Pelosi Commencement Address at Mount Holyoke College
Leader Pelosi. Good morning graduates! Thank you to President [Sonya] Stephens for your overwhelming comments in that commendation. I accept all of those beautiful thoughts on behalf of so many people that worked so hard to make those accomplishments possible. Thank you so much. And thank you for your outstanding leadership of Mount Holyoke. Thank you President Stephens.
Joyous graduates and families, distinguished trustees, Chairperson [Barbara] Baumann, thank you, eminent faculty – wasn’t it wonderful how you showed you appreciation to the faculty? – honored alumnae. Let us join in acknowledging the families and friends, the grandparents and parents, siblings and supporters sharing in this celebration, whose love, support and encouragement have made today possible. And graduates, you may want to stand up, turn around, look at them and applaud them for making today possible.
That was a chance also to stand up, but also to recognize our parents! As a parent and grandparent, I understand what goes into all this.
But graduates, this is your day, your success, your achievement. It is my great honor to bring the congratulations of the United States Congress to the Class of 2018, from the United States Congress.
And I bring special greetings on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus – which I’m proud to say is more than 50 percent women, people of color & LGBT Members.
Two very powerful members have a connection to Mount Holyoke, South Hadley’s representative in Congress, [Congressman] Richie Neal, and an alumna Congresswoman Nita Lowey, of New York. They send their regards as well
I thank you all for the immense honor of addressing you: Mount Holyoke College’s Class of 2018. We can’t hear that enough right? I’m proud to be forever connected to this college and this class through this honorary degree that you have extended to me. Thank you for that.
It is a special privilege to be honored with two trailblazers, they are so wonderful. Dr. [Sonia] Nieto, thank you for her beautiful remarks and encouragement and Shirley Wilcher. The two of them: about opportunity, education and equality in our future. What an honor to be associated with you today
Now, I’m going to talk about you, I’m going to talk about alumna and I’m going to talk about my story in hoping that it will encourage some of you.
Almost four years ago, you traveled to South Hadley to seek new frontiers. Here, you found a close-knit community of people with the courage — courage a very important word — to challenge convention and to think boldly. You found a firm faith in progress and a home for visionaries who, as your founder Mary Lyon said, ‘go where no one else will go, [and] do what no one else will do.’
After four Mountain Day hikes to the Summit House, four Founder’s Day gatherings, four Pangy Day picnics and what must certainly feel like more than four New England winters: you are here.
Graduates, you are part of a great tradition. I know you know that. I want you to know that other people do too.
Generations of leaders before you have come to Mount Holyoke to develop their visions, strengthen their voices and drive great change – including one of my personal heroes, Frances Perkins.
You know that she was a pioneer and a visionary, a woman in the tradition of Mount Holyoke who upended the ways of the past, and created a new path for our nation’s future.
Frances Perkins’ brilliance did not escape President Franklin Roosevelt.
One February evening, President Roosevelt invited her to his home in New York City to offer her the appointment of Labor Secretary – which would make her the first woman ever appointed to the United States Cabinet. A Mount Holyoke grad!
Frances Perkins was undaunted. She came prepared. She pulled out her notebook, and said that she would only agree to the appointment if the President agreed to support every single initiative on her list. From her notebook, she read off a breathtaking series of goals that would completely change America and included: a 40-hour workweek, a minimum wage, a ban on child labor and the crown jewel of all, Social Security.
Mount Holyoke’s Francis Perkins would be advocating the single most transformative initiative in America’s history, taking millions of seniors out of poverty and bringing security to their lives. And it sprang from here.
Well, she then looked the President in the eye, and said – does this sound like Mount Holyoke? – ‘Nothing like this has ever been done in the United States before.’ Does that sound like Mary Lyon? And he looked at her, and said, ‘Frances, I agree with you completely. Now make me do it.’ And she did.
She campaigned, she persuaded the American people and persuaded the Congress, and changed the lives of millions. We are all indebted to Frances Perkins, and Mount Holyoke’s spirit of ‘go forward, attempt great things, accomplish great things.’
Frances Perkins was ready – and you must be ready, too.
As the first woman in the Cabinet, Frances Perkins remains an inspiration to many of us and continues to be. As the first woman Speaker of the House I want to tell you my story and I hope it will be source of encouragement to many of you. Because as the professor said, you may be doing things you just had never thought about. But you have to be ready.
I never thought I would go from the kitchen to the Congress; from homemaker to House Speaker. I never even intended to run for public office even though I was raised – as President Stephens mentioned – in a political family in Baltimore, Maryland.
Hey, Baltimore! And then moved to California.
We were completely imbued with the idea that we had a responsibility to make life better for other people. But I never thought about running myself.
I was speaking at my grandchild’s fifth grade class on Monday and they said to me, ‘When you were in fifth grade what was your ambition?’ I said, to be a teenager. That was it, right?
