On Saturday, Dec. 10, I served as the keynote speaker for the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs Commencement ceremony.

It’s always an honor to speak with these graduates and join with their friends and families in the celebration of their accomplishments. Their passions and eagerness inspire me with hope for our future. 

You can view my complete address on the Wilder School YouTube channel.

I was proud to join this memorable event alongside Wilder School Dean Susan Gooden. Dean Gooden’s transformational leadership has improved the quality of education for our students and elevated the reputation of our school. She is to be commended for her dedication to our success.

Our students not only receive a one-of-a-kind education, but they are also actively involved in serving their communities through research, internships and other hands-on learning experiences. These opportunities create a solid foundation for their career aspirations and ambitions. They’re not “going out into the world,” — they’re already in it.

We develop the critical thinking skills for our graduates to demand what is right and criticize what is wrong. They are well-prepared to face daunting challenges and push through barriers and boundaries to help transform our world. 

Stay tuned.

Below are my full remarks:

Dean Gooden, platform associates, colleagues, and staff at our school, thank you for the opportunity to be with you today. I commend Evan Hirsh for those excellent comments. He told it as it is and issued the charge and the challenge.

Congratulations are due to you graduates who are going through challenging times. The families and friends who have persisted through these difficulties are deserving of our thanks and gratitude.

The actions of those we look to for leadership, at all levels, nationally, state, local and yes, even at this university, leave us to raise serious questions about that leadership.

You, graduates, are weathering the storm and are entitled to demand what is right and criticize what is wrong. You do this by not going along to get along.  Let your actions and voices reflect the will of the people; and always listen to the people, all of the people.

You will find that today’s “enemy” might be tomorrow’s “friend”.

Don’t allow partisan divides to prevent you from finding meaningful accord.  Don’t allow race, gender, age, religion or any transitory constructs to obstruct your course.

This university was founded on the principles of inclusion of those whom history had predetermined to be inferior because of the color of their skin. I was a senator in the state legislature and I voted for the creation of VCU in our capitol city, Richmond, which was to be an instrument for change.

Sadly, there seems to have been a retreat from that noble purpose.

We are now the university where the board of visitors and the president proudly proclaim the branding of beer in the wake of a death caused by alcohol on the campus of the university. As a result of the student’s death, was reportedly caused by his fraternity initiators, his family was paid about $1 million dollars by VCU.

Paradoxically, the University College recently selected as the VCU Common Book “The Organ Thieves”. The book was the story of a man, Bruce Tucker, who had been taken to MCV when he was injured after falling off of a wall where he was sitting. He was soon thereafter pronounced dead. His brother was contacted and directed that his remains be transported to a mortician. The mortician informed the family that the body had several organs missing, his heart being one.  I was contacted by his brother to represent the family to determine how this could happen at MCV.  After discovering the truth of what was revealed, I filed a lawsuit contesting the taking of his heart without permission or consent from his family.

MCV took the position that he was dead, though his heart was still beating. They did not contact his family though his brother’s business card was in the shirt pocket. The trial led to a change in the legal definition of death.

We lost the case, as the judge would not let the evidence that there was no consent by the family for any transplant to be submitted to the jury. It is no coincidence that the year of the transplant, 1968, was the year I decided to be a partner in framing the rules of leadership when I was elected to the Virginia Senate. I am not suggesting that you have to run for office to be effective, but I am saying that you must make demands of those in office.

A few days prior to the Wilder Symposium, it was announced that VCU issued an apology and wanted to give the family of Bruce Tucker a plaque. They said they wanted their help in designing the plaque. This gaslighting was the first contact with the family.

In constructing new buildings some years ago, MCV discovered skeletal remains of slaves whose bodies were used for experimental purposes. The leadership conducted studies and made recommendations. As of this date, nothing has been done.  The same thing occurred at Georgetown University some years ago. 

They created a commission to study how they might address and redress the misdeeds of the past and they did something.

I have been advised that VCU leadership has now hired an “expert” who has recommended the creation of a commission to “study” if there was any wrongdoing on the part of VCU and to get back to the board with recommendations.

We’ve seen this act before.

The Board of Visitors should direct the proper course of action without a needless study and waste of money.  The adage still holds true, “to know what is right and not to do it is for want of courage.”

There have been other displays of the lack of leadership affecting the lives, health and safety of the people.  A prominent Wilder School professor recently publicly proclaimed that “VCU has lost its way”; I agree with this sentiment.

This was not a knee-jerk reaction. It should be observed as a “wake-up call.” It’s up to you to correct that wayward course; there is no excuse for leadership to engage in actions for which students would be expelled; plagiarism and suggested illegal actions by any leadership anywhere must not be tolerated.

I am fortunate in my experiences to have been a participant in positive change and to bear witness to what is right and what is wrong.

The future of our nation is in your hands. If there is one request I could make of you that you could carry forth from this place — listen to the people.

You can’t watch the television or listen to the radio without hearing the “good guys” berate the “bad guys”. The money they spend is unimaginable.  Where does that money come from? And who benefits therefrom? I can speak from experience; it doesn’t take that kind of money to represent the people; but from special interests groups which raises another question.

We don’t have adequate money for the needs of the people for improved teacher pay, for adequate health care, for affordable housing or improved public safely, but billions for elections, to serve whom?

We borrow the money and we expect future generations to pay off the debt.

Our national leaders can falsely justify sending billions of dollars of taxpayer’s money to nations around the world with no reasonable accountability required, while ignoring our own needs.

You graduates are in a position to make a difference.

This doesn’t mean you’ve got to be an elected or appointed official.  It means that if the leadership wants to stay where they are, they had better listen to you   — or be replaced.

You, graduates, are now better positioned to be seen and heard. As graduates of the Wilder School, highly ranked nationally and number one in Virginia, under the superb leadership of Dean Susan T. Gooden, faculty and staff.  

Go out and be a part of that polity that has joined the ranks of demanding what is right and criticizing what is wrong and work collaboratively to find solutions to the prevailing issues plaguing our society. 

It is that which makes the difference.

Congratulations.  Do it.

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