Pelosi Convocation Address at the New York University Wagner School of Public Service
“Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Quintin [Haynes] for your beautiful introduction. I’ll accept all of those kind words on behalf of my House Democratic Caucus, which was instrumental in making so many of those successes possible.
“Isn’t Quintin something remarkable?
“Thank you for your service here, your service in the Mayor’s office, and, again, your leadership here at NYU. Quintin, I am frequently introduced as the highest-ranking woman in government in our country’s history. I’m getting ready to be surpassed.
“It would be easier to elect a woman President than a woman Speaker of the House – the House being so, shall we say – well, let’s just move on from that.
“But while it’s an honor I relish, it’s time to exceed that. So, thank you for acknowledging that.
“Dean [Sherry] Glied, thank you for educating a new generation of leaders – of patriots, really – with the commitment to excellence that you have embodied, and that you all embody, at NYU Wagner.
“Thank you, Provost [Katherine] Fleming for those entertaining remarks. I can’t wait to convey them on to my family – but what a wonderful story and what a wonderful parable. We all learned from that. Thank you, Provost Fleming.
“And thank you – again, when I talk about Dean Glied, I want you to know that when she was Assistant Secretary at the Department Health & Human Services, she was very instrumental in implementing the Affordable Care Act. Thank you, Dean Glied.
“Above all, thank you, everyone, for your invitation to share a few thoughts with you, as Quintin said, as you go through the next chapter of this book called ‘Life’.
“As I begin, I want to recognize the family and friends, the parents and partners, siblings and spouses, grandparents and children; all of those whose love, encouragement and support have helped make this day possible. That is an applause line – from the graduates to their families.
“To the graduates: this is your day, your success, your achievement. Your degrees are not only a recognition of your education – they are a testimony to the hard work – that the Dean mentioned – the hard work, the late nights and the juggled responsibilities to get you where you are here today. On behalf of the United States Congress, it is my great honor to congratulate you: the 2016 class of Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service!
“Again, I say to Quintin, I accept his kind words on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus – which I’m proud to say is more than 50 percent women, minorities and LGBT Members of our Caucus.
“A Caucus that believes that when women succeed, America succeeds.
“I am so glad to see so many women in the class today.
“Let’s hear it for the women.
[Laughter and applause]
“But, remember gentlemen: equal pay for equal work, paid family leave and quality child care help women and men in our economy.
“You all know that NYU Wagner is named for a great leader, who once said, ‘Public service is the highest good, and when done honorably and well, the most rewarding.’ With the strength of the education you have received, it is clear that you are determined to do it honorably and well indeed.
“Like Mayor Wagner, my father was a three-term mayor. He was a three-term Mayor of Baltimore. I met Robert Wagner when their terms overlapped in the 1950s. I was a child – not that much of a child.
“And when my father, Thomas D’Alesandro, was first elected Mayor, I was in first grade. And when I went away to college – my whole freshman year, he was still the Mayor of Baltimore. So I have an appreciation, Quintin, for what it takes to be the Mayor of a city. And my brother also, later, served as Mayor of Baltimore.
“We were raised and taught that public service is a noble call – a calling to foster in ourselves, and a calling to be respected in others. And when we were taught that about public service, we were taught to respect those, again, who were engaged in it. And that meant Republicans, as well as Democrats, as well as others interested in public service. This idea of division just really was not part of how we were raised. It was more about respect.
“And even though I was raised in a political family, and even though Quintin used the word ‘ambitious’, I never thought of running for office. I tell you this because I want you to consider your possibilities too. When I was called upon to run, four of our five children were already in college.
“Our youngest daughter, Alexandra was going into senior year. And Alexandra is here today with her husband, Michiel, but she doesn’t want me to tell you this story.
“So, when people came to me, I had no – never discussed it with my family, never had any interest in running for public office. I was interested in public service, I was interested in – I was Chair of the California Democratic Party. I just had a political moment, but I was not interested in doing that. So I went to Alexandra and said, ‘Alexandra, mommy has been asked to run for Congress. It would be better if it were a year from now, while you were going into college. I love my life. I just want to hear from you whether you think it’s better if I stay here or not. Any answer is fine.’ I was just sincerely, prayerfully appealing to her to give me some guidance, to which she responded, ‘Mother’ – so I knew I was in trouble right there.
“‘Mother, get a life.’ What teenager wouldn’t want her mom gone three nights a week?
“And so I did get a life – another life. I never thought I would go from the kitchen to the Congress; from homemaker to House Speaker. But when the call came, I was ready. And I want you to be ready when your time comes.
“I hope that some of you will consider elected office for yourself – for yourselves or to help others.
“It is not of the faint of heart. But it is urgent to have your vision, your values, and your talent. Whether the next steps you take are in public, non-profit or private sectors, each of you is here because you have answered the call to purpose, a call to service. Thank you for having the courage to enter the arena of public service.
