Amy Klobuchar

Humphrey School of Public Affairs Commencement Address - May 13, 2017

Amy Klobuchar
May 13, 2017— Minneapolis, Minnesota
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Thank you so much, Eric. It is just a treat to be here, I will say, bringing you greetings as your senior senator—I always like to say that when Franken's around, usually—that we are a state where the women are strong, the men are good-looking and all the Humphrey graduates are above average. So thank you so much.

Amina, maybe you already gave the commencement speech, I would say? That was just incredible. I was thinking, having visited Syria before this horrific conflict broke out and seeing the beauty of the country and seeing where it is now and knowing your personal struggles in your life, that last quote, man—that was yours. You have made so much of what you have been left with, so much. So thank you so much. And by the way, we need more people in Washington that look like teenagers, so please join us.

And I especially wanted to thank Abdul, who turned to me when you were done and said, "You've got to follow that now." Okay, that was really a nice words of confidence. Thank you, that really made me feel welcome.

Eric, congratulations for your incredible leadership. You have created new programs, you've expanded both career and financial support, you've increased recruitment of faculty and guess what, as a result of all this—of you Eric, of faculty on the stage, of all of you and your parents—the school was ranked as a top ten graduate school of public affairs for the first time in its history. You guys all did that, all of you.


So not only are you going to be missed, Dean, by all of the people in this room, I am especially going to miss having our little chats at Humphrey events, especially when we are joined by protesters. Those are always fun. I never forget a protestor, ever, and it is really true though he's made such a difference. And I'm so excited at this time of such tumult that Dean Schwartz has decided to take on the refugee issue. So thank you so much, Dean, for the work that you're doing.

You are in very good hands with Dean Laura Bloomberg, your next dean. By the way as each paper…[crowd cheers]. I love the personal interest. As some of the award winners were announced, she turned to me and said, "That was a really good paper." I won't tell you which one she said that to, but that was very cool.

And I also wanted to just acknowledge all the parents and friends that are here, and I can't think for the moms out there what a better Mother's Day present than seeing your kid graduate. Very good.

Forty years the Humphrey School has done incredible things including, as many of you may know, being the site of my wedding celebration. Yes, romantic that it is. We didn't have any money for flowers so we had balloons that were then released by my high school prom date and my mother started to cry because she said it would hurt the environment. That actually happened outside of the Humphrey School on my wedding night. Then it was raining so hard and after the microphone broke when Walter Mondale went up to the stage because my dad in an Iron Range way had thrown it down really hard and when Mondale picked it up it no longer worked and he made some Watergate reference which is actually not funny anymore. And then my husband was off having fun drinking beer. My roommate from college's breast pump—she had just had a baby—was taken by the Korean bakery in St. Paul when they brought back the cake stuff and she no longer had it. And we got in the car and it was pouring rain and my husband turned to me right in the parking lot and said, "Wasn't that just the greatest wedding?" and I burst out in tears. "Everything went wrong!"—the breasts, blah blah, and all he had for a Kleenex was that soggy wedding bell then he took off and gave to me. So you see, I have such happy memories of the Humphrey Institute.

But I actually do. You do incredible work, and I've been so honored to have all of you as part of this incredible program. Hubert Humphrey, now more than ever, we need happy warriors in Washington, DC. He loved politics.

One time a few years ago, I showed a documentary about Humphrey to our staff and it was dark in the room, and at the very end I forgot they scroll down every single bill that he ever worked on and it was just like—that he had passed—and it was like 150 of them, and then the lights went on and they're all [mouth agape] like that, because he really did incredible work. So it's a great namesake to have for this institution, and thank you so much for following in his footsteps.

I love the work that I've heard you've all worked on. By the way, I love the Brooklyn Park rebranding. We need a little rebranding in Washington right now. Maybe you guys could do a paper on that. Give us some ideas.

You're a hub for students that can't wait until they graduate. Heather Heyer, one of today's graduates who spent her summer not taking it easy on a Minnesota Lake but working hard for the Denver election division—great example. Mark Besonen, another student graduating today, who couldn't even wait for the summer to start before doing foreign policy research for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

And look what your graduates have done. This is your future, right? Jasmine Jones, Humphrey School graduate who's working in Liberia to find ways to engage youth in public health issues. Emily Kuhn recently started 1myVote. Scott DeLisi who serves as the executive director of the Soarway Foundation focusing on disaster risk reduction. And then of course, one of my staff members who walked across the stage just last year, Garrison—Garrison, where are you, man? Are you going to come on out? There he is. Anyway, he's doing a great job, right? They're just a few examples for you to aspire to.

