Toni Morrison’s Commencement Speech at Wellesley College

"You need not settle for any defining category." Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, one of the world's most celebrated American novelists, has died at the age of 88. Listen to her words of wisdom to graduates at Wellesley College in her 2004 commencement speech.

American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher and national treasure

"You need not settle for any defining category. You don't have to be merely a tax payer, or a red state, or a blue state, or a consumer, or a minority, or a majority. Of course, you're general but you're also specific. Of course, you're general, A citizen and a person. And the person you are is like nobody else on the planet. Nobody has the exact memory that you have. What is now known is not all what you are capable of knowing. You are your own stories - You are your own stories and therefore free to imagine and experience what it means to be human without wealth, what it feels like to be human without domination over others, without reckless arrogance, without fear of others unlike you. Without rotating, rehearsing, and reinventing the hatreds you learned in the sandbox. And although you don't have complete control over the narrative, no author does, I can tell you, you can nevertheless create it."

Toni Morrison was an American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher and professor emeritus at Princeton University. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. The critically acclaimed Song of Solomon (1977) brought her national attention and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1988, she won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for Beloved (1987).

Born and raised in Lorain, Ohio, Morrison graduated from Howard University in 1953 and went to graduate school at Cornell University. Later, while teaching English at Howard University, she married Harold Morrison. They had two children and divorced in 1964. In the late 1960s, she became the first black female editor in fiction at Random House in New York City. In the 1970s and 1980s she developed her own reputation as an author, and her perhaps most celebrated work, Beloved, was made into a movie in 1998 by Oprah Winfrey.