Someone just sent me a very thought provoking quote by Toni Morrison in her 2011 commencement speech at Rutgers Univesity that I want to share with you. It’s about not settling for the pursuit of happiness. She puts words to what I have wanted to say for a long time. Here is the quote as addressed to new graduates:
…. the narrative of a worthy life is yours to write. I have often wished that Jefferson had not used that phrase, “the pursuit of happiness”, as the third right—although I understand in the first draft was “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” Of course, I would have been one of those properties one had the right to pursue, so I suppose happiness is an ethical improvement over a life devoted to the acquisition of land; acquisition of resources; acquisition of slaves. Still, I would rather he had written life, liberty and the pursuit of meaningfulness or integrity or truth.
I know that happiness has been the real, if covert, goal of your labors here. I know that it informs your choice of companions, the profession you will enter, but I urge you, please don’t settle for happiness. It’s not good enough. Of course, you deserve it. But if that is all you have in mind—happiness—I want to suggest to you that personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to social justice, that’s more than a barren life, it is a trivial one. It’s looking good instead of doing good.
I just spent the last 1/2 hour listening to the entire speech – it’s so invigorating!:
And here is the transcript: https://llanoralleyne.com/2011/05/toni-morrisons-commencement-address-to-rutgers-university-class-of-2011/
Hear hear. I love Toni Morrison. My english undergrad thesis – way back many many years ago! Was based on her work along with Gloria Naylor.
I also agree with what she had to say here. I read a book this summer called “the Happiness project” and I liked parts but there was something I wanted to say – and this was it!
Sarah, I also had a very similar reaction to “The Happiness Project.” Toni Morrison’s words were exactly what I wanted to say!
I didn’t realize you had such a background with Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor. I loved the book, “The Women of Brewster Place.” Do you have another favorite?