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Angela Bassett encourages Spelman graduates: ‘You are not alone. You are seen. You are heard.’

ATLANTA — Hollywood icon Angela Bassett delivered the commencement speech to Spelman College’s Class of 2024 with words of encouragement and a focus on empowering Black women.

More than 500 graduates and their families filled the Georgia International Convention Center on Sunday afternoon.

“This place, this special place, has prepared you for greatness. And now it’s up to you to decide what your contributions to this planet will be,” Bassett told the graduates.

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Bassett reflected that her own son and daughter would be going to college soon to start their own journeys, “And I couldn’t be more excited,” she said.

The actress said it was a great honor to stand before the room of graduates as a Black woman at the “mecca of Black excellence and Black womanhood.”

She referred to the college as “the higher education equivalent of Wakanda,” referring to the Black Panther movies, which she starred in and were filmed here in Atlanta.

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Bassett told the graduating class that they are joining a lineage of trailblazers and shared some of her speech from when she received her honorary Oscar where she talked about Hattie McDaniel winning the Best Supporting Actress award for “Gone with the Wind.”

“It was a groundbreaking moment for Ms. McDaniel. Miss McDaniel took the stage. The actress Fay Bainter said it is more than a plaque of gold. It opens the doors of this room. It moves back walls and enables us to embrace the whole of America,” Bassett said. “The world today recognizes and pays tribute to those who have given their best regardless of creed, race, or color. And it was at this point when Ms. McDaniel walked from the back of the Coconut Grove restaurant, past the tables up front where her fellow ‘Gone with the Wind’ castmates and studio executives were seated, that she historically tore down a barrier, making it possible for Black actresses to be seen and recognized at the highest levels of our industry. It would be another 50 years before another Black woman would win an Oscar.”

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Bassett said she had a challenge for the graduates.

“I challenge you to think about what your contributions to pushing humanity forward will be what you will do to ensure that future generations of girls exist in a world that is one of equity and equality,” Bassett said. “Remember this moment, you are not an unnamed Black woman. You are not alone. You are seen, you are heard.”

Bassett ended her speech with the students repeating after her, “I am a Spelman woman.”

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