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Pelosi Commencement Address at University of Baltimore Law School

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered the commencement address and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the University of Baltimore School of Law graduation ceremony.  Part of the University System of Maryland, the University of Baltimore provides innovative education in business, public affairs, the applied liberal arts and sciences, and law to serve the needs of a diverse population in an urban setting.  Below are the Leader’s remarks:

“Good afternoon.  What an honor – Baltimore, my Baltimore, to be back here and see this magnificent class of graduates, to become a member of your class with the conferring of this degree.  Thank you, Mr. President  [Robert Bogomolny], thank you Dean Weich, thank you Provost Wood, and I thank the entire leadership of the University of Baltimore – faculty, staff – and thank you, class of 2013, for adding me to your ranks.

“For the graduates: I offer you congratulations for what you have personally achieved by graduating and for the opportunity before you to serve the public with a degree from this respected university.  Annie, that was wonderful.  Jessica, congratulations – to both of you.  How wonderful.  Let’s – we can applaud.

[Applause]

“What I would like to do now is have all of the students recognize the parents, grandparents, spouses, brothers, sisters, children, entire families of the graduates for your love, your hard work, the sacrifice that helped make today possible for so many of the graduates.  Let us all stand up, turn around, and acknowledge the families that have made all of this possible.  Thank you families.

[Applause]

“What a proud day.  It’s a personal pleasure for me to be here at The Lyric.  As a young girl, I came here on every Wednesday night with my mother to hear the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.  And then on Saturdays, I would go with my classmates as we had musical appreciation and came up to hear the symphony.  And how  proud we are that, that the same musical institution is now led by a woman, Marin Alsop, the first woman to head a major American orchestra!  That’s quite wonderful and it’s made possible in some way by the generosity of Art and Pat Modell for making the Modell Performing Arts Center such a magnificent venue.  Now, when Regent Slater mentioned that I was from Baltimore, but I represented San Francisco, and then when Annie talked about the Superbowl I thought, probably, I should cheer with you…

[Laughter]

“And what it was like to be there with the whole D’Alessandro family dressed in purple and the Pelosis in red at the game.  Everyone was thrilled for the Ravens, and thank you Art Modell, God rest his soul, but thank him for giving us the Ravens.  Everyone was thrilled and happy for Baltimore, when the Ravens won.  Only one thing would’ve made me happier, but we couldn’t have both – all season I was rooting for the Ravens to go to the Superbowl and I was rooting for the 49ers to go to the Superbowl, little did I know that they would both end up there.

“But anyway, because this Lyric is filled with so many fond memories and as Dean Weich mentioned to me when we came inside – I said: ‘outside looks very different, but inside looks very much the same, honoring the tradition as a symbol of Baltimore and our commitment to the arts.’  Because this is filled with so many fond memories, for me, and for my family, it’s a true honor to be here with you as a member of your class.  It is really a personal one, to be with the class of 2013.  This honorary degree means a great a deal to me; it was very emotionally that I heard what the Provost was reading and I take, I accept the compliment on behalf of all of the people that made so much of that possible in the Congress of the United States.

“It’s also a personal thrill to be here because my niece, my niece Elizabeth Ignatowski, she graduated last year in the class of 2012.  Her father graduated from the University of Baltimore earlier, much earlier; my nephew, Gregory D’Alesandro graduated, his wife Kristen graduated from here.  My brother, Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro III, received an honorary degree and gave the address a number of years ago, in 1997.  But the one thing that was really thrilling to me is, when I was a little girl, my mother used to always say she wanted to be a lawyer, and she had started law school, and she had seven children, and so four of them were sick at one time, she had to quit, and she never really could go back.  And she went to the University of Baltimore.  What a tie.  And when my daughter, Christine, became an attorney, many years later, in California, my mother wrote to her and said: ‘you’re living the dream.  You’re living the dream that so many of us women had at that time, but it just really wasn’t possible.’  She went here in the ‘30s, one of the earliest times.  And now you young women, and young men, are in a completely different world where you have the beauty of the mix of everybody’s thinking and in decision making, that’s a, that’s a great thing.

“So, it’s a – you know, it’s a kind of emotional for me, my, a member of my political family – Dutch Ruppersberger is a proud graduate of University of Baltimore as well.

“In any case, I too want to join in acknowledging Peter Angelos, his wonderful support that he has given the University of Baltimore and a new building, of course, was named for his parents.  But that’s what this is all about too, honoring the opportunity that parents have given us.  As Annie had said: ‘what your calling is,’ and what the President had said: ‘now much is expected of you to inspire others.’  Others in the future, to pick up the banner of honoring our Constitution, it’s the oath we all take, anybody in public office – protect and defend the Constitution, that beautiful document.  Thank God they made it amendable; I think that was really important.

