Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

Remarks at San Francisco State University Commencement Cox Stadium, San Francisco

May 25, 2002

 
Good afternoon to the great class of 2002!

President Corrigan, faculty, wasn't that a wonderful tribute that you all paid, and well deserved, to the faculty earlier? I pay my respects to you as well. Let's hear it again for the faculty!

Trustees of San Francisco State University, officials of the state university system, parents, grandparents, family and friends, and everyone that Peter Casey named as well, it is an honor for me to join you in celebrating the accomplishments of the nearly 7,200 graduates being awarded diplomas here today, the largest class in the University's history.

Thank you, President Corrigan, for your kind introduction certainly, but for your leadership, more importantly. During the 14 years you have guided San Francisco State University, that leadership has inspired students, faculty, and the entire San Francisco State University community.

San Francisco State has risen to great heights under your direction, and we are fortunate to have you, such a dedicated, courageous visionary, at the helm of this exceptional institution. Thank you especially for your leadership these past few weeks, which was demonstrated so eloquently by your strong statement calling for civility and decency, while accepting strong and even provocative speech on hotly charged issues.

Your words rang with wisdom and clarity across the country. I'm proud to join you in speaking out for San Francisco State's true values. I am especially proud to do so as a former recipient of the President's Medal.

In honoring these people here today -- Millard Fuller whom we just heard from and were inspired about; Peter Casey, he's a riot; John Jacobs for his long dedication; Vernon Alley, a progressive jazz musician who has been part of San Francisco and San Francisco State for so long -- honor is brought to San Francisco State. We thank them for accepting their tributes.

Graduates, as you accept your diplomas today, know that you stand on the shoulders of many: Parents, family, friends.

Let us now take a moment to acknowledge all of those who made your graduation possible today, among your family and friends, to your parents and others.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to join you today on this very special day. San Francisco State is important to me because it is an outstanding institution of academic freedom.

San Francisco State University is important to our community because it has been a voice of reason and tolerance. San Francisco State is important to our state and nation because of its commitment to the community and to public service.

San Francisco State has always had a rich dialogue around issues that have been controversial. I encourage all of you, student, faculty, and administrators, to continue to be leaders in dialogue.
San Francisco, our community, is a place where we work through our differences.

It is a city where it is often said the beauty is in the mix. One only needs to look at this class to see that fact. It is a place where we not only respect diversity; we embrace it, we take pride in it. Diversity is part of the fabric of our culture that brings us together.

I thought since you were my bosses, I work for you, those of you who live in San Francisco, I would just tell you a little story about my being selected House Democratic Whip.

This is historic. A woman has never risen to those heights. And I'm very grateful to the people of San Francisco for affording me the opportunity to make that run. But what I want to tell you about is something that relates to why we're all gathered here today.

When I was elected, I was invited to go to the White House with other members of the Congressional leadership in the House and in the Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike.

You would know Senator Daschle, Senator Lott, Speaker Hastert, Democratic Leader Gephardt, my counterpart, Tom DeLay, it was a group of fewer than ten of us to meet, including the president and the vice president of the United States.

As we went into the room, the door closed behind us, and the President was very gracious in his welcome and congratulations to me. As he began to discuss the agenda for the Congress, the 107th Congress, I realized that no woman had ever participated in that meeting in the history of our country. How sad.

And then just for a very, very fleeting moment, I felt that I was not alone in my chair. It felt very crowded where I was sitting.

It felt as if every person who had ever helped advance the cause of women -- women to vote, Susan B. Anthony, or to advance women in politics, or women in the professions, or women to stay home and choose to exclusively focus on raising their families, or women juggling at all -- was sitting in that chair with me right then and there.

And then, for a moment, it was as if they said, these women who were sitting there with me, "At last we have a seat at the table."

My immediate reaction was: we want more. We want more. We want that table to have not only more women, but to reflect the full diversity of our great country.

And that is when we can really have cause for celebration.

As with your commencement, as you enter into the world, you will enter into a world that is vastly different than the one that existed when you entered San Francisco State just four years ago.

We're all learning to live with more uncertainty, and as new generation of leaders, you will not only address new realities, you will shape them.

The challenge today is to bring new, fresh thinking and fresh eyes onto all that we do.

The poet Shelley once wrote that the greatest force for moral good is imagination. With the extraordinary challenges ahead, we will need all of the imagination that we can muster. That is part of my message to you today.

Imagination enables us to think in new ways. Imagination enables us to put ourselves in other people's shoes, for our country to put itself in other countries' places, leading to better understanding.

