Violence is almost a normal part of life in the United States, she said, and valuing life takes consistently asking how am I committed to nonviolence today? It also means giving some things up, she said — many people think of themselves as nonviolent, but consume violence in entertainment.

“The question that should scare us is, what will it take to make us collectively bring about this change?” she said.

“Maybe this is our life’s work,” she said. “Maybe this is our work as humans.”

When Tracy K. Smith, the former poet laureate of the United States, first heard of the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, her immediate reaction was anger and rage against “these monstrous people.” It is easy to sink into that feeling, she said, and we are even encouraged to, to think that these are “wild outliers.”

“But when I slow down I realize there is something alive in our culture that has harmed those people,” she said. “Whatever that something is, it is harming all of us, we are all vulnerable to it, it wields some sort of influence upon us, no matter who we are.”

At Harvard University’s graduation on Thursday, she read a poem. It was a reflection on history, the violence that we live with, and what the age requires, she said. In her version of the poem she thought of her children, she said, but it was also a wish for her students. So many had dealt with so much in recent years, being sick, caring for family members.

“I want you to survive,” she said. “I want your bodies to be inviolable. I want the earth to be inviolable.”

“It is a wish, or a prayer.”

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