To ease the stress created by the modern “age of hurry,” it is necessary to care for others and avoid extreme individualism, award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie told Georgetown University College graduates May 18.
Adichie addressed the audience gathered on Healy Lawn after receiving her own honorary degree. Adichie is the best-selling author of “Americanah,” and most recently, “Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions,” and has also delivered two widely viewed Ted Talks, “The Danger of a Single Story” and “We Should All Be Feminists.”
Inviting the hurried graduates to exhale, she asked them to stop and enjoy the day rather than stress about the future. Addressing the audience in Igbo, her native language, Adichie demonstrated how pausing is also integral to love.
“In Igbo, the word for love is ihu n’anya, and its literal translation is ‘to see.’ So, to say I love you in Igbo, ahuru m gi n’anya, is ‘I see you,’” Adichie, who is from Nigeria, said. “And so ihu n’anya seems to me to capture a certain subtlety, a pause, a presence, a fullness — things we lose when we’re in a hurry.”
For Adichie, hurry also begets worry, so she advised the graduates to pace themselves to control the gratuitous self-imposed pressure that she has observed to frequently plague Georgetown students.
“It seems to me that a consequence of our modern, fast lives that happiness is increasingly a condition we recognize only in retrospect,” she said. “So please, be happy when you are happy.”
The College graduated almost 800 students at commencement, representing over half of undergraduates receiving degrees this year. The Class of 2019 is 852 students, and some students graduated in December 2018 or will graduate in August 2019.
In her address, Adichie drew a distinction between what makes us happy as individuals and what the world ascribes false value to, including individualism and money. Moving away from self centeredness and toward altruism is key to personal success, according to Adichie.
“Extreme individualism will not save you and will not serve you well no matter what course your life takes,” she said. “Caring about the rights of others is important because in doing so you preserve a system that protects your own rights.”
Genuine care for others loses priority in a fast-paced and money-driven society, Adichie said. While she commended Georgetown students for endorsing a reconciliation fee to benefit the descendants of the 272 enslaved people sold by the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus to financially sustain Georgetown in 1838, Adichie, who often writes about race and cultural identity, also noted how Americans can value money too much.
Adichie advised graduates that the cultural importance given to money in the individualistic United States propagates the idea that money should valued above all else — but it does not have to be this way.
“Money is important in a capitalist world,” Adichie said. “Money is what keeps places like Georgetown being Georgetown.”
Money is not a perfect substitute for anything, least of all love, according to Adichie. Activism like the student referendum that ultimately supported the reconciliation fee should keep this in mind, she said.
“There was too much value, it seemed to me, given to the idea of money as a kind of stand-in for justice. Money as panacea for loss, for pain, for emotion,” she said. “Of course people who are harmed should get money, but the arc of the story should be the pain they endured, the losses that they will continue to live with for the rest of their lives.”