Pelosi Delivers Commencement Address at City College of San Francisco Graduation Ceremony

May 28, 2011
Press Release

Contact: Nadeam Elshami/Drew Hammill, 202-226-7616
San Francisco – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered the keynote commencement address at the City College of San Francisco graduation ceremony this morning. The ceremony is for all City College of San Francisco Associates in Arts and Associates in Science degree graduates, from all campuses. Below is a transcript of the remarks:

Thank you very much Chancellor Don Griffin for your kind introduction, your tremendous leadership, and your commitment to diversity, at this beautiful student body of a community college. Thank you so much Don Griffin. Thank you to the Board of Trustees, and the faculty and the staff of City College of San Francisco, thank you for making this magnificent graduating class possible. Let us acknowledge them. Today, we also recognize the many people who helped make your success possible: your families – your parents, spouses, and even your children. Let us rise and thank them for what they gave.

To today’s graduates: I bring you the congratulations of the Congress of the United States. I bring you the hope of the nation. Your success is the success of America. You are the future, congratulations and good luck.

When my friend, Trustee Natalie Berg, asked me if I could be here today and I received the invitation to be your commencement speaker I said great! I would love to be there. When I found out it was on the weekend of Memorial Day I said perfect! Perfect. I can’t think of a better place to be to celebrate the patriotism of America than with this beautifully diverse class, with all the hopes and aspirations that you have for our country’s future. So I am absolutely delighted to be here with you and some of the things that I heard from the last speaker are so much true that you may hear some of them reflected in my remarks as well, about time and second chances and the rest.

Every day, but particularly on Memorial Day, Memorial Day weekend, we honor those who gave their lives so we can be the home of the brave, and the land of the free. We recall those who fought for our freedom. From the very start, our Founding Fathers, they declared American independence, won a war against the greatest naval power of the time, wrote a constitution making us the freest country in the world. Thank god they made it amendable. They understood uniquely the significance of their place in time.

Our Founding Fathers began the Declaration of Independence, “When in the course of human events…” Referencing that place in time, years later President Abraham Lincoln memorializing those who would give their lives for our country, referenced that declaration and said “Four score and seven years ago…four score and seven years ago, our fore fathers brought a new nation dedicated to liberty and founded on the ideal that we are all created equal.” Again, this is what you are tied to, a heritage of equality a heritage of hope. Today, we recognize your place in time. Not only is today is an important day in your life…and in the life of your families. It is an important day in the life of our country. Because your success is America’s success. Time is a finite commodity, not to be wasted. How we use our time is how we live our lives: to learn, to earn, to enjoy, and to grow.

You have used your time to pursue an education. Education, I’m sure your parents and families would agree, is the best investment parents can make in their children, individuals can make in themselves, and a nation can make in its future.

That is why I am proud to have worked with President Obama and Chairman George Miller from the Bay Area to pass the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act – the largest investment in college assistance in our nation’s history with strong support for community colleges in that legislation. By the way, it was passed in part of the Affordable Care Act. Two important initiatives to ensure life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. I know that for some of you today, your path to graduate to commencement was difficult. Some of you are the first in your families to graduate. Many of you have earned this degree by balancing work. Some of you balancing work and family with children – to make the future better for your children. Your diploma is all the more impressive by the challenges you faced. Today, on your commencement as you prepare to leave City College with the confidence to follow your passion and the cutting-edge skills you need to succeed. That’s what City College is known for: giving its students the tools so that they can propel themselves into new career paths and challenges.

Indeed, that’s what community colleges are known for, and that’s why we must do more to support them – here in California and across the nation. As President Obama has said, community colleges are the “unsung heroes” of the nation’s education system…providing “ a gateway to millions of Americans to good jobs and a better life.”

City College of San Francisco has meant that you can pursue lifetime learning in your own time, and to do it without taking on crushing amounts of debt. That is why we must strive. Your graduation, City College of San Francisco, your public officials all have responsibility as you have more opportunity. We must remove obstacles in the way of those who want to learn my making it accessible and affordable. You have done the hardest work: studying and sacrificing. Public officials owe you something in return: we must remove obstacles in the way of those who want to earn. We have a moral obligation to create jobs – the greatest social initiative. I hope you know and recognize that you are the golden assets of the American economy; you are the key to our nation’s competitiveness: to keep America number one.

