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Graduates of the Barton College class of 2019 soaked in words of wisdom delivered by the Rev. Canon Nontombi Naomi Tutu during the school’s commencement speech on Saturday.
Tutu, the missioner for racial and economic equity at the Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville, is the third child of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife, Nomalizo Leah Tutu. Archbishop Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his efforts in opposing the South African apartheid regime.
The Rev. Tutu witnessed firsthand the challenges her father faced and because of those observations, she’s spent her adult life advocating for human rights.
“Reverend Tutu is a visionary who brings people together, one who challenges the status quo while elevating care and compassion and hope,” said Barton College President Douglas N. Searcy in introducing the speaker. “Her work informs and it inspires. Naomi, we welcome you today to Barton College and we are looking forward to your message of encouragement.”
Tutu began by reciting the poem “I Will Not Die an Unlived Life,” by Dawna Markova, saying that the poem delivered an important lesson.
“I love this poem because I see in it both the challenge and encouragement that I would have liked to hear when I graduated … the challenge to be brave, be bold, to go out in the world and do things that no one ever thought were possible,” Tutu said. “To go out in the world and decide that you are going to change the world. And I promise you that our world desperately needs changing.”
“We live in a time when many live in fear, when many live in the margins of our society, where there seems to be more that separates us than brings us together. And therefore we need people who dream big, who see a different world, who believe that our world can indeed be a better place.”
Tutu said that in order to dream big, you must believe in your own abilities to change the world. She said that it’s all right if you don’t change a whole country or a whole country, but you must believe in your ability to change whatever community you find yourself in or change the world for one other person.
“So the poem calls you to leap into this world that Barton has prepared you for academically and I’m sure your friends have prepared you for socially,” Tutu said. “To leap into the world with compassion for the world starting with compassion for yourself. This poem says ‘Do not die without having lived your full live. Do not die without having taken chances that might seem to you ridiculous.’”
“As you leap, as you dream, as you fall, as you get back up again, that you will remember this day and all of those who have come to support you this day, but also all of those who have laid the foundation with you for this day … your faculty members, the administrators who run this institution, your friends who have been your support throughout these years. Remember your family who have loved and believed in you to this point so that when you step out into the world, you know that you are not doing it alone. Remember that you have a community that is holding you up today so that you can be the community that holds up others.”
“I ask that you walk out of here determined never to die an unlived life.”
Tutu was born in South Africa and educated in Swaziland, the United States and England. She earned a diploma in Anglican studies and Virginia Theological Seminary, a Master of Divinity degree at Vanderbilt Divinity School, a Master of Arts degree in international development and development economics at the University of Kentucky, a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and French at Berea College and a Diplome de Langue et Civilisation Francaises Degre Semestriel at the Universite de Paris, Sorbonne.
In addition to her speaking and preaching, Tutu established Nozizwe Consulting, which brings groups together to learn from and celebrate their differences and acknowledge their shared humanity. The consulting firm offers workshops for groups dealing with conflict. She has also offered educational and partnership trips to South Africa for groups, including high schools, churches, hospices and women’s associations.