Hello, I am thrilled to be part of today's celebration and humbled to receive the honorary Doctorate of Public Service.
Thank you to Framingham State University, President Cevallos, faculty, and staff, who have invited me to be part of today's commencement ceremony.
Welcome to family and friends.
And most importantly, congratulations to our graduates! For you and your families, this will be a day to remember in a year to remember.
While I think many rightfully want to put the last year and a half behind us, I want us to remember what you've overcome and the strength you've found together at FSU. I hope you are inspired to use the unprecedented times we are in to chart an unprecedented path forward for our nation and our world.
This year has tested and taught us. A year and a half ago, we did not foresee the isolation and challenges of a year of Zoom classes, canceled concerts, and virtual birthday parties and holidays. We could not have fathomed the reality of a global pandemic, its economic fallout, and the devastation we have now lived through.
But you have persevered. You have learned to live safely at home to protect yourselves, your loved ones, and our community. You have adapted to online learning. You have sustained your friendships and supported your families through FaceTimes, walks outside, and drive-by hellos. You have graduated college during a once-in-a-century crisis and made it here today.
The pandemic has taught us to appreciate the institutions and people that give us hope and opportunity. To truly value science, data and research, and the people who fuel innovation. It's taught us to be grateful for health care providers, teachers, and essential workers.
And it has reminded us of the importance of our health, whether physical, mental, or economic, and more importantly, our interconnection. Our individual well-being is woven into the health of our communities. Conversely, so are our vulnerabilities. We are all part of an ecosystem that flourishes or falls together.
With this understanding, the power of what's possible is immense.
The fact is, this graduating class has already lived through so much, but many challenges lie ahead. From the climate crisis to economic inequality to racial and gender injustice, we have no shortage of mountains to climb. Understanding that we all face these obstacles together is the first step toward overcoming them.
But step two?
That requires action. And already, you're off to a great start. In the last year, you have marched and voted in record numbers. In the 2020 presidential election, a historic 55% of young voters cast ballots, an increase of 10% from the 2016 election. You have also fueled the movement for Black Lives, spoke up to end transphobia, and fought to stop Asian hate.
Today, we are not just celebrating your graduation but your transition from student to citizen. The lessons you have learned throughout the pandemic are your guideposts in life. To adapt, to find strength in the worst of times, and to show up and speak out.
I want to take you back to January of this year. It was a month from this tumultuous year that I will never forget.
On January 20, I was sitting outside the Capitol on the platform erected every four years for our nation's presidential inauguration ceremony.
But this ceremony, just like yours today, was starkly different from years past. I sat six feet apart from my colleagues and visiting dignitaries. There was no crowd of thousands waving American flags. The National Mall was empty. Many of House and Senate members weren't even in Washington.
What's more: I was wearing a bulletproof vest under my coat, a terrifying precaution after the insurrection at our Capitol, which took place a mere two weeks before. I was sitting on the exact steps that had been the sight of the violence, hate, and brutality. Capitol windows and doors that had been shattered and smashed through were still boarded up, though thankfully the smell of tear gas was gone.
And while the threat to our democracy was ever-present in my mind, I was hopeful. Because, just like you, I was participating in a ceremony that was a symbol of continuity, of forward motion, of resilience.
I joined in prayer for an end to our nation's suffering. I witnessed the first Asian American and African American woman vice president take the oath of office. And a new president do the same.
And I listened, holding my breath as the air was filled with the words of Amanda Gorman. She beamed in yellow and red with the sun shining down on her. She held us all captivated by her words of possibility:
“We will rebuild, reconcile and recover. And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful. When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid, the new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it.”
Amanda stood before presidents, vice presidents, senators, ambassadors, and members Congress, all of us in awe of her. She did not see a wall ahead of us, but a bridge we can cross together.
I was re-invigorated that day by the resiliency of our democracy, of the American people, and of you – the next generation that breathes new life into our march toward a more perfect union.
You, graduates, are my hope and my wildest dreams.
You are entering a world that is too often defined by prejudices and division. But you already understand the power of our diversity, of our nation's story, of learning from adversity and using it to open doors.
Just how you overcame this pandemic, how you marched and voted while America was mired in hate and vitriol. You know that we are not defined by the tensions of today, but by our ability to grow and evolve.
You, the class of 2021, are the greatest testimony to the endless potential that is America.
So find your passion. Don't be afraid to fall or worry about what comes next.
You've already proven that you can find community and inspiration in untraditional places. You know that your story is the story of your neighbor. And the mark we leave on the world is a shared one.
And remember, you've already overcome so much. You can conquer any challenge because you already have.
I want to leave you with the words of my friend, the late Congressman John Lewis, among the many heartaches of 2020, we lost John, but his legacy and his teachings are an eternal gift.
John told us, you must be bold, brave and courageous and find a way to get in the way, find your way, whatever it may be. And along the way, lift up your neighbor, find a path that heals the divide that brings our world together.
All of us will be cheering you on and following your lead.
Congratulations, Framingham State University Class of 2021.
Campus Events at Framingham State University. (2021, May 21). FSU Class of 2021 Commencement – Commencement Address [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KvkWuju7SY&t=2s