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."