“Your engagement is urgent because we see right now today in America an anti-governance attitude that rages in the public debate, that manifests itself in acts of Congress and undermines our ability to engage in public, private, non-profit partnerships – so necessary to our country’s success – and that our Founders recognized.
“The debate on the role of government is as old as our Republic. But what is happening today is totally beyond the liberal to conservative spectrum. Anti-government ideology is manifested in woeful public budgets, in anti-public employee rhetoric, in ‘anti-diversity’ rhetoric, in denying the climate change and rejecting science when it comes to biomedical research.
“The denying of science gives comfort to those who reject the public sector playing its proper role in acting upon evidence. If you refuse to accept the data, you can comfortably ignore the need to act upon it.
“It creates false choices in our budget like the absurdity of cutting education in the name of deficit reduction. Nothing – this is a fact – brings more money back to the Treasury than investments in education of the American people.
“Early childhood, K-12, higher education and lifetime learning.
“It is also contradictory when anti-governance ideology demands a shrunken government when it comes to investments in the future, but expands government’s intrusion into people’s personal lives.
“Of course, we constantly must work tirelessly to make government more streamlined and more effective; but this ideology is something different and destructive. The public expects and deserves a presidential campaign that will hopefully afford us a dignified debate on how we ensure liberty and justice for all, and to restore the public’s confidence and trust. I hope we will have both.
“President Lincoln said ‘public sentiment is everything.’ The trust and confidence of the American people, I go on to say, is grossly undermined by the role of money in campaigns. So I take you to your second challenge.
“Our Founders pledged their lives, their liberty and their sacred honor for a democracy: a government of the many, not government of the money. Many, not money. Big, secret, dark money is a cancer that suffocates the airwaves, smothers true debate, and suppresses voter participation. We cannot stop until we overturn Citizen’s United, and reverse the damage it has done to our democracy.
“A government of the many, not a government of the money. I repeat: it must be the first bill passed by the new Congress and we must ensure in this campaign that everyone who is elected understands that. Only then can we have the public’s confidence and the freedom to be transformational in our thinking.
“That’s a big idea. It’s a heavy lift. But thinking big is what defines us as Americans. When, in the I Have a Dream speech – you all know that beautiful speech of Martin Luther King – Dr. King spoke of the ‘fierce urgency of now,’ back then he warned of civility but he then he went on to warn of the ‘tranquilizing drug of gradualism.’
“As you consider what must be done to improve our communities and our institutions, heed these words. In your careers, you will see entrenched thinking up close. Progress may seem as minorly incremental or halting. Your vision must be bigger and bolder.
“This lesson is in written into the creed of your university: ‘Perstando et Praestando’ – Persisting and excelling. You must never lose sight of your moonshot. You must have the imagination to see the path forward.
“And speaking of imagination: it is particularly appropriate to be holding this ceremony here, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). BAM has been an honored forum for creativity in New York and for America, as a matter of fact, for more than 150 years.
“The poet Shelley once wrote, ‘the greatest instrument of moral good is imagination.’ Today, it is clearer than ever that imagination is essential to effective leadership in public service. The imagination needed to understand other people’s perspectives as you forge innovative partnerships to address the challenges before us; the imagination needed to approach long-standing problems with new, entrepreneurial solutions; the imagination to create and discover ideas; to envision and achieve a better world.
“Just imagine the imagination it took for our Founders to create this great country; to declare our rights; to build our democracy. Aren’t we lucky to live in America? Isn’t it the greatest country in the world?
“As public servants – and I consider all of you patriots for your interest in public service – the progress of technology has handed us an expanding set of tools: powerful data analytics, expanding broadband access, and an accelerating smartphone revolution for more than just eBay.
“We have an opportunity and, therefore, a responsibility to apply them in ways that are innovative, entrepreneurial and successful. To do so, we must work to creatively connect the public, private and non-profit sectors to work in partnership to confront our challenges – drawing from the creative power of their diverse perspectives and resources.
“With the multidisciplinary wisdom of your NYU Wagner education, and as classmates headed to each of those sectors, you embody the potential of deepened connections.
“As you leave Wagner, hold onto these friendships. Share your experiences and ideas. Inspire each other to keep innovating, and keep striving to discover or invent new ideas. ‘Perstando et Praestando’ – persisting and excelling.
“My wish for you today is [three words and four syllables]: know your power; and to have the imagination to see your full potential.
“We have already seen the quality of your analysis and ideas. But the true ‘Capstone’ – is that the word of the day? [The true Capstone] of your work here is the imagination and determination that shines in everything you do.
“Wherever you imagine your career heading, do not underestimate your power, your individuality, your uniqueness to do something unexpected and extraordinary.
“Graduates of the NYU Wagner Class of 2016: Think imaginatively. Partner entrepreneurially. Dream expansively. And be ready. Be ready.
“Thank you for earning this education, and for strengthening your ability to contribute to the service of community, country and indeed, humanity.
“Congratulations to all of you, to your families, to NYU Wagner. Enjoy this day. May God bless you and may God always bless the United States of America. Thank you.”