Jo Baker … Fannie Lou Hamer … Bayard Rustin … Dr. King … Jesse Louis Jackson … Barack and Michelle Obama had to upgrade. They couldn’t do what was done before. They had to do a new thing. You are now called to do a new thing. The beginning of an era is an opportunity to define it.”
Demarius Brinkley, president of the Senior Class Council, says Jones is a role model for the class of 2017: “We are honored to have Van Jones, an environmental leader, and former adviser to President Obama, speak at graduation. It is appropriate and timely to pause during our celebration for graduating scholars to welcome a voice that will allow us to reflect on the political, social, and economic climates and assess how we are able to, in our respective areas of work, improve and advance global communities as world-defining leaders.”
Jones, who has a law degree from Yale University, is currently a fellow at the MIT Media Lab. He is the author of two New York Times best-selling books, The Green Collar Economy, an examination of the environmentally friendly jobs market, and Rebuild the Dream, which traces his journey as an activist to his role at the White House.
Jones is the founder and president of the national organization Dream Corps, an incubator, platform, and home for innovative initiatives that close prison doors and open opportunities to some of the most economically disadvantaged populations in the country. Dream Corps’ programs #YesWeCode, #cut50 and Green For All are helping to bring jobs and training programs to low-income youth and their communities.
For his work as an environmental and human rights activist, Jones has received numerous recognitions and awards, including The World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader designation; an NAACP Image Award; Rolling Stone’s 2012 “12 Leaders Who Get Things Done” list honoree, and Time’s 2009 “100 Most Influential People in The World” list honoree.
Jones closed his keynote with the following three strategies on how students can impact the four power centers.
The three things that I will say to you that will give you good guidance as you step up to what must feel like to you a nearly impossible challenge.
- Your destiny is more important than your fate. Everybody has a fate and everybody has a destiny. They are not the same thing. Your fate is the stuff you can’t do anything about. For example, I can never be a good-looking, 23-year-old Asian guy. I was born at a certain time, a certain place, and a certain body. The most miserable people you will ever meet are the people who sit and bemoan their fate. There are only a few people who recognize there is something else. Your destiny is the call to greatness inside you.
- Your soul is more important than your ego. “You” is plural. Your ego should play small. You don’t need a big ego. A big ego presents a big target and gets very little done. You need a small, strong ego. Let your soul shine beautiful. Let your connection to God, your people and your purpose play huge. You can change the world.
- “We” is more than important than “me.” As a profession or within your profession, if you feel you have the ability to be a world class communicator of your values … you have each other, a power network that will help you change the world.