But then I figured – I went to an all-women’s college, Trinity College, Washington, D.C. That’s why I have such appreciation for Mount Holyoke as an all-women’s college.
Then my husband went to Georgetown, he’s from San Francisco. That’s how [I moved to] San Francisco. And as the mother of five small children, had five children in six years and stayed home. As a mother of five children, I was a part of what known as the stroller brigade. We would show up at these rallies, events, parades and the rest – the stroller brigade – I just met with a similar group all these years later that is called Strolling Thunder. Moms are still out there. Moms are rising out there.
Late, when I was asked to run for Congress, to represent San Francisco in the Congress, four of my five children – they’re close in age, you remember – four were in college. One was going to be a senior in high school, Alexandra.
So I said to Alexandra, ‘Alexandra, Mommy has been asked to run for Congress. But it would be better if it were one year later when you were in college. I love my life. I am happy to be here with you. But if I run for Congress and I win — I don’t know if I will win – then I would be gone about three nights a week from San Francisco.’ She and my husband, Paul, are very close so I thought, OK.
So I said, ‘Any decision is fine. I am happy in my life. But I have been urged to do this.’ She looked at me and said, ‘Mother,’ and I knew some Declaration of independence was going to follow that, ‘Mother, get a life.’ What teenage girl wouldn’t want her mother out of the house three nights a week?
So, I had never heard the expression, you have to understand, this was thirty years ago, I had never heard the expression, ‘Get a life’ before. But not only was she declaring her independence, she was declaring a some independence for me as well. And so I did get more of a life and that was to run for Congress. I knew my purpose. I had never thought of running for Congress but I want you know your purpose. I knew my purpose. My purpose as was indicated in the tribute was the one in five children who lived in poverty. I just couldn’t stand that and I still can’t and in some places it is one in four.
So my whole purpose was – the three most important issues to me were our children, our children, our children and my list, I made my list and you have to make yours, my list was their health, their education, the economic security of their families, a beautiful, safe environment in which they can thrive and be healthy and a world at peace where they can be safe and succeed and reach their aspirations. That was list and I keep working on it because it’s like a horizon every time we achieve something we want to get closer to more.
Class of 2018, I have confidence that you are ready too. When that came for me I wasn’t ambitious for it but I was ready. You must be ready too. Know that you have been empowered by your own authenticity about who you are. Be who you are. The strength of your values, the love of your families and the excellence of your education here at Mount Holyoke College. Know your power, use it and make a list. We need you to be ready because you are our future and you are critical to making changing at an unprecedented point in American history.
As was said in the commendation, nothing is more wholesome for government and politics than the increased participation and leadership of women.
And we have many challenges. To the gentleman here, we love you at the table we just love the beauty in the mix to have everyone at the table.
We have many challenges facing us. Today, I just want to call to your attention that today it often feels like America’s greatness and goodness is clouded by ugly language, fear-mongering and incivility, and some have forgotten that we are all God’s children. There is a spark of divinity in each and every one of us and that every person is worthy of dignity and respect.
We cannot allow this negative attitude to be normalized or accepted. It is up to all of us to ensure that America always remains good. That we remain a beacon of hope, a people of great generosity, a nation of unwavering integrity and that America’s heart is always full of love. We will succeed because America is a great country.
Our Founders gave us their guidance. They, were very clear: E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one. They could not have possibly imagined how many we would be or how different we might be from each other but they knew that we had to be one.
So here you are at this moment. You are at the forefront of a watershed moment in history, one that you must shape the future. I have confidence in the impatience of youth, the impatience of youth to work very hard to shorten the distance between what is inevitable to us and to you and inconceivable to others. We want to shorten that difference to make the future better.
Young people are marching, as was said earlier very beautifully by your student speaker, Aiza [Malik], are marching. Women are marching. Women marched and now they are running for office. Marching, running for office, voting. Young people and women are marching, using your power and making your list from South Hadley to the heartland and to the coast. Women, again, and young people are marching for women’s health and disability rights, they have made their list, for women’s rights and disability rights, marching for education and gun violence prevention.
Marching for Dreamers and immigrants.
Marching for science and action on the climate crisis.
Marching boldly to say that Black Lives Matter.
Me Too. Time’s Up. And We Said Enough.
Marching for veterans and liberty and justice for all regardless of who are or who we loves.
Marching to save our democracy.
And these missions embrace the historic legacies of those who came before you, Mary Lyon, Frances Perkins and so many other courageous leaders. They knew their purpose, they knew their power, they made their list, they were ready.
Like the laurel chains you carried yesterday, you are another proud link in the unbreakable chain of Mount Holyoke Alumni.
Thank you for this historic degree that makes me a part of the extraordinary class. Remember you have a classmate in the Capitol of the United States.
As I congratulate you, again, I want you to as you go forward, as has been said by the other speakers, go forward with joy, you can never laugh or dance too much. Remember that.
Congratulations Mount Holyoke Class of 2018. God bless all of you and God bless America. Thank you so much.