Daria (Dasha) Navalnaya, a 22-year-old Stanford student and the daughter of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, gave a speech and the commencement ceremony at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. The Navalny Live YouTube channel has released a video of her address in the original with Russian subtitles.
She was invited to present at the ceremony because political prosecution was among the major themes addressed at this year's graduation ceremony. The Insider publishes the text of her speech in full:
Hello, everyone! Thank you so much for having me. If I seem nervous it's because I am – this is a huge crowd, and I'm very honored to be here. I would like to thank Dean Joel Hellman and the Walsh School of Foreign Service for inviting me. It's an honor to be here today. My name is Dasha Navalnya. My dad, Alexei Navalny has been fighting against Putin since before it was mainstream. For over two decades, he's been fighting against corruption, misinformation, and dictatorship. For this fight and for opposing a brutal dictator, he has now served two and a half years in cruel isolation cells without necessary medical care. My father has risked further charges for speaking out against an unjust and horrible war in Ukraine: he's now facing 30 more years in prison for speaking up.
When I first was invited to speak at the ceremony, I immediately had two thoughts: first, it's a bit ironic and shocking that I'm going to be lecturing the new cohort of graduates, considering I've yet to receive my own degree, to which Dean Helman politely said “no pressure” – thank you for that! – and secondly, it would be truly an honor to stand on the stage with two other incredible speakers to shed light on such an important subject as political prosecution.
Like all of us here, my dad believes in freedom of speech, in freedom of the press; he believes in fair elections; he believes in democracy, and right now he and many others are being punished for those beliefs. In 2021, my dad went back to Moscow after he was poisoned by a nerve agent, knowing he would get arrested because, simply put, you can't run away from your problems. You have the hard conversations; you search for the truth; you stand up to authority when you know they're not doing the right thing. You continue to persevere and overcome because actions speak louder than words.
I miss my dad every single day. He doesn't have to be yours, but he's my hero and a leader that's been fighting and lifting the voices of those who continue to struggle and die from Putin's authoritarian regime.
As students, we're the pioneers of the future. Most of us at the ceremony here today didn't have to struggle for our basic rights or freedoms. However, somehow we were chosen by faith or circumstance to represent those who continue to struggle. Each and every one of you has demonstrated drive, passion, and devotion for the greater good to be where you are today, and I'm here to ask you one simple thing: don't lose it. There are too many burnt-out adults ruling governments around the world and it seems as though they lost the drive they once had. Keep your passion. Pursue your passion. Stand for what is right. It is so easy to lose that innate sense of who you are in this fast-paced bureaucratic environment or simply sell out. I mean, I would know – I go to Stanford. Before handing over the microphone to Iran, I would like to end with this: as corny as it sounds, with great power comes great responsibility, and to gain that power you need to graduate from Georgetown – and you've done it. Congratulations!
But if we're being serious, don't look for the easy way out. You are the future leaders of the world. Carry that responsibility with pride and face your problems with devotion. And always remember that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for the good people to do nothing. Thank you!
Earlier, Politico reported that Navalnaya's invitation had stirred outrage among some of the students from Ukraine and Georgia, who had launched an appeal to cancel her invitation.
However, the university administration decided to go through with her address. They accommodated the concerns of those opposed by placing 200 Ukrainian flags in the ceremony hall and abandoning the mandatory handshake tradition (after a student expressed discontent at having to shake Navalnaya’s hand), The university also invited two more speakers related to political prisoners: American journalist Austin Tice in Syria and Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire.
Eventually, several members of the audience indeed rose to their feet and turned their backs to Dasha as she appeared on the stage. However, as the video shows, the audience applauded loudly at the end of her speech.