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John Lewis’s message to Framingham State grads: ‘Get in trouble’

Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, delivered the commencement address Sunday at Framingham State University’s graduation at the DCU Center in Worcester.
Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, delivered the commencement address Sunday at Framingham State University’s graduation at the DCU Center in Worcester.(Dan Holmes/The MetroWest Daily News/AP)

WORCESTER — US Representative John Lewis urged graduates of Framingham State University on Sunday to ‘‘get in trouble’’ and to build ‘‘bridges, not walls.’’

The Georgia Democrat, a veteran of the 1960s civil rights movement, was the keynote speaker at the school’s commencement at the DCU Center.

Lewis hearkened back to his days growing up in a segregated South, and remembered being told not to question the status quo.

‘‘They said, ‘Boy, that’s the way it is. Don’t get in the way, don’t get in trouble,’ ” Lewis said. ‘‘But I was inspired to get in trouble: Good trouble, necessary trouble.

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‘‘I’d advise each and every one of you young people to go out and to get in trouble, come make our country a better place,’’ he said.

Lewis was arrested dozens of times and was physically attacked during the civil rights movement, but told students to follow the nonviolent examples of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

Inspired by King, he joined the civil rights movement and then rose to become a leader.

‘‘This country needs you to be headlights and not taillights,’’ he said.

‘‘Be about the business of building bridges and not walls,’’ added Lewis, who has been a member of Congress since 1986. ‘‘We’re one people, we’re one family; we all live in the same house . . . we must look after each other and care for each other.’’

The university, which traces its history to 1839, conferred 849 undergraduate degrees.