Shelley Moore Capito

Commencement Address at Bethany College - May 11, 2024

Shelley Moore Capito
May 11, 2024— Bethany College, West Virginia
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Good morning. Good morning to everybody.

Thank you, President Caridi for the wonderful comments and the…I'm a doctor now. I have to tell everybody in my family, call me Dr. Capito, please.

Especially congratulations to the Class of 2024, and it is a real privilege for me to address you today.

I would like to thank the Bethany Board of Trustees, who I've gotten to meet several. And what a dynamic group. I mean, when you see where they came from and they came to Bethany and they still are so passionate about what's occurring at Bethany—that to me is an indication of a terrific experience they had at the time but also a terrific experience that is continuing today. So I want to thank the Board of Trustees for their passion and their advocacy.

Also don't want to leave out the educators, administrators, faculty, and everybody else who helps to make this college campus hum. Because you can tell as soon as you get here, it hums.

President Caridi mentioned, also, to the graduates, the congratulations to those who have been such a support. These folks in the audience were your first teachers and they'll be your lifelong teachers if they're like I am with my kids and grandkids, to ensure that the values that they instilled in you as a young person persist today, along with the education that you've gained here at a wonderful, wonderful place.

So, graduations are about looking ahead and looking forward, thinking about how do you follow your dreams and where are they going to take you. I can honestly tell you when I went to my college graduation—which will be, I don't even want to tell you, but 50 years next year—when I was studying—I was actually pre-med so you finally made me a doctor 50 years later, I thank you for that—but my major was zoology because that was the pre-med major at the time, the school where I was.

And people ask me often, you know, what is a zoology degree? How's that prepared you to serve, you know, in the United States Congress? And I said it's prepared me well to serve in the biggest zoo in America, the United States Congress. So thank you for that preparation.

I think the president—we must have written our speeches along the same lines because he was thinking the same way I was thinking in terms of four years ago, where was everybody. And you all have shown incredible resilience through really, really troubled waters in terms of, you know, a drive-thru graduation at the high school, if you even had…who had an actual in-person high school graduation? Raise…raise them up. Okay—were you in, like, an athletic field, where you had to sit eight feet apart from everybody, because we knew we were going to catch whatever it was. So this is nice to see you sitting side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, to share what will be some of the most joyous days of your life.

But through all of that, you've shown great resiliency but also a lot of courage and strength to sort of power through to figure out a way to “get her done,” has been said.

And so always remember that through all these troubled times that we had four years ago and on through COVID, that common bond that you've created with each other, will always be with you. You’ll always have that relationship, that time in your lives where things were different.

So when I talk a lot to young students—young girls in particular, because I'm the first woman ever elected to the United States Senate from West Virginia…girls, come on let's go—but I talk about, you know, I don't want to focus on how old I am but I talk about what the traumatic event in my life was when I was in school was the assassination of the president of the United States in 1963. That is kind of your COVID. Some students older than you have the 9/11 experience in their lives. So take what we've learned from that and translate it to your families as you grow and your co-workers as you move forward.

So as you step into the future you just remember this foundation that you've been able to experience here at Bethany…

I'm ashamed to admit this, because I've been serving West Virginia for so long, but this is my first visit to the Bethany College campus, even though I was raised down in Glendale, which is really not so very far away.

So I want you to remember that West Virginia is a very special place, and West Virginia is like one big small town, and no matter where you go in the world or in the country if you see somebody wearing a West Virginia on their shoulder or even better a Bethany College sweatshirt, that instant connection you have will be there and those folks…Mountaineers are always ready to help one another. That's what I love about our state.

And you have that wonderful resiliency that goes along with that and that confidence and that warmth that you get from being a part and spending four years of your life—and hopefully more, we want you to stay—hopefully more in the state of West Virginia.

So, I know graduations are long and you don't need me to be up here and tell you my…. I kidded with the board and said I only brought my hour-and-a-half speech—don't worry about it. But that's not true.

So I have five quick pieces of advice that I think as I look at the young leaders I see in our country and where I see our futures are.

And I was at the WVU graduation yesterday and President Gee of West Virginia University—this was his number one piece of advice and I thought it was the same one as mine: we've got to look up from our phones. Put your phone down. Put it down. Because nothing can replace the eye-to-eye conversation, the person-to-person conversation, the emotion that you carry with you when you have a conversation or when you're working or when you're competing on the playing fields.

As I see, you obviously hear, Bethany's been very successful and I love sports, so I love that.

So, I'm a great offender of this. I'm going to, you know, do a confessional here. I look at. I have it sitting right over there. I look at my phone way too much.

But we got to look up, look up into the eyes of your fellow graduates, the eyes of your professors, the eyes of your parents, the eyes of your new employers, the eyes of your new folks that you go to church with, and see how you can help and how you can interact with them instead of trying to…. Just think of a text that you write, how if you write a text and say, “I don't want to go,” that could mean, [saying with different inflections] I don't want to go, it could mean I don't want to go, or it could mean I don't want to go, but you can't really tell. You can't really tell. That's where we could get into misinterpreting. I'm sure a few of you have done that as well—misinterpreted a few texts.

So tomorrow is Mother's Day, a special time for all of us mothers in the crowd. So do me the favor and put that phone down and tell that special person in your life what they, what she has meant to you.

