Hamidou Sylla '21

"A Letter to Us": Remarks to Graduates-April 18, 2021

"Dear Hamidou,

Congratulations and welcome to the class of 2021! It is our pleasure to welcome you to, it is our pleasure to, it is our pleasure… "

See, the rest of the words on the acceptance letter no longer mattered, for the sensation of pleasure and screams of joy engulfed the hollow spaces of our small kitchen and the loud sound of my racing heartbeat prevented my brain from processing the rest of the words on the page. 

In those short seconds, the only thoughts I could think was, what is this that I am feeling inside? This weird sensation, never felt before. This sensation that causes eruptions of emotions in me, emotions felt before. Emotions that causes me to look past the eviction notices spread out across my kitchen table and push me to dare. Dares me to dream of opportunities beyond the confines of my circumstances and envision a future, where, I alleviate the burdens, life has placed on the shoulders of this one strong, immigrant, Black woman, who happens to be my mother. 

See, in those short seconds, my 17-year-old soul could not fully comprehend nor appreciate what it meant for a Black boy to be getting an education. Little did I know, I was joining the class of, the James Baldwin from America, the Kwame N'Krumah from Ghana, and the Sojourner Truths', who looked at this world that deemed her unfit, and reshaped it in her own image. I was stepping into the legacies of generations of Black and Brown people who paved the way for me to get this education. 

I was to shoulder the weight of my ancestors' spirits who found themselves punished for crimes of literacy, who suffered savage beatings, who had their fingers and toes amputated, who were mutilated, and even murdered, for daring to read or daring to get educated. 

Dear Class of 2021, I paint you this picture of our collective history because memory matters. Do not take this education you’ve received for granted. Because the education we’ve received from St. Lawrence University is the biggest threat to injustice and the best hope for humanity. For St. Lawrence is raising the future leaders of our institutions. We are the best products of the American education system. 

See, due to the pandemic, we can not all gather on this glorious day to perform our traditional candlelight ceremony. Regardless of where you end up in life, you must all continue to be that candlelight that burns brightly in dark times, and continue to illuminate the flames of hope and reason for the rest of the world to follow.  

Class of 2021, we are undoubtedly, one of the best, if not, most ambitious, tenacious, and compassionate classes to come out of St. Lawrence University. The administration themselves could attest to this, since our graduation is no longer just a glorified study break. My fellow graduates, we’ve weathered a global pandemic, we’ve founded the Black Laurentina Initiative to address to racial inequities and injustices in our society. On this journey, we’ve lost loved ones, we’ve grieved, and mourned together. Yet one thing that has remained constant these past 4 years is our ability to come together, to support one another, to learn and grow as a community, and to value our relationships. That compassion is what this world needs most. We have immense responsibilities waiting for us beyond these 1,100 acres of our campus, for we are the ones who will reinvigorate and reimagine this world in our own image.  

Let the ocean of your passions submerge this globe in the innovations you constantly cook up in the living room of your minds. Let the confidence of your degree, break the shackles of self-doubt. Life will test you again and again, some trials will be harder to overcome than others, but like pulling an all-nighter just to take an 8 a.m. exam, we shall overcome. Some days you will consider quitting, but the fact that you are sitting here today, is a testament that you will have enough faith on those days to keep going.  

My sophomore year, some loved ones who were dear to my heart. The frown on my face that year created a map of my pain clear enough for those who cared about me to lend a supporting hand. Laurentians, I mention this to say, care for someone, care for something, because that is who we are in our essence. As you leave campus for the last time, remember that we are one another's network because we all have chosen to be Laurentians for life. 

100 years from now, when we are all gone, and the memories of us have faded into nothingness, New Laurentians will walk these paths that you have, they sit in these seats that we are sitting in now, they will make memories of their own, draft the poems of their own lives, and maybe wonder about the lives of those who came before them, the same way I am now! Maybe they will ask: Who we were, what we were like as a people, and what we accomplish? I hope the answers to their questions fill them with joy and pride! Motivate them to write 100 poems that will be read by students a hundred years from now! For when they look up at the dark sky, they will stare at the same moon that we have been staring at these past 4 years, just like those before us did, and like those after us will! For the choice to be a Laurentian for life is a bond that transcends time itself, and as lasting as life itself! 

In the words of Lin Manuel Miranda, from the musical Hamilton: I know that greatness lies in you, but remember from here on in, history has its eyes on you! 

Class of 2021, it has been a pleasure and an honor being on this journey with you. This is not an end but a new beginning. 

To future Laurentians and graduates, come here and make this place your own. Take all it has to offer! 


To the friends we made on this journey, Thank you!  

To the Faculty who contributed to the productions of these great minds, Thank you! 

To the staff and administrator who keep this school functioning on a daily basis, Thank you! 

To the Alumni who supported us on this journey, Thank you! 

To the families and loved ones watching tonight, and who supported us on this long journey, Thank you! 

To anyone, who has played a role in this chapter of our lives called St. Lawrence, Thank You!!! 

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!