The 7 Best Pieces of Commencement Advice From One of TV’s Most Groundbreaking Hosts

MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry gave the commencement speech at Wellesley College on Friday. The TV host, professor and author had some wise and inspiring advice on speaking your mind, staying quiet, and being “thick.” posted on

Richard Howard

Melissa Harris-Perry (right) accepts a “Nerdland” (a term she uses to describe her show and its viewers) flag from Wellesley College President H. Kim Bottomly.

Melissa Harris-Perry is the host of a weekend show on MSNBC (also called Melissa Harris-Perry). She’s the first black woman to host a solo news show on a major network, and in 2009, she became the youngest scholar to deliver the W.E.B. Du Bois lectures at Harvard. In addition to hosting her show, she’s also a political science professor at Tulane, and the author of two books — all of which made her eminently qualified to give Wellesley’s class of 2012 the advice below.

1. On not being fake:

“Don’t nod and smile unless you are happy and agree.”

2. On uptalk:

“Don’t let your voice do that high-pitch thing at the end that makes it sound like you are asking a questions when really you’re making a statement?”

Harris-Perry says there are exceptions to these first two pieces of advice, though: “sometimes it can be quite powerful to nod and smile just before you punch him in the neck, and sometimes a little question at the end of your declarative statement is a worthwhile way to get some of the old guys who run all the money on your side.”

3. On ignorance:

“Standing in a library reminds us of our own limitations. It encourages us to remember that we don’t know everything, can’t predict every outcome, and don’t even know all the right questions to ask.”

Soe Lin Post

Melissa Harris-Perry speaks at Wellesley.

4. On knowing when to be quiet:

“When we are silenced, you have something to say but no one will listen. When you choose to be silent, to quiet it down, to listen, you’ve actually exercised the other part of voice. The part that makes your voice sound like something. It sounds like something in comparison to the silence.”

5. On being “thin” versus “thick”:

“In a world that teaches women to be thin, be thick. […] Thin citizens vote; thick citizens run for office. Thin folks believe every critic is a ‘hater.’ Thick folks can hear critique without crumbling. Thin leaders stay the course no matter what the evidence sat. Thick leaders listen, learn, and correct. Thin women look great in bikinis. Thick women look terrific in history books.”

Soe Lin Post

Harris-Perry, Bottomly, and the 2012 graduating class.

6. On support systems:

“[F]ind your Charlotte. You are going to need a soul mate. You’re going to need the courage. You’re going to need for somebody to write in their web, ‘No, really, you are Some Pig.’”

7. On her own advice:

“[A]ll the advice I gave you from hip-hop, from children’s books, from the great men, and even my notion of ignorant, silent thickness — let it all go if it’s not right for you. Just throw it all away. Because this is the start of your day.”

Watch the full speech above, or read it here.

Check out more articles on BuzzFeed.com!

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