The second thing I would tell you is something I try to practice, and that is to approach every day as much as you can with a positive attitude.

You know, there's a lot of troubled waters in this country. There's a lot of things in the world that are troubling, as we see the national, international situation. But how you react to it and how you look at it how you feel about it, creating a positive attitude, a positive outlook, will help you create, build and support the good thoughts that we have here in this country, the good thoughts that you have as young people, and the bright future that you have ahead of you.

Are you going to go on a straight line to become, you know, president of a company or president of a college? Probably not. A lot of people's careers zigzag, and that's probably what you're going to see. So try to stay positive and don't be afraid to try new things.

Third, I've already sort of mentioned: cherish your relationships, certainly the relationships with your fellow graduates and undergraduates here at Bethany. There's special times in your life and special times for you to make sure that you keep those relationships.

And you know what? It's a little bit easier than number one. I said put the phone down. Number three, I'm telling you—a phone, sometimes the phone is a good way to keep track of your relationships and those long-term relationships. Come back to your reunions. They're fun. You can talk about your future, your past, or “remember that time we did this?” You can always do that.

The fourth thing is show gratitude. Be grateful.

And I'll throw in here that, you know, we live in an incredible country. We have so many freedoms, so many opportunities that sometimes I think we take all of this for granted as Americans. We think, well of course we're going to be the most successful. Of course we're going to be able to, you know, have the most prosperity. And sometimes when we see pockets of unrest like we see on the college campuses right now, some of them, or when we see things that aren't really going our way, or this country, even if something's not going our way in this country, it's going a heck of a lot better here than it's going around the world.

We have veterans and we have military folks who put their lives on the line for us every single day to make sure the freedoms that we have, whether it's religion or press or freedom to gather, these are freedoms that are so incredibly valued, so always be proud to be an American. We are the beacon of hope. We are the healers around the world. We are the protectors around the world. And you're a part of that. So be grateful for that and try to give back.

And last but not least: appreciate every opportunity that comes in front of you. I was not really very good at that when I was your age. I think I was just sort of focused on what am I going to do next year or what am I going to do next month, and I didn't take advantage of all the different opportunities that I saw and that I saw coming towards me.

So I wear this bracelet. Everybody thinks I'm wearing Taylor Swift bracelets. That makes me kind of cool. But they're not really Taylor Swift bracelets.

I have four of them on here. The first one is…two of them are from my…actually, three of them are from my daughter. We have three kids, our daughter's the youngest. And she made a little bracelet for me that has all of the first-name initials of all of our eight grandchildren. So when you think about what's important to you or what I think of when it gets testy in a meeting or in a…when I'm questioning the secretary of defense—if I start to get really frustrated I can look down and see the eight of them and realize what's really important in my life. So I've got that. That is, Cecila, Charlie, Rose, Eliza, Arch, Macaulay, Lewis and Tommy. And then I have Mimi, because that's what they call me.

And then I have this special bracelet that somebody gave me because I'm a real passionate, a real passionate advocate to find a cure for Alzheimer's. For those of you who have been impacted by this, which would be about everybody in this room. Both of my parents had Alzheimer's. Probably the most difficult time in my life was trying to figure out what are we going to do, how can I care for them, how can I make them comfortable, what's going to happen. You know, my mother's saying to me, “Shelley, I'm losing my mind.” I…yeah. You're not going to be alone, Mom. That's all I could tell her—you're not going to be alone. And so this young man that I met gave me this bracelet, because the slogan on here is “carpe diem,” which means “seize the day.” And it's purple because that's Alzheimer's. But he was early diagnosed with Alzheimer's at age 50 so his window is closing. So I think about that because that's a passionate thing.

The last bracelet I have on is the last issue I want to talk to you about. So I said appreciate every opportunity. Sometimes we think about opportunities, and I go through my day and I think, I have to go to a hearing and talk about education. I have to go to a speech and listen to somebody's speech.

Change it around in your mind. Instead of, I have to do this—I get to do this. I have to pick my brother up from school. I have to help my mother do the grocery shopping. I have to take this exam. How about, I get to pick my brother up to school and talk to him. I get to help my mom and be a part of the family. I'm not sure you're going to ever get to, I get to take that test. That might be a bit of a stretch.

But I think if you change the attitude from I have to, to I get to, it really makes a difference in your life.

So I would say stay optimistic. Don't forget to look up. Cherish your relationships. Show gratitude. And remember that you get to do so many things in your lives that if you look at it that way, it has a special meaning for you.

So congratulations to all of you on your accomplishments. I'm very proud. I've met so many different types of majors here—liberal arts majors that are really going to be great leaders. We have…Capitol Hill’s filled. If you want to come to Capitol Hill, come on down. It's filled with young people.

So again, it's an incredible honor to receive my doctorate degree. I will be taking patients later. But I'll always be standing in your corner as West Virginia has. And Madison…I think Madison saw my speech, too, because she said country roads will always welcome you home and they will, with open arms, as I will as well.

Congratulations. Enjoy the day, and thank you.

Bethany College. “Bethany College Commencement Ceremony 2024.” YouTube video, 2:38:40. May 11, 2024.