Pelosi Delivers Commencement Address at Goucher College
Friday, May 20, 2005
Contact: Brendan Daly/Jennifer Crider, 202-226-7616
Washington, D.C. - House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered the keynote commencement address this morning at Goucher College in Baltimore. She also was presented with an honorary doctor of laws degree. Below are Pelosi's remarks as prepared:
On Faith and Science:
"In addition to the debate over faith and politics, there is also a debate over faith and science. We see it in the controversy over the curricula of our schools, and in the debate surrounding advances in stem cell research. As divisive as this debate is, I believe faith and science have at least one thing in common: both are searches for truth. The America we believe in has room for both faith and science. Indeed, with the great potential of biomedical research, science has the power to answer the prayers of America's families."
On Challenge to Graduates:
"Today, there are certain goals that too many in our society see as inconceivable. For example, to many, eliminating the conditions that feed war, want, and strife around the world is inconceivable. The fact that so many of you have gone abroad or worked in this community to make life better for so many people says that you are optimists; you see progress as inevitable. My challenge to you today is to continue to shorten the distance between the inconceivable to some and the inevitable to you. And you have the talent to do it."
"Thank you, Professor Githens for that kind introduction. And thank you, President Ungar, for those kind words of welcome and for your leadership of this wonderful institution. President Ungar has brought great vision, accomplishment, and a global perspective to this fine institution. I cherish this honorary degree because it makes me a part of the class of 2005.
"President Ungar, faculty, and staff, thank you for making Goucher College what it is today.
"And a special congratulations to your parents as well. When I heard the graduates applaud their parents, I was reminded of the words of John Adams, who wrote, 'I must study politics and war so that our children have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy... so that their children may study painting... poetry... and music.' Broadening opportunity is the responsibility of one generation to the next.
"I am honored to share this day with you and your families.
"As you know, Maryland is where I grew up, it is a place I care deeply about, and it is a pleasure to be here. When I was born, my father was a Member of Congress from Baltimore. From the time I was in first grade until my freshman year in college, he served as the Mayor of Baltimore.
"My mother and father passed along that tradition of public service to me. I am honored today that my brother Thomas D'Alesandro, is here today, who served as the Mayor of Baltimore as well. Back in the day, they would have said that politics was in our blood; today they would say it's in our DNA.
"Before following the family tradition of public service, my husband Paul and I had five children in six years. Our children, and now our grandchildren, are the center of our lives. While I am very proud of the honorary degree I received today, I believe my family to be my greatest achievement. I have always considered my involvement in politics as an extension of my role as a mother and grandmother to make the future better not only for my children, but for all children of America.
"When my colleagues elected me as Democratic Leader, it wasn't just a glass ceiling we broke through; it was a marble ceiling. I am proud of my colleagues and my party for bringing our country closer to the ideal of equality that is both our heritage and our hope. I said at the time that we have made history, now let us make progress. And I am proud of the leadership provided by of two of my colleagues, your Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, and Congressman Ben Cardin, who sits on the board of trustees of Goucher College.
A Seat at the Table
"My first official occasion as a member of the House leadership was to go to the White House to meet with the President. Although I had been to the White House for meetings many times before, I had never been to a meeting quite like this. Indeed, no woman ever had.
"As the President started talking, I began to feel very squeezed in my chair. It was getting more and more crowded. It was as if every woman who had worked to promote women's opportunity was sitting on that chair with me. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, and every other pioneer who fought to gain the right to vote for women, the right to be treated as an equal in the workplace, and the ability to make the decisions affecting their own lives and careers.
"Then I heard them say, 'At last, we have a seat at the table.' And then they were gone. My next thought was, 'We want more.' Because if America wants to reach its full potential, all of those in America need a seat at the table.
"I'm pleased to receive this honorary degree from Goucher with Eleanor Denoon and Charles Simmons. Eleanor graduated from Goucher in 1936. At that time, millions of women and people of color, no matter their excellence, found the doors of opportunity barred shut. From that time to this, we have made progress in promoting equality in our laws, and our society. And our progress in law has been matched or exceeded by advances in science and technology.
"Today, you are graduating into a world where the pace of change is accelerating every day, holding the potential to open a new era of progress.
Faith, Politics, Science, and Progress
"Progress and optimism are hallmarks of America, and throughout our history they have been complemented by the faith of millions of Americans.
