Pelosi Graduation Address at Cornell University Convocation


Ithaca, N.Y. — Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered the convocation address for graduates of Cornell University today in Ithaca, New York.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks as prepared for delivery.

“Thank you, President Skorton. I know the Class of 2010 will always hold a special place in your heart: you both started your Cornell journey together.

“Members of the Platform Party, Trustees, faculty, staff, and friends of Cornell University: thank you for the opportunity to be with you today.

“Let us join together and thank the families of the graduating class: with their love, hard work, and sacrifice, they have helped create the next generation of leaders.

“To the graduates: congratulations. I am honored by your invitation to be your convocation speaker.  I am proud to come here today as the first woman Speaker of the House.

“Since becoming the first woman Speaker, I’ve found that people are fascinated with firsts.

“As I have learned, Cornellians have several firsts of their own.  Among them:

•        Cornell was the first coeducational school in the Ivy League;
•        It awarded the first degree in journalism and the first doctorates in electrical   and industrial engineering;
•        Cornell was the first to have colleges of veterinary medicine, hotel administration, and industrial and labor relations;
•        Cornell is the first and only Ivy League school that is also a land grant institution;
•        And this year — for the first time in history — the Big Red went to the Sweet Sixteen!

“Today, I was so proud to receive a Big Red jersey signed by the basketball team that I immediately tweeted a picture of it to the world.

“Today, Cornell is hoping for another big win for the Big Red – the Cornell men’s lacrosse team!

“As we gather here today, we are observing Memorial Day weekend – when we honor the patriotism, sacrifice, and courage of our men and women in uniform.

“Because of them, we are the land of the free and the home of the brave.

“We have an extra reason to observe their courage today, as we voted this week in Congress to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

“Thank you, President Skorton, for your letter of support to repeal that discriminatory policy.

“One reason I’m glad to be here because Cornell has been home to several pioneering women:

•        Janet Reno, the first woman Attorney General;
•        And Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“Also associated with Cornell is the first woman Cabinet member, Secretary of Labor for 12 years under President Franklin Roosevelt — Frances Perkins.

“Though she is not a household name, Frances Perkins is responsible for many of the initiatives that affect American families: the minimum wage, Social Security, and the eight-hour work day.

“After she left the President’s cabinet, Perkins was invited by Cornell to teach at the school of Industrial and Labor Relations.  Breaking with the conventions of the time, she lived with a group of young men at Telluride House.

“A much older woman, she held court —  and inspired a much younger generation.  Infusing the next generation with her entrepreneurial spirit, she found a home here at Cornell.

“Speaking of the next generation, we are proud to have a Cornellian in the family: my son-in-law, Michael Kenneally, received his Master’s degree from Cornell.  Also, two of my staff are Cornellians: Amy Rosenbaum and Tom Manatos.

“I am also pleased to have worked in a bipartisan way with another Cornell grad: Chief of Staff to House Minority Leader John Boehner, Paula Nowakowski, who we sadly lost this year.

“In my travels as Speaker, I have met with presidents, prime ministers, and kings.  But what has impressed and inspired me the most were my conversations with young people.

“As you know best, young people are weary of war.  Young people want an end to violence – whether in the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, or the genocide in Darfur.  Young people want to address the climate crisis and preserve the planet.  Young people – especially new graduates – want jobs and opportunity.

“America has always been the land of opportunity.  This has been the source of our greatness as a nation.  Opportunity has been the promise for those who come to our shores; opportunity has been the responsibility from one generation to the next.

“At certain times in our nation’s history, we have had to make a decision to strengthen American opportunity.

“The Greeks have a word for this: ananke.  As I have shared with other students, in classical Greek, ananke means destiny.  It also means scarcity.  The Greeks were suggesting that times of scarcity drive us to choose a destiny–and that these are moments when history can be shaped through deliberate choices – decisions.

“Throughout our history, America has confronted and surmounted each moment of ‘ananke.’  During the Industrial Revolution, we decided to give our workers the opportunity to move from the fields into factories; during the technological revolution, we decided to commit our nation to innovation.

“And now, listening to young people, we have decided again in favor of the future: we have decided to build a new prosperity for America.

“Our new prosperity will be rooted in four words: science, science, science, and science.

“Essential to our new prosperity is science and innovation, and we recognize that innovation begins in the classroom.

“That is why we made a decision to make the largest investment in college aid in our nation’s history:

•        Lowering the cost of student loans and capping student loan payments;
•        Expanding Pell Grants;
•        And rewarding those who pursue public service with loan forgiveness.

