Mumia Abu-Jamal, one of Philadelphia’s most polarizing figures, will deliver a graduation speech to seniors at Goddard College this Sunday.
Students at the small liberal arts school in Vermont selected Abu-Jamal, who is serving life without parole after being convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer.
The address was pre-recorded by Prison Radio, a nonprofit multimedia production studio that has recorded the internationally known inmate before.
“Part of what Mumia does in this talk, in this commencement speech, is to offer an analysis of where we are in the world and how we might add knowledge and creativity to finding solutions to the world’s problems – from the environment to a world ravaged by war, inequality, oppression and hunger,” said CUNY history professor Johanna Fernandez, a close friend of Abu-Jamal’s who has read drafts of his remarks.
The address also mentions the bachelor’s degree he got from Goddard in 1996 through a correspondence program.
“This was a moment during which he was facing execution and so his studies at Goddard remotely from death row were transformative for him. They offered him the possibility of rising above the condition of cruelty and punishment under which he was living unconstitutionally,” said Fernandez.
In 1981, Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Office Daniel Faulkner and given the death penalty, but decades later his sentence was reduced to life without parole.
Maureen Faulkner, Daniel’s widow, has called choosing Abu-Jamal “despicable” and “not appropriate.”
Goddard did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement posted on the school’s website, Interim President Bob Kenny said that by selecting Abu-Jamal the students are showing “their freedom to engage and think radically and critically in a world that often sets up barriers to do just that.”
This is not the first time Abu-Jamal has given a commencement speech.
In 1999, he addressed graduates of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. A year later, he spoke to seniors at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.