Black leadership statement concerning the Class Day speech of Marshawn Lynch| March 8, 2020
The few voices that were upset at the decision to bring Marshawn Lynch to speak for Class Day are not representative of all of Princeton campus, but they do succeed in reinforcing elitist stereotypes and cynical exclusivism. In fact, most people, including the Black community, student-athletes, and first-generation low-income students, are excited about the decision to have Lynch speak on Princeton’s campus. While some hold the opinion that he should not have been chosen, we want to make it clear that Lynch will add incredible value to Class Day and that we are grateful to Lynch for agreeing to take part in the ceremony. Not only does Lynch exemplify accomplishment, leadership, and dedication, but he also embodies the values that Princeton holds dear — those of achievement and service to humanity.
Any claim that one must have some affiliation to the University to merit speaking here is invalid. There have been plenty of Class Day speakers in the past with no connection to Princeton, such as Steve Carell, Chevy Chase, and Christopher Nolan. There was no uproar or call for the changing of the selection process when these people were elected as Class Day speakers, possibly because they fit the idea of what some think is “appropriate” for Princeton University. Rather than raise our noses, we should take this as an opportunity to learn from someone who has inspired countless individuals and has done so much good for communities across the nation.
Not only does Lynch’s success on and off the field qualify him as a speaker, but he also has the ability to represent many people who too often feel as though their existence is overlooked on this campus. As Lynch refuses to be anything but his most authentic self in every environment, many students feel empowered by the selection made by the Class Day representatives and are inspired to maintain their whole selves in all adverse environments.
This entire conversation surrounding the welcoming of Marshawn Lynch to Princeton’s campus is about much more than a speech. The situation is racially and socioeconomically charged, as the complaints of the process have only just arisen. Although the negative sentiments directed towards Lynch are shared by a minority, the underlying “shut up and dribble” commentary is conspicuous. These themes do not, however, reflect the values held by the majority of the University.
In rebuffing Lynch, what is doubly shameful is that the open letter, which failed to make a viable argument about the selection process for a speaker, has instead opened to debate the intrinsic value and benefit of certain perspectives on this campus, namely the perspectives of Black, low-income, and/or first-generation college students as well as student-athletes. Moreover, it has reanimated Princeton’s reputation of elitism, entitlement, and exclusivity. To direct ourselves away from this narrative and move forward as a community, we must close any narrowly construed debate on belonging and avoid engaging in any superfluous vindication of credentials. At the very least, this situation might allow the Princeton community to think deeply about what sits atop our university’s value system and whether those values encourage us to maintain the most just, equitable, and inclusive campus possible.
Princeton Black Undergraduate Leadership