Nigeria: Chimamanda Makes History As First African to Speak At Yale's Class Day

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
20 May 2019

Celebrated writer and speaker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has become the first African to deliver the Class Day Speech of the Yale College at New Haven, Connecticut.

The event which held Sunday, May 19, on the eve of Yale's 318th Commencement, was a celebration of the graduating Yale College class.

A tradition that dates as far back as the 19th century, Class Day includes student reflections on their four years at Yale, the awarding of undergraduate prizes for academic, artistic, athletic, and community accomplishments, and an address delivered by a prominent figure chosen by the students.

In 2018, the Class Day speech was delivered by former US First Lady, Hillary Clinton. Chimamanda joins an exclusive list of Yale Class Day speakers which include former Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden; Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair; Renowned Television Journalist, Barbara Walters, Oscar winning actor, Tom Hanks; and many more.

In announcing her selection as speaker, the Class Day 2019 Planning Committee described Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as "an inspiring global citizen whose words, teaching, and social activism have had an indelible impact on the diaspora and broader contemporary culture."

An alumna of Yale herself, Adichie received her master of arts in African studies from the school in 2008. "I remember the many clever undergrads I met while at Yale and it's an honor to know that a class of similarly clever students chose me to speak to them." Adichie said in an earlier statement.

In her insightful speech which was filled with humour and interesting stories, the writer shared some career and life advice, touching on beliefs, journalism, leadership and more. She encouraged the graduates to be open to experiencing the world in a way that is different from their idealised belief and find a way to marry idealism and pragmatism because there are complicated shades of grey everywhere.

"Be open to changing your mind. It is often a sign of growth. Be open to the possibility that you might be wrong. Ideology is a good thing but if you find that you yield unquestioningly to every orthodoxy of the ideology you subscribe to, then maybe it is time for some agility in your thinking."

In speaking about corporate leadership, she also encouraged the 2019 class to transform corporate traditions, "If you're one day enrobed in corporate power, please hire women as executives and not just in human relations. Change corporate culture. Have an on-site day-care. Make paid family leave standard and ordinary." She tells the students.

In usual Adichie-fashion, the Americanah writer did not hold back on speaking truth to power. She spoke courageously on the increase in gun violence in America, touched on America's controversial new law on abortion and racism.

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