David Goodman Speaks at Queens College Commencement
On May 28, 2015, Queens College recognized civil rights activist Andrew Goodman with a honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters (posthumous). Andy’s brother and President of The AGF, David Goodman, accepted the honor on his behalf and addressed the graduates with a message of inspiration and encouragement.
Thank you President Rodriquez. And thank you to Queens College and congratulations to the graduating class of 2015.
On June 21, 1964, my brother Andrew Goodman was murdered, along with James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner because, as ironic as it may sound, these three young men, were responding to the call of serving our great American Democracy.
It is not surprising that Andrew Goodman would go to Queens College where heart and soul is embodied in this simple motto; “We learn so that we may serve.”
When my brother Andrew was 15 years old in 1958, he heard about serious problems regarding coal miners in West Virginia. He learned that they worked hard and had no health insurance, and earned wages which still condemned them to live in poverty. Andy thought those conditions were unfair. He had already learned much about mining from our father, Robert Goodman, who was a second-generation civil engineer, and along with his father and brothers, were contractors specializing in tunnel mining. Our family built portions of large public works projects like the 8th Ave. Subway in NYC, the Lincoln Tunnel, and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Andy knew that the NYC unions protected their workers and made sure they had health insurance and workers compensation.
So when Andy heard about conditions in non-union coal mines in West Virginia, he wanted to learn and understand more. He got on a Greyhound bus with a friend, traveled to West Virginia, interviewed mine workers and talked to local people. He came back and reported to his schoolmates what he saw. He was not ready, yet, however, to serve, but he did learn.
By the time Andy got to Queens College, five years later, at the age of 20 years old, he still felt compelled to learn about our world and particularly our great Nation. But now he wanted to put what he learned into service. He told me, in the spring of 1964, while finishing his junior year here at Queens College, that he learned that if you had dark skin in Mississippi, you probably were not permitted to vote by the white power structure controlling the state. He felt that was unfair and he was ready to do something in the service of upholding ‘these self evident truths, that all men are created equal.’
In the spring of 1964 the leaders of the Mississippi Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) visited Queens College. They asked if there were any students who would serve the cause of social justice; who would be willing to spend the summer as a volunteer along with a 1000 other young adults, also in their twenties, just like you, class of 2015, to learn and then serve our great Nation in redeeming ‘those unalienable rights, that include Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’. Andy found his opportunity to learn so he could serve.
Our inalienable Rights are oft-repeated. They are the back bone of our great Democracy, in theory; but in practice, we learn that all too frequently such rights are challenged. In this last year alone, we have witnessed your generation protest, investigate, and organize—Hands Up, Don’t Shoot, I Can’t Breath, Black Lives Matter—new calls for the challenges of this time yet deeply connected to the struggle during Andy’s lifetime.
The story of Andrew Goodman is inextricably linked to all of you. Andy had the idea that he could be a meaningful participant in our democracy – an idea that flourished right here, at Queens College. So as you learn, so shall you serve. It is the greatest expectation and gift a learning community can provide.
It is with great honor that I accept this Doctor of Humane Letters, Ph.D on behalf of my brother, Andrew Goodman, who had the privilege of learning and serving from the Queens College community over fifty years ago. Class of 2015, Queens College has prepared you to serve our Nation today. Congratulations.
The Andrew Goodman Foundation