Attorney General Merrick Garland told Harvard graduates Sunday that their generation has been asked to show "an impossible kind of resilience" after yet another mass shooting at another school.
"As we gather today to celebrate this milestone in your life, we are also holding on to an enormous amount of grief because of yet another mass shooting at another school in our country," he said. "An unspeakable act of violence has devastated families and the entire community in Uvalde, Texas. I know I speak for all of us here that our hearts are broken."
As the U.S. mourns the victims of its latest mass shooting, 19 elementary school students and two teachers gunned down in Texas, Garland was the principal speaker at Harvard's commencement ceremony for the Classes of 2020 and 2021. Their in-person ceremonies were deferred during the pandemic.
Garland said that before the back-to-back mass shootings in Uvalde and at a Buffalo, New York supermarket, and the attack on Taiwanese parishioners at a church in Laguna Woods, California, he had decided to make his speech about public service. He said he still wanted to do so because "these tragedies only underscore how urgent the call to public service for your generation truly is."
Garland was emotional as he spoke about how his grandmother was one of five children born in what is now Belarus and how four of the siblings tried to come to the United States. Three made it. The fourth was turned back and the fifth didn't try.
"The two who stayed behind died in the Holocaust," he said. "So for me, public service is a way to repay the debt my family owes to this country for our very lives. I know that you all worked very hard to get here. So did I. And for different reasons the fact that we are all here today makes us lucky. So I hope you all make a promise similar to the one that I made to devote some part of your life to public service."
Garland graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and later served on the Harvard Board of Overseers. Harvard held its first in-person commencement exercises since 2019 on Thursday for the Class of 2022, with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delivering the keynote speech.
Garland said that the graduates who will dedicate part of their lives to service can "stitch back together the fabric of our civil society."
"We must persuade our neighbors and our communities to reject the idea that violence or threats of violence are acceptable. We must work to dissipate the hatred that fuels such violence," he said. "Democracy cannot survive if its citizens forsake the rule of law in favor of violence or threats of violence. We are all in this together. We must protect each other."