"Much has been said recently about the role of faith in America's electoral politics and in developing the public policy of our country. Americans are a faith-filled people, and the personally-held faith of millions leads to great acts of conscience, charity, and community.
"Our Founding Fathers understood that faith was a deeply personal commitment and that inserting religion into the affairs of government, or government into the affairs of religion would weaken both.
"In 1960, when John F. Kennedy was running for President, his critics raised questions about whether his Catholicism would disqualify him from the presidency. Then-Senator Kennedy went to speak to a group of ministers in Houston, and said in his address, the issue is 'not what kind of church I believe in...but what kind of America I believe in.'
"The America he believed in is the one we believe in today: one in which each person can practice his or her own faith in his or her own way; one in which we are free from discrimination; one in which the hopes and dreams of every child are met with an education system that gives them the knowledge and opportunity to achieve them; one in which we make the stunning advances in health and medicine available to all who need them; one in which the environment is protected, poverty is eradicated, and the strength of our economy grants all who are willing to work an opportunity to succeed; and one in which a lifetime of work provides a retirement of dignity and independence.
"That is the America we believe in. That is the America we aspire to achieve.
"In addition to the debate over faith and politics, there is also a debate over faith and science. We see it in the controversy over the curricula of our schools, and in the debate surrounding advances in stem cell research.
"As divisive as this debate is, I believe faith and science have at least one thing in common: both are searches for truth. The America we believe in has room for both faith and science. Indeed, with the great potential of biomedical research, science has the power to answer the prayers of America's families.
"All progress requires a faith in ourselves, our country, and the future. Today, you are stepping into a world in which new advances in science and technology are allowing us to explore vast new frontiers from a galaxy billions of light years away to the smallest genetic switch inside a human cell. These advances carry with them the prospect for incredible progress to strengthen us at home, and maintain the peace abroad.
Inconceivable to Inevitable
"When I graduated from college, many of the terms you use today had totally different meanings for me: Back then, chips were something you ate, Windows were something you washed, discs were something you played, and the Internet, well, let's just say, Al Gore hadn't invented it yet.
"In my youth, the idea of sending a man to the moon was inconceivable. Yet to President Kennedy, such a bold step was inevitable.
"Today, there are certain goals that too many in our society see as inconceivable. For example, to many, eliminating the conditions that feed war, want, and strife around the world is inconceivable. The fact that so many of you have gone abroad or worked in this community to make life better for so many people says that you are optimists; you see progress as inevitable.
"My challenge to you today is to continue to shorten the distance between the inconceivable to some and the inevitable to you. And you have the talent to do it. Class of 2005, know your power.
"You have the intelligence, the education, the youth, and the perspective. You are the first class fully college educated since the attacks of September 11th. This, combined with your orientation by President Unger and the faculty of Goucher, gives you the unique perspective and new thinking this country needs.
"Albert Einstein once said: 'We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.'
"The poet Shelley had the answer when he wrote, 'The greatest force for moral good is imagination.'
"Imagination enables us to think in new and creative ways. Imagination allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of others, and increase understanding. Imagination is what allows us to challenge the status quo.
"But I offer you one warning: If your ideas and imagination and energy take you against the current thinking, be prepared to be criticized.
"There may even be attempts to silence you by those with a different view, but this is not the American way. In the Congress and the courts today, we are seeing attempts to silence those who offer an alternative view.
'Be Not Afraid'
"But in the words of Pope John Paul II, 'Be not afraid.' Be not afraid -- trust the values you have and the education you have received. Be not afraid -- pursue the future you wish to see.
"Every one of you is blessed with the talent and opportunity to make a difference. Through your imagination, your commitment to progress, and your faith in the future, you are the ones who will shorten the distance between the inconceivable and the inevitable.
"The class of 2005, you are the ones who can meet the challenges of our time, and help create an America worthy of the vision of our Founding Fathers, worthy of the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, and worthy of the aspirations of our children.
"As Democratic Leader, I receive well-wishes from all over the country. One that I especially treasure was from a young girl who quoted Eleanor Roosevelt. It said: 'The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.'
"Looking at your faces, I know that this class of 2005 is not a group that is afraid to believe in the beauty of your dreams. And that is a source of hope for all of us.
"With the degree that I received today, I'm honored to be a part of your class. I will display this in my office with pride in the Leader's office of the Capitol which will hopefully someday be the Speaker's office. Thank you again for inviting me here. Congratulations, class of 2005!
"God bless you, and God bless America."