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.


08/06/2019 8:39 PM
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  • Sharon A.
    08/06/2019 20:35

    Oh, no! So, so sorry to hear of her death. What a brilliant woman. i learned so much for her. Remember, especially her analysis of the Anita Hill v Clarence numb-nuts situation.

  • Farjad F.
    08/06/2019 20:58

    “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” Toni Morrison ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  • Brut
    08/06/2019 21:00

    "Ms. Morrison published 'Beloved,' widely considered her masterwork, in 1987. The first of her novels to have an overtly historical setting, the book — rooted in a real 19th-century tragedy — unfolds about a decade after the end of the Civil War." Learn more about Toni Morrison's life, work, and legacy:

  • John B.
    08/06/2019 21:46


  • Baillo D.
    08/12/2019 08:29


  • Laticia L.
    08/13/2019 00:07


  • Everald D.
    08/13/2019 00:43

    Rest in peace mama.

  • Tessa R.
    08/13/2019 01:33

    Love this woman, rest in perfect peace

  • Chinyere N.
    08/13/2019 01:46


  • Jùĺiet D.
    08/13/2019 02:12

    R.I .P

  • Jùĺiet D.
    08/13/2019 02:14

    You are unique woman.

  • Bhekuyise T.
    08/13/2019 05:07


  • Primus N.
    08/13/2019 06:50

    Powerful words. Very intelligent.

  • Roland K.
    08/13/2019 10:48

    Rip mum

  • Richard K.
    08/13/2019 13:06

    Brilliant woman! What she had said, it's fact. May she rest in peace.

  • Amr A.
    08/13/2019 13:47

    rest in peace we love you

  • Kariyo J.
    08/13/2019 14:45


  • Auriel W.
    08/13/2019 15:09

    She know nother of her history of the darkages she have the American color on her shoulder

  • Andrews D.
    08/13/2019 16:47

    Insightful speech.

  • Mukhtar A.
    08/13/2019 17:19

    Hi friends hang most relevant hang OK me friend Mukhtar Ahmed Ali Jan lahoir