Pelosi Commencement Address at Morgan State University
May 21, 2016
Baltimore – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered the commencement address to the Class of 2016 graduates at Morgan State University – the largest historically black college or university in Maryland. Below are the Leader’s remarks as delivered:
“Good morning, everyone. Thank you, President [David] Wilson, for your very generous introduction. I told the President that I think his introduction was going to be longer than my speech. So, take comfort in that. I thank you not only for your kind words but also, for your tremendous leadership, President Wilson – for your leadership, for your transformational leadership for education in our country. Aren’t we proud of President Wilson?
“And thank you Mr. President – that has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it – for the immense honor to speak at the 140th Spring Commencement of Morgan State University. What a pleasure it is to be here with your Chairman of the Board of Regents, a proud Morgan State alumnus, and a former colleague in Congress, Kweisi Mfume.
“It is a privilege to be here in Baltimore with Morgan State’s phenomenal Representative in Congress, your trustee, a respected national leader, Congressman Elijah Cummings.
“And congratulations, also, to your senior class president, Brittany Boddie-Palmer.
“And to all of you receiving degrees today. And by the way, that includes me, and it includes Kevin Liles. So, I am proud to be a part of your class as I receive an honorary degree today and to receive it, again with Kevin, that’s pretty exciting. And it’s also exciting for me to be in your class. I hope it’s good for you to know that you have a classmate in the Capitol of the United States.
“Today, this hall brims with pride, and hope and celebration. As I begin, I want to recognize the families, the parents, spouses, siblings, partners, grandparents, children and friends – whose love and encouragement has helped make this joyous day a reality. Come on graduates. Let’s salute all of your families.
“Let us, also, salute the faculty who did so much to make this day so important.
“To the graduates: this is your day, your success, your achievement. I am honored to bring the congratulations of the Congress of the United States to Morgan State University’s Class of 2016!
“And I bring greetings on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus – which I’m proud to say is more than 50 percent women, people of color and LGBT.
“And now with this honorary degree, we have an honorary degree from Morgan State University in the House Democratic Caucus. And that Caucus believes that when women succeed, America succeeds!
“And gentlemen, remember that equal pay for equal work, paid family leave, quality child care help men, as well as women in our economy as we help families. This is for you, as well.
“As has been mentioned so generously by President Wilson, I’m from Baltimore. So, I am particularly excited to be with you today, as one born and raised in Baltimore – who has always had a strong respect and appreciation for this great institution.
“This week, we observed the 62nd anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education – successfully argued by Baltimore’s own, soon-to-be then, the future Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.
“When the decision was announced, my father – as was mentioned – Thomas D’Alesandro was Mayor of Baltimore. He went on TV – now this is 1954. This is very early TV, especially for a government official to appear. He went on TV to say: ‘This is the law of the land, and will be respected and enforced in our city.’ And it was. Baltimore was an example to the country.
“Brown v. Board has been called the touchstone of the idea of public education as the great equalizer. Today, as we celebrate our graduates’ success, we know that there is still an education gap in our country that must be closed, if we are going to close the opportunity gap in our country – and we must.
“For almost 150 years now, Morgan State has been doing just that. Morgan State has not only been a place of academic excellence and learning; it has been a pillar of moral courage, strength and wisdom. You are part of a great legacy of leadership.
“Here, in 1953, students planned some of the first civil rights lunch counter sit-ins anywhere in the nation – even before the official sit-in movement began. Here, in 1958, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Morgan State’s commencement – it was an address that resounds with those unforgettable ideas that would become the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech years later.
“The year after Dr. King spoke at Morgan State, he traveled to India to deepen his understanding of the philosophy of non-violence of Mahatma Gandhi and principle of ‘Satyagraha’. I tell you of that word because ‘Satyagraha’ is a word, a Sanskrit word, which translated has two meanings: non-violence and ‘insistence on the truth’ – non-violence and ‘insistence of the truth’. And isn’t that exactly what Morgan State students did in the sit-ins of 1953.
“Just as in that time, America is once again in a national conversation about what injustices we are no longer willing to accept. Americans are turning fresh eyes to familiar wrongs – which must be ended. Whether it’s unfairness in education, in the justice system and in our economy; young people are calling out how the inequality of the status quo denies you fairness and opportunity. And denying you that denies America that. Simply and courageously insisting on the truth is opening a chance for transformational progress in our society.
“So, graduates, draw on the strength of the education you have received here at Morgan State and insist on the truth of your right to opportunity, to everyone’s right to opportunity.
“Insist on the truth that Black Lives Matter.
“Insist on the truth that Black votes matter.
“Insist on the truth that we must make good on the full promise of our democracy. Insisting on the truth is disruptive. It’s difficult. But it is absolutely necessary to the fight for justice and equality.
