Desmond Tutu: 'And God Says to All of Us, You Are No Chicken; You Are an Eagle'

Desmond Tutu's inspiring graduation speech on radical forgiveness and becoming what God intends us to be.

Excerpted from the 2000 commencement address at Brandeis University

During the time when we were listening to testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, frequently we were quite appalled at the revelations of the depth of depravity of which we were capable as human beings. You could hear someone applying for amnesty say, "Yes, we abducted this young man. We gave him drugged coffee, and we shot him in the head, and then we burned his body. And because it takes seven, eight hours for a human body to burn, we had a barbecue on the side. We were enjoying the air." And you said, "Are we so capable of such extraordinary evil that we aren't shocked that we could be burning two kinds of flesh--animal flesh on the one side and human flesh on the other?" And yes, the fact of the matter is that you and I do, in fact, have an extraordinary capacity for evil. And none of us can ever get away feeling superior [to] the perpetrators of some of those gruesome deeds....

But that's not the whole story, that's not the whole picture about us. Wonderfully, exhilaratingly, the truth is that as we sat there, too, listening to victims who had suffered previously, people who by right ought to have been torn apart by bitterness and a desire for revenge; [we heard] the daughter of one ANC activist--he was part of a group of four who had been ambushed by the police and were killed quite brutally. Then their bodies, mutilated bodies, were found in the burned-out car. She came to tell her story to the TRC, and she spoke about how the police even then were harassing her mother and [herself].


And at the end of her testimony I asked her, "Do you think you would have it in you to forgive people who have done such things to yourself and to your mother?" We are meeting in a huge hall packed to the rafters and you could hear the proverbial pin drop as this young woman, a teenager, responded with incredible dignity for someone so young. "Yes, we would like to forgive. We just want to know who to forgive." How frequently on those occasions you felt that the only appropriate response would have been to act like Moses, to take off our shoes, for we were standing on holy ground....

For, you see, we are in fact made for goodness. We are created by God. You are I are created by God, not by some junior, subordinate God. We are created by the transcendent one, the one who is able to speak and things happen. Let there be light, and light happens. How incredible that each one of us, because we are created in the image of God, are creatures of incredible worth, infinite worth....

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu
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