Activities will help students:
- Apply lessons from Marian Wright Edelman’s commencement speech to their own lives.
- Analyze their generation’s responsibility to serve others.
- Identity ways they can personally serve others.
- What is social action?
- What is my responsibility to make a difference for others?
- What will happen if my generation does not take action to help serve those less fortunate?
- What are some ways I can help to serve those less fortunate in my school or community?
- Commencement Speech by Marian Wright Edelman
- Access to the Internet
Often you can figure out what an unfamiliar word or phrase means by paying attention to the language around it. Context clues are words or phrases that help you define other, unfamiliar words and phrases.
Marian Wright Edelman uses each of the words and phrases listed on the handout in her commencement speech. Find each word in the speech. On the handout, write the sentence in which each word can be found. Then write what you believe the word means based on context clues. Finally, use a dictionary to find the actual meaning.
Close and Critical Reading
Marian Wright Edelman uses quotes from other famous people to support several important points in her commencement speech. Several of those quotes are listed below. Choose one and follow these directions:
- Read the quote.
- Rewrite the quote in your own words.
- Summarize how the quote helps illustrate or support the point Edelman is trying to make to students.
- Determine if you agree or disagree with the quote and justify why.
- Discuss how the quote applies or can be used in your life.
“The test of the morality of a society is how it treats its children.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian
“Many women may not get all they pay for in this world but they will certainly pay for all they get.” Frederick Douglass, abolitionist
“Everything Hitler did in Nazi Germany was legal, but it was not moral.” Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader
“Small is the number of those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own heart.” Albert Einstein, physicist
“When you get into a tight place and you think that everything goes against you, until it seems that you can’t have another minute, never give up then, for that is just the place and the time when you will be able to see the tide turn.” Harriet Beecher Stowe, abolitionist
At the beginning of the speech, Marian Wright Edelman says, “I hope you’re all going to wander off the beaten career path and help redefine success in 21st Century America and our world. Asking not how much I can get, but how much I can do without and share. And think not how I can find myself, how I can lose myself in service to others.”
Hang four signs in different corners of the room, each with one of the following words/phrases written on it: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree or Strongly Disagree. Then read the questions below and move to the sign that reflects your opinion. After each statement, discuss your answers with the small group at your sign. Then summarize and share your discussion with the other groups. There are no right or wrong answers!
- Kids at my school don’t ask how much they can get, but how much they can do without and share.
- Kids at my school stand up for others.
- It is my generation’s responsibility to stand up for those who need our voices and service.
- It is my responsibility to stand up for those who need my voice and service.
Once you have completed this exercise, discuss with class members how Marian Wright Edelman has used her voice and actions to serve those who are less fortunate, what you believe her message means for your generation, and specific ways that you and your classmates could better serve others in your school or community.
Write to the Source
In the sixth paragraph of her speech, Marian Edelman outlines several statistics that support her claim that we are failing our children in America. Read the statistics and underline the ones that most surprise or alarm you. Share your choices with another student. What do you know about how these statistics and others like them apply in your own community? How many children live in poverty? How many teenagers have babies? How many children or teens are killed by gunfire? Do any of these statistics correspond to race or ethnic background in your community? A wealth of data can be found at the online research library of the Children’s Defense Fund.
With a partner or small group, identify one local statistic you would like to help change that relates to children in your community. The statistic could describe poverty, discrimination, hunger, crime, health or education. Summarize the following information about your statistic:
- The problem
- Why it matters
- One thing you could do to help or make a positive impact
Create a detailed action plan with your group to implement the ideas you generated in “Write to the Source.” Your plan should include specific steps, people responsible for completing those steps and a timeline. Include all stakeholders as you develop your plan. Then work with group members to implement your plan and celebrate successes along the way. Share your progress here.
Standards (College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards)
- Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
- Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
- Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
- Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
- Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
- Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
- Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
- Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
- Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
- Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Speaking and Listening
- Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
- Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
- Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
- Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
- Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
- Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
- Demonstrate understanding of word relationships and nuances in word meanings.
We can learn many important lessons from those who have come before us. Interview an older family member or community member to learn their “lessons for life.” Summarize these lessons and combine them with other classmates’ interviews to develop a compilation of lessons that can be shared.