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Miami Herald: Nancy Pelosi to MDC grads: You've made America strong

By Trenton Daniel

May 4--House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke to some 1,100 Miami Dade College North graduates about realizing the American dream.

She spoke about the value of education.

She spoke about the American-ness of America.

If audience members at MDC North's commencement exercises Saturday were expecting the highest-ranking Democrat to weigh in on the presidential election or offer a remedy on rising fuel prices, they were disappointed.

Pelosi spoke everything except politics.

And that was fine with some.

'It's good she focused on our achievements today,' said Antonio Lopez, 24, of Miami Lakes, who graduated with an associate's in business.

'She was speaking about what matters -- not telling us, 'You should try thinking about this or that.' '

Before an audience of some 4,500, Pelosi urged the newest alumni of MDC North to recognize opportunity, follow one's passion, and have faith in the future.

MDC gave Pelosi an honorary degree in education.

'We will become classmates,' she said. 'Remember that you have a friend in the Speaker's office.'

And in true South Florida style, Saturday's graduation ceremony at the James L. Knight International Center, came with fireworks -- of sorts.

'Is the 2008 class ready to celebrate?' bellowed North Campus President Jose Vicente, following Pelosi's 12-minute speech.

The lights dimmed and graduates swung blue glow sticks.

Everyone erupted in applause as hip-swiveling dancers in bikini tops and grass skirts burst into view to a thumping Polynesian drumbeat.

Two male dancers entertained with lit torches -- with one appearing to swallow the flames.

Some 2,000 who could not get inside the Knight Center watched the speaker and the show on television monitors.

Miami Dade had commencement ceremonies at seven campuses Saturday, with nearly 9,000 students graduating.

MDC North campus' graduates came from 66 different countries, Vicente said.

That fact was not lost on Pelosi, a longtime advocate for immigrant rights.

She reminded audience members that America is a 'source of hope and opportunity' for many immigrants.

'But understand this: Every newcomer, whether it was 100 years ago or a couple days ago, makes America more American.

'Because these newcomers bring their homes, their dreams, their aspirations, their commitments, they make the future better for the next generation.'

She ended with this advice:

'As you go forward with this degree, know that you have not only achieved something great for yourself and for your family, but you have made America strong.'

Graduates walked away hopeful.

Some said they were struck by her demeanor.

'She has an aura about herself,' said Allapattah resident David Varela, 48, who graduated with an associate degree in physical education.

'She realizes that the youth [have] a lot to do with the future.'