“You know, Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech is a gift that keeps on giving to us. Every time you read it you find another wonderful part of it. The ‘I have a dream’ part everyone knows. The ‘fierce urgency of now’ has become part of our discussion in our country.
“But I like what he says after that. After he talks about the ‘fierce urgency of now,’ Dr. King continues by warning of the ‘tranquilizing drug of gradualism.’
“Heed those words! Do not let gradualism diminish your determination to achieve change in our society and in your lives.
“Never lose sight of your dream for what America could become and what that means to you.
“My wish for you today is for you to know your power to make history, to make change, to be transformative.
“Wherever you imagine your life heading, do not underestimate your power to do something unexpected and extraordinary.
“Dr. Wilson talked about me being raised in Baltimore, my family’s history of civic duty. Even though I was raised in a political family, I never dreamed that I would run for office. My mother’s plan for me was that I would be a nun.
“And Kevin, for me, dancing to Elvis records was my greatest passion – now being Milli Vanilli or something.
“But just to go back. When I was in first grade, my father was elected Mayor of Baltimore. When I went away to college 12 years later for that whole freshman year, he was still the Mayor of Baltimore. So, I was raised in that atmosphere.
“Later, my brother, as was mentioned, Thomas D’Alesandro III became the Mayor of Baltimore too. And by the way, my brother Tommy has always been proud of his honorary degree from Morgan State! So, this is becoming a family tradition for us. Right, Marty? Marty Resnick knows that.
“In our family, we were taught that public service was a noble calling – a calling to foster in ourselves, and a calling to be respected in others. All the same, I never thought elected office was for me.
“A year after I graduated from college, I got married, and my husband Paul is from San Francisco born and raised. We had 5 children and we spent the next 20 years raising them.
“When I had the opportunity to run for Congress, the unexpected opportunity to run for Congress – more people want to get [into the commencement]. Isn’t that wonderful?
“So when I had this opportunity to run for Congress, four of my five children were in college already. They were very close in age. And I had one that was a senior in high school.
“I went to her and said: ‘Alexandra, mommy has a chance to run for Congress. I don’t know if I’ll win but I want to know what you think. I can stay here with you because you have one more year at home or I could run for Congress.’ To which she said, ‘Mother,’ and I knew I was in trouble right there and then, ‘Mother, get a life.’
“And so I got another life and went off to Congress. And she then said, ‘Mother, what teenager doesn’t want her mother gone three nights a week?’
“I never thought that I would go from the kitchen to the Congress; that I would go from homemaker to House Speaker. But that’s what I did.
“A few years after I went to Congress, when I was running for a leadership position which had been held by men for centuries, at least two centuries – some men asked, ‘Who said she could run?’
“Sisters, you know what that does, right? ‘Who said she could run?’ That’s when I knew I had to. That’s when I knew I had to break not only the glass ceiling, but the marble ceiling of the Capitol.
“I hope that some of you will consider elected office for yourself – or to help others do so. It’s not for the faint of heart. But it is urgent for our country to have your vision, your values and your talent come to the fore.
“Graduates, you are the heirs to Morgan State’s historic legacy of leadership.
“You stand on the shoulders of generations of students and activists who advanced your rights and expanded your opportunities – including the class of 1966, who we are honoring today.
“Imagine, when they were in college, they saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, all of those things.
“Graduates, during your time at Morgan State, our nation has marked 50th anniversaries of those decisions – the landmark decisions of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.
“You also saw the Supreme Court gut the Voting Rights Act that guards our democracy.
“We must insist on the truth that the Voting Rights Act be restored – because it is our patriotic duty to remove obstacles to voting.
“We must pass the Voting Rights Act – and overturn Citizens United.
“Our Founders had fought for a democracy – a government of the many, not a government of the money.
“You are on the front lines of this fight. Your involvement in getting registered and registering others, and turning out the vote will make the difference.
“In the final year of President Barack Obama’s historic presidency, you are graduating into a new and momentous time in American democracy – made so by President Obama’s great leadership.
“And aren’t we proud of our President Obama?
“And aren’t we proud of our First Family of the United States?
“Now your leadership is indispensable in the fight for justice and equality.
“Morgan State University Graduates of the class of 2016: your diplomas, as Regent Chairman Mfume said, are not simply recognition of completed coursework, they are the fruits of your faith in yourselves – testimonies to your commitment to build a better future for yourselves, your families and our communities.
“With these degrees, you will have both the opportunity and the responsibility to lead and to give other people hope as our President has given the world hope.
“So my message to the graduates of the Class of 2016 – as you go forward: insist on the truth. Believe in the bigger vision. And know your power and use it.
“Congratulations to you, to your families and to the great Morgan State University.
“May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.
“Thank you all very much.”