Speeches & Commentary

35th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration remarks

Delivered at virtual event held January 17, 2022

Good evening to all of you, and thank you once again for joining us.  I’d like to acknowledge the many folks who helped prepare this event as well as our presenters and performers.  

I am proud to be included in this annual week of remembrance of Dr. King, and his legacy.  While we may celebrate every January, I know that so many of the people at Washington University and in our St. Louis region pursue Dr. King’s dream 365 days a year by working to advance equality, equity, justice, rest, and joy for Black people, and as Dr. King spoke, for “all God’s children.”

And while we all audaciously hope that one day society will have achieved Dr. King’s dream, we also know there is much more work to do. On some days, that work can feel like one step forward, two steps back. And yet, we passionately persist. To that end, I hope this time spent in remembrance inspires and energizes us for the work ahead. 

But also, I hope this time serves as a chance to celebrate those steps forward, because I have faith that we are bending the arc in ways that are obvious on some days, and not so obvious on others. Every minute you spend in this work means something.  Don’t forget to celebrate the wins. And don’t forget to rest. Our work on behalf of others requires us to acknowledge and honor our own humanity, too.

Recently, we had one of those “two steps back” days at WashU. Two GIANT steps back. In December we shared with the community that vandals had defaced a beautiful and meaningful mural on campus with despicable white supremacist words and imagery. Even a month later, it turns my stomach to think of such an incident taking place on our campus … or anywhere, for that matter.

I want to commend our students, first, for mobilizing so quickly to cover over the hateful graffiti. I also want to acknowledge the quick action of those Washington University police officers who were dispatched to investigate, as well as Dr. Shantay Bolton and Dr. Anna Gonzalez who worked decisively to address the needs of the community. Each acted according to duty, but more than that, to their deeply held empathy, and I’m grateful and proud of them.

To those awaiting an update on the incident, the crime is being investigated, and the authorities have asked us to refrain from sharing more information until their work is complete. What I can share, though, is that we are confident that the criminals will be held accountable, and we hope to have more information to share soon.  

While statements from chancellors can’t change the world, we as an institution can and do, through our actions. I do want to take this opportunity to reiterate our institutional values. As I said in April of 2021, when our hearts were broken by a string of tragic incidents of lives ended or forever changed by racially-motivated violence, we remain rooted in our core values. Especially in times of tragedy, uncertainty, and chaos, it is important for each of us to know these unyielding truths. We are a place that stands unequivocally against hate, racism, and discrimation in any form. We care deeply about those who are suffering. Because we care about each other, we are committed to putting our values into action however possible to help create needed change, both within ourselves as individuals and collectively within our community, country, and the world. 

And while I won’t always step up to the mic when a tragedy occurs in our country or in our world, I will never stop working toward justice with the power that’s been entrusted to me.  In addition, the leadership of this university, with me leading the charge, will continue to put the safety and wellbeing of our students, staff, and faculty ahead of everything else, including short-term personal or university reputation. I hope you will come to trust that, and we intend to gain your trust by both our words and actions. 

Thank you all again for being here, for your artful and heartfelt contributions, and for your commitment to Dr. King’s dream. You teach me and inspire me daily. Thank you.