Thank you, Patricia, for your kind introduction.
To the Co-Presidents, faculty and students and most of all to the participants of the Harvard Model Congress, it is an official and personal privilege to be with you today.
What a great honor to be a part of such a dynamic program. It is wonderful to see so many young, optimistic future leaders this afternoon.
As a Member of Congress, I welcome the opportunity to visit with students. All that we do in Congress must be viewed with an eye to the future-your future.
The opportunity to participate in this program is one that I'm certain you will cherish and benefit from for years to come. Before coming to Congress, I served for 12 years in the Florida Legislature as a State Representative and Senator.
I was 26 years old when I first ran for office- the youngest woman ever elected to serve in the history of the Florida Legislature.
I am now one of the youngest Members serving in the United States Congress and one of only three mothers with young children. I have twin six-year-olds and a toddler.
People often ask me if it is difficult having three children under the age of seven and working the job that I have now. And I say some days, sure it is. But I ran precisely for them, I ran to improve their lives and the lives of future generations.
I have always been involved in politics. From my days in Student Government at the University of Florida, I developed a love for politics and the political process.
I believe that it is critical that as young people you get involved and make your voices heard.
I'd like to share some statistics about my 2004 primary.
51,305 people voted in the primary election in my district. And, while I wasn't opposed in my election, it was an election that decided such major matters as who would be the Democratic Senatorial candidate to eventually face the Republican opponent, Mel Martinez.
Unfortunately, and I say this very sincerely as someone who really values the participation of young people in the political process, unfortunately, less than 2 percent of the voters in my primary election were 18-25 years old.
Only 963 out of 51,305 voters were aged 18-25.
This fact really depresses me and I'm sure it depresses you. Fortunately, we turned this statistic around a bit in the general election.
In 2004, nearly 21 million Americans under the age of 30 exercised their right to vote, making it the greatest youth turnout in history. And, 42 percent of that 21 million were first time voters.
Why is this so important?
Because the health and strength of our democracy depends on participation from all of its citizens, both young and old.
Everyone has to participate if our government is truly going to be a reflection of the people it is intended to represent.
Therefore, the single most important thing you all can do to strengthen and improve your community is to engage yourselves and others in the political process.
Those efforts do not need to start or stop with voting - you can also volunteer with the causes that you care about and I am sure that many of you already do.
Involvement in civic activities and politics will also teach you a great deal about the needs and concerns of Americans.
Take some time to talk with new people. Learn what their frustrations and concerns are.
Find out what it is they want from our government, and how our government can help make their lives better.
I know this may sound corny, but as I thought about what I would discuss with you today, I couldn't help but think about the rich history of the city of Boston and its role in the creation of our beautiful democracy. I was actually reminded of a phrase from 'America the Beautiful'-'Oh beautiful for patriot dreams that see beyond the years.'
I know, it's corny, but our country really is beautiful because of our legacy to see beyond the years. America is great because we recognize that each generation has a responsibility to make the future better for the next generation, and every one of us has an individual responsibility to do our share.
How we will make our contribution, how will we 'see beyond the years,' to a better future is an individual decision.
The poet Shelley once wrote that 'the greatest force for moral good is imagination.'
As future leaders, you will need all of the imagination you can muster.
Imagination to think in new ways!
Imagination to put yourselves in other people's shoes and understand others!
Imagination to create a society where everyone can reach his or her potential!
We need ideas in our society. And the best source of fresh thinking is fresh eyes - your eyes.
Now, I know that most of you are still developing your political identities and the folks here at the Harvard Model Congress informed me that my remarks should be non-partisan, but I have to say that I am very proud to speak with you today as a Democrat serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Like all of you assembled here today, the more than 200 members of the House Democratic Caucus that I serve with represent the beautiful diversity of our Party and our country.
On every issue we currently face as a nation, from Katrina to Port and Homeland Security and Economic Prosperity to Education, I can tell you that we are working to ensure that the policies we pursue are consistent with the values we cherish.
Truth and trust are essential to our democracy and quite frankly, many of the problems we face today are because our government has broken those sacred promises.
I will save my non-partisan assessment of these current events for the Q and A, but I had to get that out before I closed --- just in case, the Harvard Model Congress decides not invite me again, I've had my say!
In closing, I can think of no better person to quote as we celebrate women's history month than Eleanor Roosevelt - a woman of great integrity and courage.
She once said, 'The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.'
As you go forward to make your mark on the world, do so with confidence!
It has been said that young people are our messengers to the future, a future we will never see.
The message you will take from Harvard Model Congress is one of values, knowledge and integrity.
I hope that your companions along the way will be imagination and passion.
Only then can you fulfill not only your dreams, but the patriot's dream to see and act beyond the years!
Again, thank you for having me here to share with you today and enjoy this awesome experience!