Muriel Bowser

National Cathedral School Commencement - June 6, 2016

Muriel Bowser
June 06, 2016
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Well, good evening, graduates. Madam board chair, madam head of school, parents, faculty and of course the class of 2016—good evening.

As I rise to the podium, I shudder to think of the speeches that have been delivered here, but I will start with a humble one to you.

I want to congratulate your family, your friends and teachers here at NCS who supported and encouraged you towards this very special moment. I know that each and every one of you are headed to the colleges or universities of your choice.

Let's hear it for the class of 2016! [applause]

Well, we know that you'll go as near as Baltimore to Massachusetts and even across the pond, I understand, to London, but I hope that you will remember that this is your home at NCS.

We know that you've learned a very important lesson of life already—that it pays to work hard and if you stay the course you will achieve very, very important things in your life.

Today is one such important thing—your diploma from NCS—and I want to tell you, you may not even know it now, but it means a lot. It means a lot all over this world. Everybody knows that the women of NCS are smart, hard-working, critical thinkers. They know you speak well. They know that you know how to learn and that you know how to succeed.

And it is true that I'm a big fan of women's education. My parents, like yours, made a huge investment in me and sent me to a school for girls and then on to a college for women. And you will see as you get off in life how important and how much you learned and how much it will set you apart.

You have learned that your hard work here will pay off. Nobody could put in the long hours for you, and I know the type and amount of work that your faculty gives you here. Nobody could do it for you. You found the time to not only excel in the classroom but also on the field and out in our beloved community. This discipline will carry you and serve you well in college and in career.

I had the chance very recently to give the commencement address at my alma mater in Pittsburgh, and I'm going to share with you just a few nuggets of what I shared with the women of Chatham now University.

One of the biggest things I asked them to think about—and this is a simple, simple thing that I have followed in my career—and that was many people will tell you to wait your turn. Believe me when I say this—I speak from experience—that you don't always want to listen to that advice.

By the time I was 40 years old, I had been elected three times to the city council here with wide support. I had a record of getting things done, tackling tough issues and serving a demanding constituency. We've come a long way as a city since I grew up here in Washington, DC, but despite that prosperity there were wide gaps in our city, across the city and across all of our wards. I knew that we needed a fresh start and I knew that I had a vision to make the changes that would make our city prosperous for everyone.

But so many people told me to wait my turn. They discouraged me at every turn. They said I was too inexperienced, too young, too much of this, not enough of that. Have any of you heard that?

And then there's this gender gap. Any of you heard of that? It is real. Women are often expected, sometimes more than men, to wait their turn, and sometimes we have even tougher expectations of ourselves.

So as I progressed through my career, I resisted that outer voice and that inner voice telling me to wait my turn. I had spent 10 years in public service even before I decided to get an elected office. I had done the grunt work, I had done my homework and I had proven that I could lead. So when I saw my window of opportunity, I put together the best team, the best plan. I delivered on that plan every single day and we won. I became the second woman to be elected mayor of Washington, DC. And at that time, I was only one of a handful of women who led big cities, and today I think that number is even fewer.

When I go to work each day I work on behalf of 700,000 people. I look for opportunities to improve their life each and every day. I take it as my unique responsibility to raise my voice for those who cannot raise their own and to make sure that everyone regardless of who they are or where they come from has a fair shot in our city.

So that's my path. My path was to study hard, to study public service, to work in local government, to serve my community as an advisory neighborhood commissioner, a council member and now mayor.

You may choose a different path and you will figure it out on your own through experience, through hard work and through trial and error. Some of you will go on to be doctors and lawyers. Some of you will start your own businesses. Some of you will come back, I hope, to work in government, in public service, so that we can tackle the tough issues that face cities like ours all over our country.

Find that thing that motivates you, brings you passion, and when you find it, remember this, a second lesson that has served me well and I say it to my team, I say it to people that I support—you win by winning and as my mother used to say, you can't win for losing.

So you win by winning—that's quite possibly the biggest lesson that I've learned. I try each and every day to win the small races that will lead to the big win. You can think in your own career here at NCS and what you will do in college—what small wins can you rack up every single day, be it getting the best score on a test, scoring the most goals, helping the most people, volunteering in more diverse ways—all of those are wins for you personally and they will be wins for the community. You have won the first leg of this race, and the next one is yours for the pit-taking.

The other lesson that I like to share is that if you're guided by this principle—how will I make my parents proud—it will never fail you. When you go off to college and beyond, remember you're not just representing yourself. You're representing your family, you're representing NCS and you're representing your city.

Remember what I said—everybody knows about NCS woman, so a lot will be expected of you and I have no doubt that you will deliver. Remember you were educated in the best city in the world—soon to be the 51st state of our union [applause]—so with that is also responsibility. A lot will be expected of you and I have no doubt that you will deliver.

Your parents have made a significant investment in you. In some cases, they've made significant sacrifices for you and they wouldn't have it any other way. At some point, I promise you, you're going to look back and say, "Oh man, my mom and dad gave this up for me." Maybe a new car, maybe a vacation, maybe a day off. And you're going to say, "How can I repay them?" And I promise you, there's really no good answer to that question. The only one that I can come up with is that you live your best life, you work hard, that you're honest, that you're kind and you live up to your God-given potential.

And that is my great hope for each and every one of you. You walk into a world where the sky is the limit. You have a tremendous education. You have wonderful support systems behind you. You have a great school that is rooting for you. And I hope that God will give you the strength to do the right things, to not be scared, to jump through those windows of opportunity when they open.

Your parents and the faculty here will tell you that those windows are only open sometimes that much, and sometimes only for a moment. Get yourselves ready to jump through it when your opportunity comes.

We want you to remember your city, to help us to continue to build a city based on entrepreneurial spirit and a hard-work ethic, to help us realize the dream of prosperity in each one of our eight wards, to help us deliver on quality education for every child and so that every family might have the opportunity to succeed.

And most of all I hope that you know that your city is proud of you, that we're rooting for you and we're going to have a great place if you choose to come home.

God bless you all and good luck.