Muriel Bowser

Trinity Washington University Commencement - May 20, 2017

Muriel Bowser
May 20, 2017— Washington, D.C.
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Good morning, Class of 2017!

I could not be happier to be with you today.

It’s so great to be back at Trinity … thanks so much for the warm welcome.

I’ve held public office for 10 years … so, needless to say not much surprises me anymore.

But if you had told me 10 years ago, that I would be receiving an honorary doctorate from my hometown university … I wouldn’t have believed you.

I’m so grateful and honored to officially be a part of your university family.

I would like to begin by thanking your university’s remarkable president Pat McGuire for the invitation to be with you today.

President McGuire — I also want to thank you for all your hard work to expand Trinity’s scholarship and academic programs … create new partnerships with community-based groups … and connect real DC residents with the resources and support they need.

Under your leadership, Trinity has reclaimed its rightful place as one of the country’s leading institutions of higher education.

This is something that every Washingtonian should be proud of.

I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge Dr. Shelley Tomkin, a rockstar professor of political science here at Trinity.

Professor Tomkin is retiring from academia this year … we wish her all the best in her next chapter.

I want to thank the parents and grandparents, the wives and husbands, the aunts and uncles, and the many many friends who are joining us in the audience today … thank you for everything you do to support the leaders sitting before me.

Graduates — let’s give your families a well-deserved round of applause.

Lastly, I want to thank the distinguished faculty, staff, and members of the entire university community.

Thank you for advancing our city’s core principles of equity and justice, honor and loyalty.

These are the DC values that make us who we are. These are the values that unite us as a country.

And I am proud to join you in fighting for them each and every day.

Graduates — I know I’m not the third, fourth, or even the fifth person to tell you that today is a special day for many reasons:

You’re celebrating the end of those late-night cramming sessions.

You’re giving up countless procrastination hours of Snapchatting, tweeting, and posting on Facebook … well, maybe not just yet.

But you’re definitely following in the footsteps of those who came before you.

So many who walked the same halls … raised their hands in the same classrooms … and strolled across the same campus grounds, over the years.

They were leaders of character … visionaries of purpose who were dedicated to community service … and passionate intellectuals excited about their future.

So, when some days ahead seem a little cloudier than others and on the nights that seem a little bit darker than most … when obstacles stand in your way — as they inevitably will — I urge you to draw strength from the extraordinary tradition you are a part of.

The men and women who surround you today will be an important part of your lifeline forever.

As Mayor, I’m often guided by the words of civil rights activist Dorothy Height:

“Greatness is not measured by what a man or woman accomplishes, but by the opposition he or she has overcome to reach his goals.”

I know many of you have overcome tremendous obstacles to get here.

And as I thought about speaking with you, I thought about all the people who’ve helped guide me and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

In this spirit, I’d like to share three hopes I have for you and your future.

My first hope is that you are mindful, brave, and bold enough to find your “job” and stick to it.

Now, I don’t mean “job” in the traditional sense of the word.

Let me explain.

I still remember going to community meetings as a young girl — years before I even thought about getting into politics — when my dad was a Commissioner … and a resident and vocal advocate for North Michigan Park.

I would sit in the back of the room doing my homework and listening to my dad and neighbors discuss how they could make life better for other people.

Over the years, this idea of looking out for our friends and neighbors — a principle that both my parents instilled in me — stuck with me.

It eventually led me to run for elected office.

Even though I’ve had different titles over the years … I was an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, a Ward 4 Councilmember, and even a tour bus guide …

I always found a way to express my true calling and passion for working to improve the community.

So yes, right now my title is Mayor.

But today, my JOB is the same as it’s been for decades … I am a public servant.

So I’m asking you all today — what is your job? What do you think you were put on this planet to do?

I know there are some who would disagree with what I’m telling you.

Some may say … Muriel, a job is just that … a J-O-B.

I happen to disagree.

I think a job is an opportunity for you to make a meaningful contribution to the world we all share.

It’s a chance to lend your gifts to something larger than yourself.

And a job should be a genuine expression of who you really are.

DC resident Taylour Gardiner understands this fundamental truth.

For years, she’s studied the history of midwifery and the vital role it plays in our society.

Taylour knew she wanted to help give women and children the support they need and deserve.

So, as a participant in the Joanne and William Conway Scholarship Program here at Trinity, she was excited to learn even more.

Taylour’s not only becoming a certified birth worker or doula, she’s also counseled young women and offered postpartum support to them.

Today, she is graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing.

Taylour — keep up the great work!

Taylour’s passion shows why all the old adages are true … you shouldn’t settle on a title just because it pays a lot of money or just because it sounds good on a resume.

Yes, money is important … I know we all have bills to pay!

And yes, resumes are important … you want to have a good work history under your belt.

But there’s one thing that’s more important than money. It’s more important than your resume …

It’s called integrity.

No amount of money can buy it. Your resume can’t get it for you.