“Essential to our new prosperity, and honoring science with investments in technology and innovation, Congress passed – and President Obama signed – historic health insurance reform.

“The bill itself will create four million new jobs.  And it will unleash even more jobs and make America more competitive.

“Health care reform gives you freedom to change jobs or be self-employed; be creative and entrepreneurial; and follow your passion – to be an artist, musician, or a writer.

“You can be free – not job-locked – to follow your talent without risking your or your family’s health care.

“For young people, for the first time in history, you are allowed to stay on your parent’s health care plans until you are 26 years old.  We want to give you time to get your career started without having to worry about health insurance.

“For senior citizens, some of whom may be your grandparents, we closed the Medicare prescription drug donut hole, and strengthened Medicare for generations to come.

“For all Americans, we ended the day when you can be denied coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition.

“As we insure 32 million more Americans, now, health care is a right, not a privilege.

“Another decision we have made based on science is to have a new energy policy to make us energy independent and address the climate crisis.

“A new energy policy is:

•        a national security issue — reducing our dependence on foreign oil;
•        an economic issue – fueling our prosperity by creating jobs in a clean, green way;
•        an environmental and health issue — reducing dangerous emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels.

“When we seen the environmental, economic, and cultural impact of the tragedy on the Gulf Coast, we know that we need a new energy policy.

•        A new energy policy is a moral issue.  If you believe as I do that this planet is God’s creation, we have a moral obligation to care for it and pass it on to our future generations in a responsible way.
•        And a new energy policy is an opportunity to ensure our new prosperity.

“As President Obama has said, ‘…countries recognize that the nation that leads in the clean energy economy will lead the global economy.  And I want America to be that nation.’

“Indeed, in America, we have not only an economic reason but also an ethical responsibility to create jobs.

“Affordable health care, quality education, and establishing a new energy policy: these are the pillars of our new prosperity.

“These are our decisions in favor of the future.

“These are decisions for our nation; you will have to make personal decisions.  Some have asked what decisions I made on my path to the Speaker’s office.  What prepared me best to be a leader in Congress was raising my five children.  Being a mother of five required discipline, focus, a sense of organization, and indeed, diplomacy.

“When my children were young, I volunteered in politics, but I never intended to seek public office myself.  But in 1987, I was urged to run for Congress.  While honored with the suggestion, my concern was that my youngest child, Alexandra, was entering her senior year in high school.

“I prayed over my decision, discussed it with my husband, and asked my daughter thoughtfully — and with deepest sincerity — what she thought.  I told her any decision is fine: I can run for Congress or stay at home with you.

“My teenage daughter looked back at me and said, ‘Mother, get a life.’

“And so I did.

“When I did, I was ready for the opportunity to come to Congress. And when I got there, I was ready to make a difference.

“People had said to me, ‘you are going to love Congress because you love issues.’  And indeed, I did, and do – from education, the economy, and the environment, to human rights around the world and the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“I studied the issues and worked to master the policy. And years later, when I was urged to run for leadership, I was ready.

“Cornell has helped ensure that you are ready.

“The Cornell professor and university historian Carl Becker captured the spirit of this school when he said: ‘…The Cornell tradition…allows a maximum of freedom and relies so confidently upon the sense of personal responsibility for making a good use of it.’

“You have already demonstrated responsibility, making good use of your freedom here at Cornell – organizing your fellow students to vote, bringing help to Haiti, working against poor working conditions around the world, and addressing the global climate crisis.

“And you know well that we have a responsibility to care about one another.

“There are many reasons to admire Cornell.  One demonstration of its greatness is your response to the loss of far too many students this year.  You have demonstrated care for your community, and loving compassion to those who need help.  Cornell has given you the confidence that if you need help, and ask for it, help will be there.

“And now, you leave this beautiful campus and take your place in the world, with new freedoms and greater responsibilities.

“For the engineers and architects, we need you to build the new green infrastructure and to power the world with the clean technologies of the future.

“For the agriculture and life sciences graduates, we need you to cure disease, feed the world and minister to all that is God’s beautiful creation.

“For the liberal arts students, we need your ideas and imagination to address the great challenges of our time.

“And for those of you receiving business degrees, we need you to pursue the fruits of American capitalism with enthusiasm, while remaining always mindful of the responsibilities that come with the freedom of the marketplace.

“All of you will now begin to build a reputation in your field.  And you join a proud tradition of Cornellians who have helped ensure a better future for America.  We need all of you to build a new prosperity for the 21st century.

“Class of 2010: because of the honor you have given me of being your convocation speaker, always remember, you have a friend in the Speaker’s office.

“God bless you.

“God bless America.”

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