Congressman and civil rights trailblazer John Lewis compelled the graduates of Harvard University to stand up for what's right, right now. "We need your leadership now more than ever before," said the congressman in his commencement speech on Thursday afternoon.
"You're never too young to lead, you're never too old to lead," said Lewis, who's served Georgia's 5th congressional district since 1987 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
Lewis was a leader in the civil rights movement; volunteering as a freedom rider and protesting segregated lunch counters. He was also one of the marchers on the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, and suffered a fractured skull when police attacked the group of non-violent protestors. During his speech, he touched on the grief he suffered after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination but encouraged the crowd to never lose faith and keep fighting for the cause.
Lewis integrated anecdotes from his career, including one about a man who beat him during a Freedom Ride in 1961 and later visited his office in Washington to ask for forgiveness. "We need to create a society where we can be reconciled, and lay down the burden of hate," he said. "For hate is too heavy a burden to bear."
Lewis implored the graduates not to sideline themselves or squander the legacies of people who "put their lives on the line" to register people to vote. What's more, in no veiled terms, he told the graduates to vote during the upcoming elections and "do what you can to save and rescue America."
"My philosophy is very simple: when you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, stand up," Lewis said. "Speak up, and speak out!"
This was Lewis' second commencement address of 2018--he spoke at Boston University on May 20.