Merrick Garland delivers commencement speech at Harvard

Attorney General Merrick Garland warned about threats to democracy in the U.S. and abroad in a commencement speech at Harvard University on Sunday.

Garland was the principal speaker at Harvard’s commencement ceremony for the Classes of 2020 and 2021. Their in-person ceremonies were deferred during the pandemic.

“As we gather today to celebrate this milestone in your life, we are also holding on to an enormous amount of grief because of yet another mass shooting at another school in our country,” Garland said. “An unspeakable act of violence has devastated families and the entire community in Uvalde, Texas. I know I speak for all of us here that our hearts are broken.”

Garland was referring to the Uvalde school shooting in which 19 elementary school students and two teachers were killed by a gunman.

“Before that horrific attack – and before the horrific attack in Laguna Woods and the horrific attack in Buffalo – I had decided I wanted to make this speech about public service. About what each of us owes to each other, and about what we all owe as residents of a democracy,” Garland said, adding that he still wanted to do so because “these tragedies only underscore how urgent the call to public service for your generation truly is.”

Garland spoke about how he saw citizens offering to volunteer in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

“Earlier in my career, I spent weeks in Oklahoma City investigating the bombing of a federal building,” Garland said. “I saw – and I felt – how consequential an outpouring of volunteer services could be. Oklahomans lined up to offer care and comfort to those who were hurting – survivors and first responders, neighbors and strangers alike.”

“But it should not take a tragedy to prompt us to look for ways, that day in and day out, we can help those who need our help,” Garland added.

“There is one particular reason that makes my call to public service especially urgent for your generation. It is an urgency that should move each of you, regardless of the career you choose,” Garland said. “It is the urgent need to defend democracy.”

Garland also spoke of “the many ways in which democracy is under threat” in the US, saying, “We see them in efforts to undermine the right to vote. We see them in the violence and threats of violence that are directed at people because of who they are or how they serve the public. We saw them when a violent mob stormed the United States Capitol in an attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.”

“We must persuade our neighbors and our communities to reject the idea that violence or threats of violence are acceptable. We must work to dissipate the hatred that fuels such violence,” he said. “Democracy cannot survive if its citizens forsake the rule of law in favor of violence or threats of violence. We are all in this together. We must protect each other.”

“You are the next generation that must devote yourselves to preserving our democracy and helping others protect theirs,” Garland said. “And although what I am asking of you is daunting, I know that you are the next generation that will fulfill the promise this country represents. I know that our democracy will be stronger by the time it is your turn to pass the baton.”

You can read Garlands full speech here.



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