I would like to acknowledge your student speaker, David Holly. David is of course, an alumni success story of the Second Chance program, which he referenced. This is about America. David is about America. America is about second chance, it is about redemption, it is about renewal, it is about revival. It’s why we can all stand here and honor those who gave their lives so we could be free, and at the same time while mourning on the one hand, celebrate on the other hand the future that has been made possible by their sacrifice.

I’d like to pay special tribute to three who are receiving degrees today: Yo Hironaka, Kayo Nakamura and her granddaughter, Stephanie, receiving for Grace Momoye Murase. Think about this in terms of redemption. Yo, Kayo, and Grace were wrongfully disenrolled from City College of San Francisco during World War II because of their Japanese heritage. Later in this ceremony, they will receive the degrees they should have been able to receive more than 65 years ago. I gave myself the honor of acknowledging them, because I believe that by accepting these awards today they have given City College a second chance. They bring luster to this ceremony because they are bigger than to be embittered, but are receiving the award. And thank you City College for being so grand as to reach back to honor them. It’s a great day.
I believe how blessed we are with the diversity in our community, in our state, and in our country.

And on this injustice that was perpetrated decades ago, I had the privilege to speak on the House floor in support of reparations for Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II. And I have been proud to serve with three of my colleagues who themselves were interned: Mike Honda, Norm Mineta and Bob Matsui. They too, they too, were not embittered. They knew that America made a mistake, they worked to correct it, and they went on to serve very, very proudly with great faith in America and in the future. Again, it’s about redemption. A second chance for our country. They gave America a second chance.

Again, the ideal of equality is our heritage and our hope. And it is for that ideal I feel that for all of history; that people have flocked to our shores.

For some of you and your families, your journey to this day began in another country. For all who aspire to a better life, America gives freedom, hope for opportunity, for degrees or certificates, for new skills for a better job, and for a brighter future.

That’s how each generation of immigrants has made their situation better for themselves and their families. With hope, courage, optimism and determination, their coming to America has made America more American.

Immigrants bring their diversity to our country, which is America’s strength. I’m very proud to say that in San Francisco and in our state now, but I’m speaking of my own district, that the beauty is in the mix. That is certainly true of the graduating class today.

Earlier, I quoted the Declaration of Independence, which gives us all the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Imagine that our Founders thought that the pursuit of happiness, that pursuit, that sense of community, of happiness, was a right. How wise they were.

In another graduation speech, years ago in 1943, a young woman who was interned in a Japanese camp, behind barbed wire, was asked to give the commencement speech in the Amache internment camp in high school. Imagine she was a teenager, and this was in the forties, and this is what she said:

She said, “One and a half years ago, I knew only one America – an America that gave me an equal chance in the struggle for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If I were asked then, ‘What does America mean to you’ I would answer “freedom, equality, security and justice.”

That was before this young lady, Marion and her family, were uprooted from their Pacific Coast home and interned at Amache internment camp behind barbed wire.

She continued in her commencement address, “Can I believe that America still means freedom, equality, security, and justice? Do I believe this?” As she speaks from behind barbed wire: “Yes, with all my heart, because in that faith, in that hope, is my future, our future, and the world’s future.” It is the world’s future.

Imagine her optimism.

Faith in the future has been what binds Americans to one another. Respect for each other is an important part of our sense of community.

This week and today I was thinking of the Gospel of Matthew, this idea of respect every person, dignity, the spark of divinity in every person. Christ said, “When I was hungry you gave me something to eat, when I without a home you gave me shelter, when I was in prison you visited me. When I was in prison you visited me.” This is the Bible, the Gospel. But that is the American way. You have that respect for every person. And to recognize the contributions of everyone.

So graduates, that’s what I have to say. We’re very proud of you. I want you to follow your passion, that’s for sure, to know your power and the contributions that you can make. It’s about time, how you use that time, recognizing your place in time. And understanding that the greatness of America springs from your hopes, literally, your aspirations, and your attempts, some successful, some successful on the other side.

Congratulations to the 2011 class of San Francisco community college. Remember that what we do as we go forward must honor the vision of our Founders, for everyone being treated as equal.

Understand the aspirations of our young people as we go forward, and be worthy of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform by building a future worthy of their sacrifice.

That’s what we all have to do, working together. God bless you, God bless America, and congratulations.