By Taína Asili
This year's graduating class of the Individualized Master of Arts program at Goddard College proudly invited Mumia Abu-Jamal to be the keynote speaker of their commencement this past Sunday, August 10th 2008. It was a unanimous decision made by all of the graduates to invite Abu-Jamal, alumni of the college, to shed his wisdom and insight as a renowned journalist, freedom-fighter, and scholar.
Mumia Abu-Jamal first walked upon the grassy hills of Vermont's alternative college as a student working towards his BA in the 1970's. Unable to complete his degree work then, it was Goddard who he once again approached in the 1990's, yet this time as a U.S. political prisoner. He chose Goddard because, "Goddard was ahead of the curve, transforming individuals and their respective communities by expanding the realm of knowledge based on the fundamental principles of democracy."
It was during this work that he met his adviser and ally, Margo MacLeod, who guided Abu-Jamal through the difficult process of completing his BA degree from behind prison walls. Years later, MacLeod became the founder and Program Director of the IMA program, which these graduates have just completed, helping to support a unique form of education for hundreds of students, just as she had for Abu-Jamal. It is for this reason MacLeod, who is no longer working at the college as of this year, was chosen by the graduates to introduce Abu-Jamal during their commencement. In her introduction MacLeod shares, "It seems to me that Mumia has achieved the kind of integration of body, mind, and spirit that we strive for within this program, and that each graduate today has achieved in some measure in their work."
Following MacLeod's introduction, Abu-Jamal's voice rang strong through two large speakers facing the audience, a packed house of eleven graduates, their family members, fellow students and college faculty. Some graduates had worried that not having his physical body present might create a vacant atmosphere. However, this fear was dispelled, as evidenced by the resounding standing ovation following his speech by a great majority of those in attendance.
During this passionate speech Abu-Jamal shared his fond feelings towards the college, and his appreciation for what he termed "one of the finest and most unique colleges in the country." He also warned the graduates, "You leave Goddard at a time when the nation and the world faces serious challenges, as do indeed you all. What the nation needs, and indeed what the world needs as well, is new clear thinking about the challenges facing us." Later adding, "But as Goddard grads you are all fully equipped with the ability to think, a faculty I might add not much in evidence in our national political life I'm afraid. But this ability when used critically and flexibly may yet result in finding sane, humane solutions to our problems."
One graduate, James Rose, reacted to Abu-Jamal's speech by stating, "I was inspired by Mumia's speech. His voice and words invoked a renewed commitment to truth and compassion, a commitment I need to practice every day. As a graduate with the privilege of a higher education, he reminded me of my new roles of teacher, leader, and an open-minded thinker."
As one of the graduates myself, my hope is that Mumia Abu-Jamal's voice at our graduation will help to shed light on his unjust incarceration reflecting the work he has done to shine light on us all.
Listen to Mumia Abu Jamal's 2008 Goddard College IMA Commencement speech here.
View clips of the introduction by Margo MacLeod here.
For more info on Mumia Abu-Jamal go to www.freemumia.com. On July 22, the US Third Circuit Court ruled against Mumia's en banc appeal, thereby affirming the court's March 27 decision denying him a new guilt-phase trial, or even a preliminary hearing that could have led to a new trial. Mumia is now appealing this to the US Supreme Court. The DA is expected to appeal to the US Supreme Court regarding the component of the March 27 ruling that overturned the death penalty and requires a new sentencing-phase jury trial for the death penalty to be reinstated. Read the response from Mumia's attorney, and articles by Linn Washington Jr, Jeff Mackler, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.