In an address that earned a unique standing ovation, the founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund urged the largest graduating class in Northampton Community College's history to define success in terms other than those celebrated by popular culture.
The standard for success might be defined widely as greed, said Marian Wright Edelman, a graduate of Yale Law School and the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. That, however, has spawned the world's richest society that simultaneously neglects and abandons children, she said.
For instance, she said the nation now spends far more money on prisons than on education. "That's the dumbest investment policy that I can imagine," she said.
In 2001, a black male had one chance in three of being in prison; Latino males, one chance in six, she said. Every 11 seconds, a student drops out of high school; every 32 seconds, a child is born into poverty.
Values are formed in childhood, she said, in her case centering on character, rather than possessions. When her father died, there were holes in his shoes, but two of his daughters had graduated from college, with another enrolled.
"We always know who we were," she said. "My father told me that as a black girl, I could do anything."
Among the attributes for meaningful success, she said, are:
- Don't expect lucky breaks. Instead, prepare to work for your goals.
- Don't ever be lazy. If the door is closed today, push on it tomorrow.
- Work systematically toward your goals. Assign yourself tasks.
- Don't ever work just to get money.
- Don't be afraid of standing up for your beliefs.
- Don't tolerate intolerance, in any shape or fashion.
- Don't ever give up on yourself.
Her own experience has convinced her that even seemingly insurmountable challenges can yield to collective action. Fleas, acting strategically, "can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable."
Edelman paid special tribute to graduates in the early education program.
According to college officials, Thursday's graduating class of 853 students, in combination with graduates in January, made this the largest class of graduates in the college's history.