[Laughter]

“Standing before you today, I want to reference that this weekend will be, on May 17th, actually on Friday, we observed the anniversary of the Brown v. the Board of Education decision – May 17th, 1954.  I remember that day very well.  I was in 8th grade.  Most of your parents weren’t even born yet, I’m not sure about your grandparents, but I was in 8th grade, and I remember it so well because it was so transformative and my father was the Mayor of Baltimore at the time.  He went on TV that evening, that was not usual, because politicians, elected officials, and TV – that would come much later.  But he went on TV that night and he said: ‘this is the law of the land and it will be enforced and honored in Baltimore, Maryland.’  And that was really important because it was such a landmark and it meant so much to Baltimore.

“It was a Baltimore lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, who practiced law in Baltimore and who graduated from high school in this very Lyric theater – so just think of what your possibilities are – Thurgood Marshall graduated from high school right here, and of course, the case was won, other lawyers participated as well and he went on to become a Justice of the Supreme Court, as you know.   But it was the Board of Education of Baltimore city – headed by someone named Frank, Eli Frank, an attorney himself, and Walter Sondheim – that had the courage, they had the courage – and this is the word that makes all the difference in the world – they had the courage to make this city’s school district the first city, south of the Mason-Dixon Line, to peacefully integrate its schools.

“It was Baltimore where we saw one of the most successful school integration efforts in the country and that included a courageous young woman at Southern High School, Ann Jealous, she integrated Southern High School.  Her son now is the President, the national President of the NAACP, Ben Jealous.  We’re so proud of our Maryland connection to freedom in America.

“In that era, growing up in Baltimore, I was taught that public service was a noble calling and that citizenship had its responsibilities.  In the end, I think my mother wanted to be a lawyer because she thought it was an enhanced way to exercise citizenship.  And that’s a very, very important role that we play as citizens.

“Today, you graduate at a time when public service is not only commendable, it is essential; when our common values of fairness and equality must not only be restated, but they must be strengthened.  We need now, is the courage – your courage – to face, confront, and overcome some of the challenges of our time, the challenges to our democracy.  Today, these challenges are being reflected over the meaning of our Constitution at the highest court in the land.  Now, I’m not going to go into every challenge that we face, but some that are currently on the front burner, a few that are before the court.

“In March, many of us gathered with civil rights leaders and fellow Members of Congress – the Congressional Black Caucus – on the steps of the Supreme Court to call on the justices to uphold the Voting Rights Act – to protect and preserve the right of every citizen to vote and to ensure that every vote is counted as cast.  Joining us in that fight for the integrity of our laws were the leaders of the campaigns for women’s rights, for LGBT rights, all of us gathered together in coalition for voting rights.  And one week later, this same coalition was gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court to advocate, and some of us to go in and hear the oral arguments in the case to overturn the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act.  But again, it was a coalition.

“Together, we stood to end discrimination and to expand freedom in recognition that the fight for marriage equality, the fight for women’s rights, and the fight for voting rights are each chapters of the same struggle: for civil rights; for liberty and justice for all.  One year ago, around this same time, we gathered on the steps of the Capitol – of the court, gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court, to advocate for the Affordable Care Act.  Honoring the vows of our founders, all of these, honoring the vows of our founders for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  In each case, we knew that the legal battles were about the foundations of our democracy.  We also knew, that fundamental to our democracy, to it, is the middle class.  Middle class, the backbone of our democracy and that we need to strengthen it.  Who do you think said this?  ‘It is manifest that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well administered in which the middle class is larger and stronger, if possible, than both other classes?  Aristotle.  That, long ago, thousands of years ago, a recognition that the middle class is the strength. 

“We also – well, the challenges that we face today, some of them, threaten the middle class and we must strengthen it, as I keep saying, in keeping the American Dream alive.  We must honor the spirit of the great motto of this university, it’s fabulous: ‘knowledge that works.’  Knowledge that works.  I know parents like the word ‘works,’ that part of it.  Knowledge that works.  Right now, the doors of opportunity are closed to many in our society.  We must restore confidence in our economy, this is one of our challenges – to restore confidence in our economy by creating good paying jobs for our workers, by making it in America and reigniting the American Dream.  We must address this challenge, but I think it’s important for us to recognize that it is the issue of income disparity.  We must close the gaping hole – 40 years ago, those who measure such things determined that the average CEO, say the top 100 companies, made about 40 times what the average worker made, about 40 times.  Today, the average CEO in the same line of companies, makes about 350 times the average worker.  Think of that.  How could that be fair?  Productivity continues to increase, but the workers do not get the rewards.

