Valedictorian Message for 2020 Commencement

We are living through a decisive civil rights movement. Black Lives Matter protests have been held daily across the country for over three weeks. A march for Black trans lives in Brooklyn on June 14th drew an estimated 15,000 people to the streets in solidarity.

My valedictorian speech, which will run as part of the English department commencement ceremony on June 20th, does not address this movement. Instead, I talk about Harry Potter.

The department has kindly offered this space for me to share an alternative to the prerecorded original speech, since technical issues prevent me from taking down and redoing the first version.

The speech was written before George Floyd was murdered, and before J.K. Rowling came out with a 3,700-word transphobic rant. (Although not before she followed and liked tweets from anti-trans commentators. I apologize for my ignorance about that).

I stand with the innumerous trans people who have called Rowling out and reiterated that sex and gender identity are not inherently aligned. Transgender women are women. Transgender men are men. Non-binary people are non-binary people. 

Instead of rewriting my speech, I’d like to point readers in the direction of more qualified voices that have been speaking about these issues long before it was trending in the media.

For Harry Potter fans looking to decolonize their mind, Black Girls Create is a site for black creators and “critical fandom.” The site has a ton of Harry Potter content, including a Hogwarts BSU section. 

The Gayley Prophet Podcast analyzes Harry Potter through an intersectional, queer lens.

“White Homework” is an anti-racist podcast by Tori Williams Douglas, a Portland-based educator and writer. Check it out on Spotify.

Melissa Gira Grant’s “Culture War in the Workplace,” published in January, 2020, traces the influence of Pauli Murray, a Black transgender person who coined the term “Jane Crow.” Murray helped Ruth Bather Ginsburg define her arguments for Reed v. Reed, as well as arguments used in Brown v. Board of Education. Murray is a historical figure we should all know about. 

The Okra Project is a Black trans collective that brings home cooked meals made by Black Trans chefs to Black trans people. They are supported by individual donations.

The Marsha P. Johnson Institute is a nonprofit organization that fights for the human rights of Black transgender people. Read about their work and please consider donating.

At the University of Oregon, the Black Student Collective is one group taking the lead to demand anti-racist action from the administration. Read their demands.

Local Black Lives Matter organizations, Black Unity and the BIPOC Collective, are holding frequent protests in Eugene. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram for the latest.

Angela Davis spoke on June 14th about prison and police abolition during a facebook live “Sunday School” event held by the Dream Defenders. She credited the trans community for teaching us that it is possible to radically challenge normative structures and rethink the basis of oppressive systems. I will conclude with a quote from that interview:

“I don’t think we would be where we are today, encouraging ever larger numbers of people to think within an abolitionist frame, had not the trans community taught us that it is possible to effectively challenge that which is considered the very foundation of our sense of normalcy. So if it is possible to effectively challenge the gender binary, then we can certainly resist prisons and jails and police.”

Anika T Nykanen, Spring 2020 English Department Valedictorian--Angela  Davis, Dream Defenders live, June 14, 2020


In solidarity,