Elizabeth Warren

UMass Boston Commencement Address - May 25, 2023

Elizabeth Warren
May 25, 2023— Boston, Massachusetts
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Good morning, UMass Boston! Congratulations! [cheers and applause]

It is such an honor to be with you today. I want to begin by thanking the chancellor and the Board of Trustees for inviting me to join you today.

Now,he chancellor explained to me that UMass Boston wanted a record breaking, movement inspiring, creative thinker for commencement speaker…unfortunately Taylor Swift was not available. So we’ll all just have to shake-shake-shake it off!

Congratulations, Graduates! You have worked hard and you have earned this day, so rub it all over yourself, roll around in it, and enjoy every moment.

And while you are at it, please pause to thank your families. They have been your cheerleaders throughout this journey. They have loved you. They have sent you endless Zelle payments. And they have quietly pretended to believe you when you said you couldn’t make it to your great aunt’s birthday party because you were going to study. Your families deserve a round of applause. [cheers and applause]

My job today is to offer a bit of advice and very sincere congratulations, and then launch you into the real world.

And don’t worry, if the real world looks too tough, Mark Zuckerberg is ready to welcome you into the Metaverse, an alternate reality where you can do anything…well, not really anything. Let’s not go there.

If you are interested in going the non-Meta, real-world route, I have a single piece of advice: choose hope.

That’s a little tougher than it sounds right now. After all, you are graduating into a world that is full of anger, strife, and grief.

Over the course of your UMass Boston journey, our world has experienced a global pandemic that upended our lives. You have borne witness to an armed attack on our democracy. On this, the 143rd day of the year, our nation has already endured 202 mass shootings. You graduate into a debt crisis that threatens to crash our economy. You see the data that foretell of climate change that threatens the survival of the human race. You have seen—sometimes first-hand—assaults on the dignity and worth of trans people, black people, brown people, Asian people, women, immigrants, gays, lesbians and pretty much anyone who doesn’t fit the picture set down in 1957 by Leave it to Beaver.

Surely you face more challenges than most any graduating class in history. And yet, I am here today to counsel: Choose hope.

In fact, I am here today to tell you that I choose hope. That I am, in fact, hopeful.

Let me explain. Much of this world is broken. And the urgency of change is upon us. We must make changes—lots of changes—and we must make them quickly. Our survival depends on it.

And this is why I turn to you. Here you are, graduating from one of the finest universities in the world, ready to take on whatever comes your way.

The fact that you have persisted even as the challenges have intensified attests to your hard work and determination. It also signifies that you have hope and that you have harnessed that hope to shape your own lives. Look—no one fights their way through challenging classes and crazy schedules if they don’t have hope that their work will add up to something valuable. You chose hope to get yourself here today. Now I am asking you to choose hope for our world. Because hope is the spark that ignites change.

Hope got you here. Look at your classmates. Prajaya Manandhar—or PJ as you know him—is a Nepali immigrant who moved to the United States with his family in 2013. When PJ’s life veered off track, he didn’t give up. Instead, he nourished hope for something better—and he put that hope into action. He enlisted in the Army Reserve, ran an innovative veterans’ program here on campus, and helped others who had served our country make it through college. And today, he graduates with a bachelor's degree in science and mathematics. Go, PJ! [cheers and applause]

And one more—Tehudis Salcedo. He tells his story differently. He explains that he got lost during his first few years of college. He says he partied more than he studied. News flash: he is the first person ever at the University of Massachusetts Boston to do that! [laughter] OK, so he got into some rough stuff. He lost someone he loved. But he didn’t lose hope. Instead, Tehudis found through the UMass Art program a way that poor decisions don’t define our destinies, and today Tehudis graduates with a bachelor's degree in art. Go, Tehudis! [cheers and applause]

Now I look out and I know—there are hundreds more stories represented here today. Stories of your optimism, stories of your persistence. And now that you are minutes away from becoming college graduates, I ask you to carry this same optimism and the same persistence forward.

Hope is a powerful force that can keep us going, even when we’re up against hard problems.

Hope gives us strength to persevere in the face of adversity and courage to take on risks for the greater good.

Hope is more than just a feeling or a mindset. It is a choice—a choice that we make every single day. A choice that has the power to define our present and shape our future.

So make that decision every day. And make change wherever you can. You already have the muscle memory for hope—the part that got you here to graduation today. So now build on that.

You are a part of an extraordinary community right here, in this commonwealth. From the city of Boston to the surrounding towns and neighborhoods, this community has provided you with opportunities and resources and with inspiration. It has brought together people whose families have been here for generations with those who are newly arrived.

You know, I am living proof. I was born and raised out on the hot, dry prairie—an Okie to my bones. To this day, I say “traffic circle” instead of “rotary.” I grew up thinking “y’all” meant one person and “all y’all” meant—all y’all. And despite all that, somehow the good people of this commonwealth picked me to be their senator.

Our community isn’t built on where you came from. It’s not built on what you look like or how much money you have. It’s built on the values we share.

From the spark in 1776 that ignited the American Revolution to the 1839 movement for public education to the 1912 Bread and Roses strike for decent wages to the 2006 decision to embrace universal health care, Massachusetts has been at the forefront of progress in America. We haven’t always gotten every part of it right, but even when we don’t, we are a commonwealth, and we are fully committed to the values of justice and the principles of an inclusive democracy.

And how did each of those things happen—a revolution, a free public education movement, a workers’ union, a commitment for healthcare? Those were tough fights—I mean really tough—but they all started with hope because hope is the spark that ignites change.

You can use hope to make change in a million different ways.

  • Learn more about a problem and start to inform others. Write an oped, a facebook post, a tweet. Well, maybe not a tweet. Didn’t work out so well for some. [laughter]
  • Show up—show up for rallies and clean up days and local school board meetings.
  • Volunteer with a non-profit.
  • Knock on doors to help someone you believe in get elected to office.
  • And better yet as the chancellor said—heck, run for office yourself.

Hope for the things that matter.

  • Hope that if we use our collective energy and drive toward good, we can leave our communities better off than we found them.
  • Hope that if we strike off on our own path—maybe even do something scary—that our risk will pay off and we'll make real change.
  • Hope that if you approach the next stage of life with hope you'll wake up every day thinking about what you GET to do, instead of what you HAVE to do.

But hold hope for small things too.

  • Hope that a ride on the T will someday be faster than walking. [laughter]
  • Hope that Ben Affleck and J Lo can make it this time—we’re pulling for you.
  • Hope that the sunglasses hide your hangover when you have brunch with your parents after this [laughter, cheers and applause] Maybe that’s too much to hope for.

Today marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of another that is filled with endless possibilities. As you embark on this journey, hold onto the legacy of hope that lives in this institution and that has carried you through to this graduation.

Hold on to hope, and I am certain that nothing, absolutely nothing, will be impossible. Congratulations, you made it to the finish line—and the starting line. [cheers and applause]

UMass Boston. 2023. “Remarks of Senator Elizabeth Warren UMass Boston Commencement.” Retrieved May 26, 2023, from https://www.umb.edu/commencement/speakers_honorary_degrees/remarks_of_senator_elizabeth_warren_umass_boston_commencement.

UMass Boston. “UMass Boston Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony.” YouTube video, 4:49:22. May 25, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0niXxUun0L8