Commencement Address,Fisk University, 1898by W.E.B. DuBois
New York Council for the Humanities | T 212.233.1131 | www.nyhumanities.org
Never before have so many hands and heads joined to make the earth yield to her increase, to make glad thewaste places of the earth, to ply the loom, and whirl the spindle, and transform the useless and the worthless…[We] have made the earth smaller and life broader by annihilating distance, magnifying the human voice and thestars, binding nation to nation, until to-day, for the first time in history, there is one standard of human culture aswell in New York as in London, in Cape Town as in Paris, in Bombay as in Berlin.Is not this, then, a century worth living in—a day worth serving? And though toil, hard, heavy toil, be the price of life, shall we not, young men and women, gladly work and sacrifice and serve…?And we serve first for the sake of serving—to develop our own powers, gain the mastery of this human machine,and come to the broadest, deepest self-realization. And then we serve for the real end of service, to make life nonarrow, selfish thing, but to let it sweep as sweeps the morning—broad and full and free for all men and all time,that you and I and all may earn a living and earth, too, more than that, a life worth living.But you who, firm and inspired, turn toward the work of living, undismayed, knowing the world that was, loving the world that is, and believing in the world that is to be, just what can you do—what careers can you follow torealize the ideals and hopes of this day? You cannot surely be knights and kings and magicians, but you can choose careers fully as wonderful and muchmore useful… You see the laborer, the wizard who places his weak shoulders against the physical world andoverturns mountains and pushes away forests, and guides the rivers, and garners the harvests. You see themanufacturer guiding the laborer with brains and with capital: he is the alchemist in whose alembic dirt turns tohouses, grass to coats, and stones to food. The merchant you see standing beside him, the prophet who enablesus to laugh at famine, and want, and waste, by bringing together buyer and seller, maker and user, reader andwriter. There is the teacher, the giver of immortal life, the one who makes the child to start where his fathers leftoff, that the world may think on with one mind. Yonder stands the physician with the long sought elixir of life, thelawyer clothed in justice, the minister who seeks to add to justice righteousness, and to life ideals higher thanlife. Your restless eye may easily overlook the corner where sits the scientist seeking the truth that shall make usfree, or the other, where the artist dies that there may live a poem or painting or a thought.And with the life work chosen, remember that it can become, as you will it, drudgery or heroism, prosaic orromantic, brutal or divine. Who of the world to-day cares whether Washington was a farmer or a merchant? Whothinks of Lincoln as a country lawyer, or reads St. Peter, the fisherman, prays to Jesus Christ the carpenter? If youmake the object of your life calling food and drink, food and drink, food and drink it will yield you grudgingly—butif above and beyond mere existence you seek to play well your part because it is worth playing—to do your dutybecause the world thirsts for your service, to perform clean, honest, thorough work, not for cheap applause, butbecause the work needs to be done, then is all your toil and drudgery transfigured into divine service and joinsthe mighty lives that have swept beyond time into the everlasting world. In this sense, is it, young men andwomen, that the vision of life you have gained here is truer and holier and more real than the narrow, sordidviews of life which you meet on the streets and in the homes of smaller souls. Cling to those ideals, cherish them,and in travail and sorrow, if need be, make them more true.
Careers Open to College-Bred Negroes
by W.E.B. DuBois