Singer John Legend addresses graduates at LMU commencement

By Scout Jacobs

Contributing Writer

WESTCHESTER — At a time when several area college campuses are experiencing unrest due to protests about the Palestinian crisis, singer John Legend delivered a message of love as he spoke at commencement exercises at Loyola Marymount University May 4.

“Love rooted in the protection and uplifting of humanity” was the message Legend gave to students.

He also emphasized the importance of education in creating change within the world. 

“From your time here, you learn that the power of an education lies not in just acing the test or landing a fancy consulting job like I did after college,” he said.

“Yes, I was a consultant for a while, believe it or not. The power of education is that it empowers you to serve and to challenge you.”

LMU students who attended the May 5 commencement ceremony were treated to a speech by another musical star, Janelle Monáe, with the same theme. She told the graduates “You and I are going to write the song of the future. You and I are writing the song because it is time for a new standard of love.”

Legend touched on his personal experiences during his remarks. He was born in Springfield, Ohio, descended from a long line of preachers and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1999. 

He referred to the unrest at USC, UCLA and other college campuses locally and across the country. 

“It’s a heated time on our nation’s college campuses,” Legend said. “We’ve got roiling crises all around the world. Everything seems to be on fire. Places like Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, Iran, even here at home, where the threat of autocracy continues to gather.

“As you’ve learned here, there are profound limits to what war can accomplish,” Legend added. “War may wake territory, but it does not win hearts and minds. War can subjugate. But it cannot unify.”

While Legend explored the pitfalls of war, he also described the solution — love. He said love usually arises in the mind through two different avenues: Eros, romantic love, or Pathos, familial love. The third type of love not normally acknowledged, Agape, is a love rooted in the protection and uplifting of humanity, he said. 

“Agape emboldens us to love the people who are marching against us, even the people who try to silence or suppress us,” he added. “Agape love dares us to believe deeply in our shared humanity and that we can find a way closer together.”

He also addressed those who might be skeptical of his solution. 

“I can imagine what at least a few of you are thinking: all this kumbaya talk is nice,” he said. “Thousands of people are dying. How can it be that in the face of war and autocracy and ethnic conflict, after all the compounding trauma of our recent past, to just love more? I can understand your skepticism. But hear me out.” 

Legend then referenced his idols as a child. Rather than superheroes, Legend gathered inspiration from the teachings and ideologies of civil rights icons such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass, emphasizing the power of Agape love in the face of distress. 

“Together, they summon the power of Agape during other periods of turbulence and transformation to challenge America to live up to its founding aspirations, to challenge all of us to make the American project up, step by step, ballot by ballot, protest by protest, law by law,” Legend said.

He also acknowledged the power the young graduates of today have. 

“Class of 2024, these are no ordinary times, no question about it,” Legend said. “But the history through which you live, the history you’ve witnessed, the history you’re making, all of this has made you extraordinary. And we need extraordinary now more than ever.

“Our problems are not neat. The solutions are not easy,” he added. “And I’m not going to suggest that they are. But I believe and I’m certain your professors do too, that great education teaches you that your job is to challenge assumptions, to question the status quo and to interrogate the common wisdom.”