My research into the roots of black sacred music as protest music repeatedly took me to the great African American writer, educator and leader, W.E.B. Du Bois.
In his Autobiography, Du Boise closes with advice to his recently born great-grandson. Du Boise is 90 as he pens these words; his Autobiography was first published in the United States in 1968, five years after his death. It is remarkably appropriate for today, not just for May and June graduates, but for all of us:
The most distinguished guest of this festive occasion is none other than my great-grandson, Arthur Edward McFarlane II, who was born this last Christmas Day. He had kindly consented to permit me to read to you a bit of advice which, as he remarked with a sign of resignation, great-grandparents are supposed usually to inflict on the helpless young. This then is my word of advice:
“As men go, I have had a reasonably happy and successful life, I have had enough to eat and drink, have been suitably clothed and, as you see, have had many friends. But the thing which has been the secret of whatever I have done is the fact that I have been able to earn a living by doing the work which I wanted to do and work that the world needed done.
“I want to stress this. You will soon learn, my dear young man, that most human beings spend their lives doing work which they hate and work which the world does not need. It is therefore of prime importance that you early learn what you want to do; how you are fit to do it and whether or not the world needs this service. Here, in the next 20 years, your parents can be of use to you. You will soon begin to wonder just what parents are for besides interfering with your natural wishes. Let me therefore tell you: parents and their parents are inflicted upon you in order to show what kind of person you are; what sort of world you live in and what the persons who dwell here need for their happiness and well-being.
“Income is not greenbacks, it is satisfaction; it is creation; it is beauty. It is the supreme sense of a world of men going forward, lurch and stagger thought it may, but slowly, inevitably going forward, and you, you yourself with your hand on the wheels. Make this choice, then, my son. Never hesitate, never falter.
“And now comes the word of warning: the satisfaction with your work even at best will never be complete, since nothing on earth can be perfect. The forward pace of the world which you are pushing will be painfully slow. But what of that: the difference between a hundred and a thousand years is less than you now think. But doing what must be done, that is eternal even when it walks with poverty.”
Though Du Bois is gone, these words live on, for recent graduates, those who are yet to graduate and still too for those of us whose graduation days are decades behind us.
adapted by Robert Darden from an earlier blog on Rural Free Delivery…