Woman of Jamaican Descent Gives Rousing Commencement Address at One of Oldest Colleges in US

On June 4, 2021, Lia James, who is of Jamaican-Haitian descent, was selected to give the 2021 Commencement Address at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, one of the oldest colleges in the United States. Her father is Jamaican Bruce James, the president of the MVP Track Club and manager of Olympian Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and her mother was Haitian-born Pascale Malebranche James, who passed away from cancer in 2018 while Lia was at school.

Lia James, who graduated with a double major in Spanish and Anthropology, gave the Student Commencement Address at the college’s 143rd commencement to an audience comprising in-person and virtual audiences. After beginning her speech with the words, “Surprise, Dad!” She noted that at least one student was watching from New Zealand where it was 3 AM. Her speech, which she said she was privileged to give, was addressed to the “Evergreen Class of 2021,” a class that had to experience its senior year during the COVID-19 pandemic and all the attendant adaptations and hardships it brought.

She thanked Wellesley College for giving her the space to find herself and then launched into the major part of her very inspiring address, during which she had to pause multiple times to allow the loud and appreciative applause and cheering from the crowd of students in the audience to subside.

James noted that the college years experienced by her class were “bookended by two frightening and divisive United States presidential elections” and by the “renewal of a revolutionary era for racial justice.” She said her class had to “join fights that we did not start. Fights started by our ancestors. Fights that are still far from over.”

She then told the graduating students that it was their responsibility to “take personally” the fight for the liberation of all. “Liberation is a global pursuit,” she said, and they must realize that “your freedom is my freedom is their freedom is our freedom.” She went on to say that it was their responsibility to “secure and fight for the survival of all of us, especially those whose right of belonging and right to live in this country are called into question every day.” She then said, “To my Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latine, immigrant, low-income, non-binary, trans, First Gen, and other minority sibs; to those among us at the intersections of the minorities I just named, the odds did not want us to be here, and yet, here we are!”

James expressed her thanks to Wellesley and to all of those who supported the graduating class for helping the students survive the regular challenges of a college experience plus the additional burdens imposed due to the global pandemic.

“The feedback I have received has been overwhelming. In writing my speech, all I wanted was to make our last day as Wellesley students memorable for my class—I had no idea it would be memorable to so many others. Now, strangers, old friends from home, and parents-of-friends alike have reached out, saying they’ve been moved to tears, or laughter, or both. I am honored to have been able to represent Jamaica and Haiti, the two islands I hold most dear, in such a special way.” said Lia James to the Jamaicans.com team about the feedback on her speech.

Photo courtesy of Lia James.