By Timothy B. Wheeler
Calling climate change 'the greatest challenge of our day,' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi credited young voters yesterday with pressuring Congress to finally craft a national response, and she predicted that the United States would join other countries this year in an international pact to reduce planet-warming pollution.
Pelosi, speaking at commencement ceremonies for the Johns Hopkins University's arts and sciences and engineering graduates, called climate change a national security, economic, environmental health and moral issue.
'Thanks to your voices, votes and values, America has awakened to the crisis after years of delay and is now moving in a new direction,' she said.
She noted that as she was in Baltimore speaking, House members were working on legislation that would commit the nation to reducing carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases 80 percent by 2050. The House Energy and Commerce Committee was reportedly nearing a vote to send a bill to the full House after rejecting Republican efforts to weaken it.
While Pelosi was away, Democratic House members also turned back a bid by GOP members to launch an investigation of Pelosi's claims that the CIA misled her in 2002 about whether waterboarding had been used against terrorism suspects. CIA Director Leon Panetta, who was scheduled to speak last night at the commencement for the University of Maryland, College Park, has said agency records show she was present for a briefing outlining interrogation - though he later acknowledged those records might not be completely accurate.
Pelosi didn't mention the dispute, and there were no protests from the students, their families and their friends, who nearly filled Hopkins' Homewood Field stadium.
The first female speaker of the House devoted much of her 14-minute speech not to public affairs but to recalling her Baltimore roots and to lauding Hopkins.
Though she has represented San Francisco in Congress since 1987, Pelosi grew up in the city. Her father, Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr., was Baltimore's mayor for 12 years and also represented the city in Congress. And her brother, Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, who was in the commencement audience, also served as mayor.
'This city is where I first learned the importance of public service from my mother and from my father,' she said.
Pelosi recalled attending lacrosse games on the Homewood campus in her youth and called the university and its medical center 'a crown jewel of a great American city.' She also praised the community service of the students and the institution, noting that this graduating class includes the first 15 'Baltimore Scholars' - city public school students given full scholarships to the private university.
The university awarded an honorary doctorate to Pelosi and to its former president, William R. Brody, who left in February after 12 years at the helm to become president of the Salk Institute for biological studies in California. He was succeeded in March by Ronald J. Daniels, who had been provost at the University of Pennsylvania.
Hopkins, which is awarding more than 6,700 degrees in ceremonies this week, was one of three area universities holding commencements yesterday. The University of Maryland, College Park, which is presenting degrees to more than 7,000 graduates, convened at the campus' Comcast Center. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, awarding more than 1,270 degrees, featured author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman at its undergraduate commencement at 1st Mariner Arena yesterday afternoon.
The 1,100 graduating Hopkins seniors who marched across the stage yesterday afternoon had sanitizing fluid rubbed on their hands before shaking with university administrators - a concession to lingering concerns about the spread of H1N1, or swine flu virus. Some schools have canceled diploma ceremonies or hand-shaking to avoid possible spread of the disease. UMBC advised graduates ahead of time that hand-shaking would be optional.