“So, this is something that we have to address because income disparity undermines the middle class.  The backbone of our democracy, as I keep saying.  And one of the ways that we can address the disparity in income is to address the disparity in education.  To make sure that every person can participate in our country’s prosperity, we must end disparity in education by supporting our teachers, by supporting education, and by making college more affordable to many more people.  We must do that.  And it’s not about, as if by investing in education, we will increase the deficit.  We must decrease the deficit.  But nothing brings more money to the Treasury than investing in education – early childhood, K-12, college, after college, post grad, lifetime learning.  So actually, by investing in education, we reduce the deficit and we reduce educational disparity, and we reduce income disparity, and we strengthen the middle class.

“We must restore confidence as to who we are as people.  We are – by and large, I had this conversation with Pete Angelos and he was so proud today, that the building was named for his parents, telling me about his immigrant grandfather.  We are, by and large, a nation of immigrants, and that is why we must enact comprehensive immigration reform, recognizing that newcomers to America reinvigorate our country – thank you…

[Applause]

“Think of American traits: hope, aspirations for a better future for our children, determination, optimism.  Most of these immigrants who come to our country bring that spirit with them.  That spirit of optimism of America and in coming here, every newcomer makes America more American.  So we have to pass this so that we have the invigoration that continues to keep America number one.

“We must restore confidence in our democracy by amplifying the voices of the people and reducing the role of money in campaigns.  Annie has told us – our founders envisioned a government, a democracy, a government of the many, not the government of the money.  And it is our task – yours as lawyers, mine as an elected official, ours together as citizens – to restore confidence in our politics and our government.  With your leadership, we must increase the level of civility in politics and reduce the role of money, and when we do, I promise you this, we will elect more women, more minorities, more young people, to public office much sooner.  And that’s a very wholesome, it’s a wholesome thing for our great country.

“A great American labor leader, Walter Reuther, once reminded us that the ballot box cannot be connected – disconnected – cannot – the ballot box is connected to the bread box, you cannot separate them.  So, if we want to have more – if we give people more say, if they’re more equal in our democracy, in what the outcomes of elections are, they will have a better chance in our economy.  Stronger say at the ballot box, stronger role in the economy.

“It’s up to you, it’s up to you.  Now, to make this happen, we need to address, as I say, a few of the challenges we face right now where decisions are being made.  President Lincoln once said: ‘public sentiment is everything.’  I’m hopeful that we can get these things done because, if the public knows what is at stake and what the possibilities are, then I think they get the better outcome.  It’s up to you, to all Americans, to make this happen, to demand a change, to put the power of our democracy much more firmly in the hands of the voters.  That elections must reflect – elections and public policy must reflect the will of the people.  It’s up to you, to us, tomorrow, you – tomorrow as lawyers, well, after you’ve passed the bar, and in the meantime – to strengthen our democracy in the courts, in public affairs, public service, in day-to-day practice of the law, representing people, or perhaps, even public office.  Who among you may take up that?  And that requires courage, that’s not for the faint of heart.  But it is definitely worth it and we need you.  We need you to be in public office.

“So, it’s up to you to have the courage to stand up for our values and keep the doors of opportunity open to all.  Throughout our history, from the Bill of Rights to Brown v. Board of Education to the present, the realization of individual, political, and economic rights has been central to the strength of our democratic ideals.  My charge to you today is to build on that tradition and to make that legacy your own; to know that you have the confidence, leaving here to have the confidence that you have the legal education from this great and respected university and the moral wherewithal to pursue the work of justice.

“As Thurgood Marshall once declared: ‘sometimes history takes things into its own hands.’  Today, and in the future, the law school graduates, class of 2013 of the University of Baltimore, must take history into your hands.  When you do, your fellow Americans, you fellow Marylanders, Baltimoreans, and people across the country will look to each of you, as I looked to my father, a long time ago, and my brother, sooner than that.  And when you do, you will ensure our Constitution remains the cornerstone of the American Dream, and we can keep the doors of opportunity – I keep saying it over and over – open to every American. 

“Congratulations to all of the graduates of the class of 2013.  I am honored to be a member of your class and as you go forward remember that you have a friend and a classmate in the Capitol of the United States.  May God bless you and all of your families.  May God bless America.  Thank you for the opportunity to be here.”