Baratunde Thurston Rocks the House at Daemen’s 75th Anniversary Keynote Speech

By Myranda Lockwood

It is not often that a person can hold so much value and wisdom in their words that it renders an audience speechless and leaves them hungry for more.

Yet that is precisely what Baratunde Thurston did Tuesday, Sept. 20 when giving the keynote speech for Daemen University’s 75th anniversary. 

The banner hung next to the stage where Baratunde Thurston performed. Photo by Myranda Lockwood.

Baratunde Thurston is a renowned, “Emmy-nominated, multi-platform storyteller and producer operating at the intersection of race, tech, democracy, and climate,” according to the official Baratunde website. 

Thurston is the host of a new outdoor show with PBS called “America Outdoors,” creator of an Apple-favorited podcast called “How to Citizen,” and author of the New York Times best-seller “How to be Black,” among many more projects and accomplishments. 

Beginning the speech with “What’s up Daemen, we family now,” the audience was greeted by a man who is both engaging and captivating. 

Thurston went on to touch on many important topics, most of which surrounded the main highlights of his podcast “How to Citizen.” 

“We use the word citizen to separate the people who belong from the people who don’t,” Thurston said. “This is ultimately destructive; my mission then was to find the people doing good and to share their story.” 

Students, faculty, family, and the public listening to Baratunde Thurston speak. (Pic. Cred. – Daemen University)

He named four tasks to become a better citizen, which began by simply showing up and participating. 

The second task is to invest in relationships, with yourself, with others, with the planet around you. The third task is to try to understand power. The fourth is to use all of these things to benefit the collective force.

Thurston told stories of others and himself, promoting the idea that we can all be proactive citizens if we simply learn how to. 

He consistently addressed the downfalls of humanity and the things that we need to work on as a society. 

“Part of me is trying to decide how much I invest in this project. This United States of America project,” Thurston said.

“But we are all just human beings,” he continued. “If we only love our country for the good stuff, then that isn’t patriotism, we’d be using the flag.”

He completed his speech with the proclamation that it is “time to move forward.”

Easier said than done, but we can try, and that might be the largest takeaway of the speech in its entirety. 

The audience left the room talking about what they had learned and how they can begin to apply this insight into their lives. 

“He was so effortlessly real, he continually emphasized that he was just a person despite all of his success,” Carly Frary, a fourth-year physical therapy major said. “He helped to introduce concepts that would open your mind and he spoke to everyone in the audience.”

“I think he should come to campus more often,” Tatiana Nowakowski, a third year social work major said.

“To talk to freshmen, athletes, student representatives, whoever, I think he’s a great resource to have because he talks about things that other people would be scared to talk about,” Nowakowski said.

In an interview, Thurston said “I hope you take away from this that there are other ways to interpret the world around us. Some of the things that we’re used to, we need to let go of. 

“Remember your credibility and authority, question everything, and recognize that everything you’re about to enter is changing, you don’t have to burden yourself with feeling the loss of that, create something new,” Thurston said.

His words spoke of freedom, unity, reconciliation, and the possibility of a brighter future. 

And that is something the world could use a little more of these days.

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