A lot of really big things have happened in the last few months, as everyone knows. One of the things you might not have noticed of great import is that I was officially displaced as the most famous Slovenian American in Washington, DC,, by Melania Trump. That actually happened, that is true. She was born an hour away from where my relatives are from in Slovenia, and as I said at the National Prayer Breakfast, every time I look at her it's like looking in the mirror.

So we have all gotten used to the New World—sort of. I for one and no matter where you are politically, I think everyone will agree that election night was a big surprise, no matter what side you were on.

For me, this is a good student story, I was running around with Franken, my junior senator, and we were giving all these speeches and then I was just kind of stunned and doing TV and then I got home at about midnight and I realized—and the moms here will relate to this—that I had forgotten where my daughter was. She's 21. She's actually graduating in a week and from college, not like you guys. And I had forgotten that she was at Hillary's party in New York and she sent me this text and it said, "What should we do now?" and I wrote this long mom-guilt text back, right? It's like, "The subways are still running. I checked, our friends are waiting for you to come stay at their house. You cannot stay there anymore even if they tell you to. This isn't good. She's not going to speak. This is going bad. It's very sad and you need to leave and you have class tomorrow." That is what I wrote back. And then she writes back, "Mom, I mean our country." True story. So I said to her that night, I said, "You know what? Our country has been through tough times before. We've been through wars, injustice and discrimination, financial crisis, deep-seat discord, and through it all we've always had a peaceful transition of power and we always have kept moving forward." I still believe that today.


All of that being said, right now I can't think of a more important thing than being in the U.S. Senate, because we are an emergency brake but we are also a place where compromise can be made. We have people that are willing to work across the aisle and to hopefully….I loved Eric's comments at the beginning of what you guys talk about here, people who want to make the world a better place. We have a few of those, okay, we do in the Senate.

This one's harder evidence-based, okay. Some days I think we live in an evidence-free zone in Washington, DC, but this idea of trying to get to the bottom of facts and figuring out what happened—very important.

And then the third one, which is this promotion of values. One of the things I hope you take with you in this really difficult time is that…and Eric made some references to this…of working in a way where you understand where someone else is coming from even if you don't agree with them politically. Looking at where other people are getting their news—except don't look at news that is not real news, right? Look at other people's news and understand where they're coming from and listen and listen and listen and do it with respect.

Because there's such a lack of respect right now of institutions in this country. It's not just government, it's everything from religious institutions to business institutions, and we have to get back some of that respect. And it's not easy to do if you just watch the news all the time and see the wrestling match that many people believe Washington to be. That has not been my experience for the last ten years, because I think there's so many people of merit that want to do the right thing, but we are being severely tested.

And I have never so much talked about our Constitution as I have in the last few months. And no matter where you are from politically, you must agree that we must stand up for our three branches of government, and that includes the judiciary, who as Hamilton once said has neither the—I like to quote Hamilton these days, he's kind of good—has neither the power of the sword nor the power of the purse. They have the power given to them by the Constitution.

And as the daughter of the journalist, I believe every day we have to stand up for the freedom of the press. That is so important to our democracy that we do that. And then—for whoever's out there that worked at that Denver election place—we have to stand up for the very principle of democracy and elections, which is under assault right now.

And I thought Marco Rubio, one of my Republican colleagues, who said it best….

Okay, can I just tell you one funny little Marco Rubio story? I just thought of this. When we were taken on the bus to the White House for the briefing on North Korea, which was a very important briefing, but let's just say we didn't quite understand why we had to go to the White House, when we always have them in the Senate. We all got on that bus because we're going to do the right thing, and as we were getting off I was sitting with Senator McCain who's one of my best friends there. Marco Rubio stood up and looked at the whole bus of senators and said, "I would have never done this to you guys." It's like a little Republican joke, Republican-Republican joke.

But what Marco Rubio said a few months ago that right now—this assault from a foreign country which our founders felt was so important to our Constitution, right, that's why they were worried way back then about Great Britain influencing our elections—that this assault from a foreign country and our democracy as Senator Rubio said, right now it was one party and one candidate, but the next time it'll be the other party and the other candidate. And that's why it is really important on a bipartisan basis to get the bottom of what happened, but more importantly as you guys all go out into the world of politics to figure out how we can stop this from happening again.

And to me that means an independent commission with a purpose of which is not maybe what some of you think, but the purpose of which is to figure out what are the rules of the game if this happens again—if Russia does this again or if another country does this to us, what do we do? Do we allow campaigns just to use it? In the French elections, they didn't really do that. When the media got hold of that cyberattack hack, they didn't really put that out there a few days before. And so it's figuring out what the media will do, what our candidates will do, what the parties will do and how we can best protect ourselves.

