Katherine “Kate” Brown

Celebrating the Class of 2020 - June 15, 2020

Katherine “Kate” Brown
June 15, 2020— Virtual address
Print friendly

Class of 2020, I'm so delighted to have this opportunity to offer my sincere congratulations to every single Oregon graduate at the same time.

That said, unfortunate circumstances have made this address possible. I know it must be incredibly disappointing to be denied the chance to celebrate your graduation in person with your classmates, faculty, friends, and family.

There's no stage to walk across with your diploma. There's no graduation tassels to shift, or caps to toss. There's no orchestra playing “Pomp and Circumstance.”

But the lack of a traditional graduation ceremony doesn't diminish the magnitude of your accomplishments. You did the work, you met all the deadlines. You turned in your papers and passed your exams. Well done!

Today, we celebrate you and everything that you have achieved.

Tomorrow, you embark on a new path, a new adventure, a new journey, a meaningful life that you get to choose and map out for yourself.

The pandemic has forced people all over the world to change how we live.

As graduates who've lived most of your lives between the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Great Recession and this pandemic, in some ways, you've experienced nothing but constant change. This makes you better equipped than most generations to step up and help shape our shared future.

The world needs your talents, skills, and knowledge. And now more than ever, the world needs your compassion and kindness. Instead of despairing over the current state of the world, you are learning from it and changing it.

Let me share a few examples.

Isaac Pena from Mazama High School is getting a jumpstart on his goal of becoming a police officer by taking online classes at Klamath Community College, on top of a full high school course load.

In Seaside, Mason Miller heard that his hometown healthcare workers were using trash bags as makeshift personal protective equipment, so, he donated his graduation gown to help. Graduation gowns are more effective than other protective alternatives given their length, sleeves and zippered enclosures.

Lakeview senior Alyson Yates was appointed as one of thirteen 4-H state ambassadors for Oregon. And during the pandemic, she's been using the skills she learned to single handedly lead a photography program in Lake County called the Shutterbugs.

Klamath Community College's Amber Preston developed a widely used student food pantry before the pandemic began. And ever since, Amber has worked tirelessly to expand it, so that this essential service continues to be available to her fellow students.

Jadie Wick will graduate this spring from the family nurse practitioner program at the OHSU School of Nursing in La Grande. During the pandemic, Jadie has worked as an ER nurse at a hospital in Hermiston. And to meet patient needs while decreasing the chance of spreading COVID-19, she's been seeing patients remotely through telehealth. After her graduation, Jadie plans to become a nurse leader in her rural community.

Van Vu graduated from OSU with a Doctor of Pharmacy a month early, so she can help as the state continues to ramp up COVID-19 testing at retail pharmacies. Van is a graduate intern at a Portland Fred Meyer, while she awaits her boards. Good luck, soon-to-be Dr. Vu!

Never, never underestimate the impact a single person can have on the people around them. Each of you has the tools and skills necessary to change the world. And if you think you're too small to make an impact, well, you've obviously never shared a tent with a mosquito.

In the real world, big problems are solved one step at a time. And that's just how Oregon is tackling this epidemic, piece by piece, day by day.

But if we're gonna continue to make forward progress, we need your help.

While the virus doesn't discriminate in who it infects, persistent disparities in our society put many more Oregonians at risk than others.

We know from the CDC that communities of color make up the majority of hospitalizations for COVID-19. In Oregon, 33% of COVID-19 cases are in our Latinx community.

Financially, we also know that less than one in four low-income Americans have emergency funds that would last them three months. This must change.

So, as we look toward the future, a future where this virus remains a fact of life for months to come, and we focus on building a safer and stronger Oregon, we need to lift up our most underserved communities in the process, our rural and tribal communities, as well as our low-income and communities of color.

Our reopening plan recognizes the uniqueness of every community and is designed to help counties to learn and adapt as they go. By focusing our reopening plan on those who are all too often left behind, and those who are most impacted by the pandemic, we have the opportunity to build a better Oregon for everyone.

You know, I learned a lesson when I came into office in 2015. At the time the state, and the country, was still reeling from the Great Recession. There were hopeful signs every month. Unemployment was going down, housing prices were stabilizing, businesses were hiring, and people around the country were moving to Oregon because of the opportunities here.

By many traditional indicators, our economy was getting stronger than ever before. However, people of color, folks living in rural Oregon, and historically underserved communities did not feel that economic growth. Hidden behind those rosy economic figures was a hard truth. The economy was only recovering for some of us.

Even as new businesses opened up in metropolitan areas, established businesses were closing in rural Oregon.

As the housing market gained steam, many people were suddenly priced out of buying or renting a home in communities around the state, from Bend to Beaverton, from Coos Bay to Klamath Falls.

So, while my first few years as governor coincided with economic growth, I spent much of my time addressing the inequities that had intensified during the recovery.

We passed paid sick leave and paid family leave so that workers could stay home and not worry about losing their job or paying their rent.

We expanded access to healthcare to cover every single child in Oregon, and invested more in affordable housing than we have in the prior 161 years of Oregon statehood.

We've expanded access to the ballot box with automatic voter registration and paid postage.

And we have made historic investments in our education system to help close the opportunity gap and our transportation system to make our state safe and accessible for everyone.

And now, well now, we are experiencing the greatest economic upheaval in nearly 100 years.

As we begin to reopen and recover, we have to take the lessons learned from the last recession and apply them to this one by putting the needs of our historically marginalized communities first.

And here's where you come in. With every great challenge, a new opportunity presents itself.

In Oregon, we have the opportunity to come back stronger by lifting up those who've been historically left behind.

As a state, we can also learn a few things from the generation that will be most affected by this crisis, your generation.

Each of the graduates I mentioned, like each and every one of you, is responding to these unprecedented times with perseverance, vision, and poise. You are focused on helping others, because you know we can only grow stronger as a people, and as a state, if we build a better Oregon for everyone.

This won't be easy.

But as president Teddy Roosevelt put it, "Far and away, the best prize that life has to offer "is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."

No commencement speech is complete without a few pieces of unsolicited advice from the speaker. So, here are my three tips for leading a meaningful life to get you started.

Number one, vote.

Every few years, we get the chance to overthrow the government, and we do it at the ballot box. Voting is your right as an American, and it's not available to everyone around the world. So, use it. Your vote is your voice, and every voice counts.

Number two, keep learning. This isn't the finish line for your education, it's the launchpad. Learning means meeting new people, virtually, for now, exploring new ideas, listening to contrary viewpoints. Who knows, your mind might be changed. You might find common ground. Trust me, there is more to be gained from building bridges than building walls.

Number three, the world is your home, so, commit yourself to home improvement. There is no shortage of projects. So, plant trees, reduce hunger, build community, advocate for change, mentor others, recycle, shine your light into the world.

Class of 2020, you have faced disruptions we never could have imagined even a few months ago. And yet you stuck with it. You persisted and you achieved this incredibly important milestone. The road ahead may twist and turn, but I have faith in you, and so does the entire state of Oregon.

Today, you stand on the edge of the nest, wings outstretched, the sun on your face. You are strong and the winds are in your favor. You are ready to leap into the blue. So, fly, soar, be the brilliant and talented person you were meant to be. I can't wait to see what you do next.

Congratulations, class of 2020. I am so very proud of you.

Brown, Kate. 2020. "2020 Statewide Commencement." Office of the Oregon Governor Kate Brown. https://www.oregon.gov/gov/speeches/pages/2020-statewide-commencement.aspx.

Governor Kate Brown. “Celebrating the Class of 2020.” YouTube video, 12:28. June 15, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fDxETk9wVI.