As you leave Duke Ellington, you’re entering and running into a world in which many budgets for the arts have being slashed. So what must you do? What can you do? You might all have to become art activists. Be talented, be beautiful, be outspoken. At times you have to take your drama from the stage to the streets.

Know your rights as artists. Take risks. Let no one censor you. Even here in the United States, never take for granted the freedom of expression.

For those of you who are writers (like myself), I challenge you to restore beauty to the world. Be a witness to pain and suffering but give birth to brightness and hope.

For those of you who are writers, I challenge you to create a new narrative, to give our people a new vocabulary, so that we will be able to speak of beauty and not our ugliness.

For those of you who are artists, who leave Ellington today, to sing and dance into the world. Remember the trails and tribulations of Paul Robeson, as well as Lena Horne.

Since you are graduating from an arts school, you must be international in your thinking. Surround yourself with friends from different countries, learn the art traditions of other cultures. Find the time to collaborate with other artists. This is how one learns.
This is how one grows.

Finally, practice, practice, practice. Read, read, read; especially philosophy books. Be men and woman of great ideas. Always think about and ponder the big questions:

Who are you?
Why are you here?

Literary activist, poet, IPS Board Chair, Director of Howard Univ.’s African American Resource Center and friend E. Ethelbert Miller gave the graduation speech for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts June 11. Graduation speeches for young artists are a challenge. You can drop the fluff bomb about reaching for the stars; or deliver the bad news about the odds for success – the musical chairs game.

For me, this is the most important sentence from Ethelbert’s speech:
There comes a time when a person must not only dream but build.

Read the entire speech on his E-Notes blog. Print out a copy and slip it into your book of inspirational reading.