You either have it or you don’t and once it’s damaged, it’s very, very difficult to repair.

So find out what your job is, and be prepared to live different expressions of it along the way.

Everyone knows I like a good fight.

And it’s not because I relish confrontation … or because I’m secretly vying for a spot on reality TV.

It’s because I know that my voice matters and I’m not afraid to let folks know it.

This leads me to my second hope — I hope that you learn to be unapologetic about who you really are.

This can seem like a pretty simple task.

But in a world that can sometimes stifle creativity and encourage conformity, I urge you to value your own individuality and consistently seek out ways to express it.

I think we can all understand the desire to fit in … the need to belong and to connect with others, is a fundamental part of being human.

But if we always allow ourselves to succumb to criticism … if we consistently measure our worth against the approval of others, we will never be the women and men God created us to be.

You cannot live your life based on what other people say … may say … think or may not think about you.

Trust me … if I did that, I’d never want to go outside!

That’s simply no way to live.

Being honest about who you are is particularly important for the times we find ourselves living in now.

At every level and in every field — especially in politics and government — we see how women are more harshly criticized … more frequently criticized … and more wrongly criticized, don’t we?

But we can’t let that stop us because every major issue we face today disproportionately impacts women:

  • Some political leaders are trying to make it harder for women to make decisions about their own bodies and their own health.
  • Women are vastly underrepresented in science, technology, and entrepreneurship.
  • Climate change — an issue that affects every person here — disproportionately burdens women and girls across the globe.

So it goes without saying, we need women of every background, every color, and every creed to do their part as we work together to address our shared challenges.

And you need to be willing to color outside of the lines … even if it’s unpopular.

Because as Eleanor Roosevelt reminds us, “Well behaved women rarely make history.”

So, if we’re overly concerned about being liked, being nice, or being accepted, we won’t make the kind of progress this country needs to see.

I know that for many of you, Trinity has helped you learn how to live the kind of life you always knew you were meant to live.

For example, when Ashley Leonard first stepped foot on campus, she wasn’t sure what path she should take.

Growing up, Ashley didn’t get much guidance. She didn’t have a lot of family support.

But Trinity made up for everything she felt she lacked.

Her professors and advisors motivated her to keep up with her school work.

Everyone — from the public safety officers to the food service workers — showed her genuine care and kindness.

And Trinity, she says, is one of the first places where she feels like she has a “genuine family.”

Today, Ashley is graduating with Bachelor of Arts degree in communication … way to go!

Ashley told us she’s lucky to belong to the Trinity community and so fortunate to have learned from so many inspiring women.

She’s hopeful she can one day inspire others in the same way.

Ashley’s story reminds us that we need to lift others up as we climb our own ladders.

That’s why the third hope I have for you is that you’ll become strong advocates for other girls and women like you.

Whether it’s in a blog, a magazine, or on TV, it seems like everywhere I look I see a whole lot of “Mean Girls” in action.

These are the usual cast of characters …

Someone can’t stand the lip gloss someone else is wearing.

Someone looked at someone else the wrong way.

All of this can make it seem like women simply can’t get along … that we’re somehow destined for cattiness … that jealousy of one another is just a part of our makeup.

But this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I have to tell you, some of the best mentors, advisors, and friends I have had in my life have been women.

The most amazing woman in my life has always been my mother.

She and so many others have taught me to stand up for the things that matter to me most.

They’ve shown me the value in finding my voice and helping others do the same.

And I know that the pettiness we so often see, isn’t a reflection of the true nature of womanhood.

Because the true nature of womanhood is being there for a grieving friend who just lost their parent to cancer.

It’s ignoring the naysayers and following a dream of opening up a new business.

It’s helping a young student learn how to read.

These are the women I’ve met … these are the stories I’ve learned from … and these are the kinds of role models we should all strive to emulate and be.

Before I close, I’d like to leave you with one last thing.

I know I just spent the last twenty minutes or so, praising you for everything you’ve learned and the many ways you’ve grown.

But I want to caution you from thinking you have everything completely figured out.

Be willing to let go of some of the things you think you know.

Because, as will sometimes be the case, what you think is up will turn into down … right will turn into left … what you thought was forcing you backwards, actually pushed you ahead.

As you’ve discovered here at Trinity, curiosity is the foundation of learning.

So as you move forward, flexibility will be key.

Who knows, you may discover that you want to switch gears a little bit.

Maybe, you’ll start off working at a nonprofit, but then decide you’d like to pursue teaching.

Maybe you’ll find a job in the health care field, but then you decide to pursue a passion in the arts.

Be patient with yourself.

This is all a part of the journey. It’s all a part of discovering who you are and who you want to be.

This journey will change from day to day, month to month, year to year.

But you need to know that no matter what your journey brings, we’ll be right here … cheering for you … rooting for you … every step of the way.

Once again, congratulations Class of 2017.

God bless all of you. And God bless Washington, DC.

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