So that's going to be your job going forward. That's where you're getting this great degree, right? Because we have to think about this as a protection for our democracy. Those are kind of the values, things that've been on my mind lately.

Second, economics, thinking about how we can best prepare ourselves for the challenging world before us because not every student—and we really have to come to grips with this—wants to get a graduate degree or even a college degree. And we have to look at the jobs that are out there right now, where we have to do more with apprenticeships and community colleges and things like that, because we really have to prepare ourselves.

And that really melds into refugees and immigration reform. We cannot forget that 25% of our Nobel laureates were born in other countries, right? Seventy of our Fortune 500 companies are headed up by immigrants, and right now we have a situation where the Wild hockey team—there's got to be a hockey player, hockey fan out there—the Wild hockey team that we love, they have unlimited visas to bringing hockey players from what country? Canada. That's right—we can see Canada from our porch, right?—so they have these unlimited visas to do that. But in our country if Mayo Clinic wants to bring in the spouse of a doctor or 3M, it's really difficult to do. And so we have to think about immigration reform, not only in that humanitarian piece of it and the moral piece of it, but also in the economic future of our country. So remember that as you go forward.

The last thing I want to talk about was just this general issue of internationalism, and what I've learned pretty quickly in the last few years is that even if you want to isolate yourself from the rest of the world, which is certainly not our goal at the Humphrey Institute, the rest of the world doesn't let you. Eventually international problems and opportunities come knocking at your door.

They come for me with a phone call from a scared dad whose daughter's high school sports team is marooned in Guatemala by a mudslide—that happened. Or during a meeting with local steel workers who are irate over illegal dumping of steel from China. Or a Minnesota family of a young man imprisoned in Iran for hiking in the mountains. Or another one who is put behind bars in the United Arab Emirates for simply posting a YouTube video—and it wasn't even that outrageous, you can watch it. He was in prison for a year. Or when a student asked how we can prevent Russia from undermining the power of her vote in elections moving forward.

In our state—and this is the exciting part—we have tended to embrace internationalism. Certainly the University of Minnesota, by all these students here, has embraced internationalism, right? And I believe that's what we should be doing. Our state has one of the highest rates of international adoptions. We have an incredibly strong business community that goes back and forth and works overseas all of the time. And we've always had a moral commitment in our state at its core, going way back to some of our early missionaries, to work overseas and to work with people that look different than ourselves.

So with that, I think one of the last challenges that I ask you to take on is something that Amina probably did so much better than I ever could, and that is to make sure that we include everyone.

I'll never forget being at a mosque in Minneapolis a few months ago and hearing the story of a family, and these the parents actually had been here through 9/11. I was the Hennepin County attorney back then. I remember the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney and I went all around them to the Muslim community in Minnesota and said, "Let us know if you have any hate crimes. If those backlash, we stand by you." That was the order of President Bush to do that and we did that and it was the right thing to do.

Well, these parents had experienced nothing bad during that time, and then this last summer, now they're married, they've got kids, they go to a restaurant for dinner and this guy walks by and he looks down at their family and says, "You four go home. You go home to where you came from." And this little girl looks up at her mom and she says, "Mom, I don't want to go home for dinner tonight. You said we could eat out tonight. I don't want to go home." You think of the words of that innocent child. She only knew one home and that was Minnesota. She didn't even know what he was talking about. She only knew one home and that was our state, and she only knew one home and that was the United States of America.

So your job, graduates, as you go out there—because this is your home, too—is to make sure that that little girl and everyone understands that every day. That is this true civic engagement that you've learned from this great institution. So you just remember that. And remember that civic engagement can mean the little things, like volunteering. They can mean big things like running for office or getting involved in the campaigns. It can mean treating people with respect if you're a Republican trying to be nice to Democrats, Democrats trying to be nice to Republicans. It can mean showing yourself involved in other ways.

That march that Amina mentioned. The next day after that, over 6,000 women signed up to run for office who had never run. They signed a postcard saying that they wanted to run. Or one of my favorite marches—the March for Science, where we had over 10,000 people. My favorite sign that's at march, that radical march—that's a joke—"What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer-review!" That is like a sign that warms the hearts of every Humphrey graduate.

So this is truly your moment, class of 2017, your moment to shine, your moment this weekend to make all those moms happy for all those years on Mother's Day.

So congratulations. I know Hubert Humphrey would be as proud of you as I am.

Thank you for including me. Thank you.