Brandon Victor Dixon, CC ‘03, Tony Award-winner and Broadway actor, highlighted contemporary progress and challenged notions of a “degrading” world at Columbia College’s Class Day on Tuesday.
Dixon, a first-generation, Jamaican-American student, officially received a bachelor of arts in 2007 after his senior year at Columbia was interrupted by him getting the role of Simba in The Lion King. He is most known for his work as Aaron Burr in Hamilton the musical as well as co-producing the Tony Award-winning Broadway show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
During his address to the class of 2019, Dixon emphasized the obligation that people with privilege possess in supporting people and communities around them.
“I recognize my privilege. I am privileged to have the means and access to tell stories, so it is my responsibility to tell ones that matter. Most of us are all privileged in one way or another,” Dixon said. “I believe the purpose of our time, with our resources, if it is not in support of all those around us, then what we are doing, what we are engaged in, isn’t worth anything at all. That is where the bar is now.”
Later on in his speech, he proceeded to ask from the graduating class how many of them thought the world they were going into is headed in the right direction. Next to no hands went up. Then, he asked how many people thought the world was headed in the wrong direction; this time, many hands went up.
In response, however, Dixon strongly opposed the notion that the world is degrading, instead stating that much of the negative perception of communities around us is inspired by consumption of a few, biased news sources as opposed to interacting with people in the community. As an example, he cited how, in his travels, he was able to see progress through his interactions with individuals from various communities.
“I challenge the notion that things are getting worse, I believe they are getting better,” Dixon said. “We make a mistake when we accept the story that we are told, when we accept that as the truest form of ourselves and our neighbors.”
Dixon concluded his remarks by encouraging the class to think expansively, to use their knowledge and tools to construct the world they want to see around them and the role they wish to have in that change.
In his address to the class, Dean of Columbia College James Valentini used popular modes of interpretations used in Literature Humanities, a class which is required for all Columbia College students in their first year, such as hermeneutics and “the beginner’s mind” to deconstruct the ideas hierarchy which are presupposed in interactions, such as in interactions between deans and students or teachers and students. He encouraged the graduating class to consider others as equals in their interactions in the future and to trust themselves in making decisions.
“My use of beginner’s mind in this way intends for you to put aside the judgement of others as your guide and to use self-awareness and self-reflection to guide you to make your own decisions,” Valentini said.
During student statements, Class President Mina Mahmood, CC ’19, congratulated the class for overcoming trials and tribulations throughout their four years at the college and emphasized the importance of diversity within the graduating class.
“To the many black and brown faces entering the world right now as Columbia graduates, congratulations,” Mahmood said. “In so many moments we found our voice and power in each other, I see you, I am proud of you, and I am rooting for you in all that you do.”