Imagination enables us to create a society where every child in the world can reach his or her potential.

Our educational system is a place to help us understand one another, our different cultures, and to search for mutual understanding. San Francisco State, this campus, has been a voice of reason and tolerance and has set good examples of how people can learn from each other and about the world.

We need your imagination to create partnerships flexible enough to accommodate differences of opinion and the willingness to work through those differences rather than to walk away.

We need a new kind of global leadership, and I say this to you because you must be part of it, a new leadership that focuses on conflict prevention and resolution and is dedicated to the pursuit of peace.

We need a new approach, which looks at problems from the perspective of each participant, imagination, and develops lasting solutions based on mutual respect and trust.

Among the challenges we must address are the global AIDS pandemic, violence, raging poverty, hunger, homelessness, lack of freedom, environmental degradation, the growing number of refugees, the list goes on and on.

Close to half the people in the developing world suffer from diseases caused by contaminated water or food, and pollution and disease know no boundaries.

So we need imagination and creativity to address the fury of despair, which springs from having no economic options, no freedom, and no hope.

In our invocations today, we were exhorted to be hopeful. That was a magnificent message.

These challenges, though, have economic, national security, and humanitarian implications provide new opportunities for leadership.

Fundamental to any fresh approach is for us to reject violence anyplace in our society.

Failure of imagination has made the world a more violent place. When we celebrate the birthday of Reverend Martin Luther King, we honor the power of his idea of nonviolence, which, originated with Mahatma Gandhi. Nonviolence is a magnificent spiritual gift that has benefited our country so directly.

It comes from a part of the world right now that ironically is a very dangerous place -- South Asia.

But why should we resolve our disagreements and our conflicts by using violence? It doesn't make any sense. If we've learned one thing, one lesson on September 11th, it is that what happens in the rest of the world matters here at home.

You, as the new generation of leaders, must not tolerate a world that relies on violent resolution to conflict. As was said in the invocation, we must make decisions personally to reject violence, or the invocation to reach out for peace in our own lives. We must raise our children in a nonviolent way.

We must educate our young people to the spirit of nonviolence. And we must make a national decision to reject violence as a means of conflict resolution.

Our country must make a commitment to halt the proliferation of weapons from land mines through small arms, all the way to stopping the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons technology.

A rejection of violence must be central to our approach to the future. But it will take imagination.

In another graduation a couple of years ago, I was honored on the program with David Henry Hwang, who wrote the play M. Butterfly.

At that time, Peter, I said I don't ever want to be on the program with a writer. You don't want to follow a writer when you have to make a presentation.

But I want to share this with you because I think it's very important. In advising students what it was like to be successful as a playwright, Mr. Hwang said that you learn from your success as well as your failure. He said failure is quiet, very, very, very quiet.

Nobody calls; nobody seeks you out. It's a dud.

Success, on the other hand, is very noisy. Your phone rings constantly, everyone wants your attention; you're in great demand. Success can be extremely loud.

What he told us, though, is that the danger is that sometimes with all of that noise, you cannot hear what is in your heart, which is what got you where you are in the first place.

Your passion for your choices in life is a part of who you are.

We must, we must, we must live our lives listening to our hearts and not being distracted by the noises of success otherwise.

Failure is really not possible in your lives. Whatever setbacks you may have will teach you.
When I got elected House Whip, among the many notes that I received were from people who wrote to me using this expression. It said: "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

That's about passion, about believing in the beauty of your dreams. Don't hesitate to do that. And if there's one other thing I'm certain that you have learned here at San Francisco State, it is the responsibility to make the world a better place.

America is a great country because our people have always believed in two things: that tomorrow can be better than today, and that every one of us has a personal, moral responsibility to make it so.

That spirit is reinforced every day when newcomers bring to America their courage, their determination, and their optimism for a better life. The diversity they bring is a blessing and a great strength of America.

That diversity is very represented in this class. And so while now I would have taken another 65 or 70 minutes to talk about what's wrong with the world and what the challenges are, and how you have to rise to meet them, I'll dispense with that, because we want to get on to the celebrations.

Instead, I'll say I'm not going to address all the bad news. Instead, I'm going to address the good news, which is you.

You, in the diversity of this class, you have learned to respect each other for who you are rather than judge each other for how you are different. As you go forward to make your mark in the world, please do so in the confidence that you have received an excellent education here at San Francisco State that will serve you and the world well.

My advice to you, graduates: Know your power, the power that springs from the quality of your education, the depth of your passion, the extent of your imagination, the strength of your values engendered here at San Francisco State, and the beauty of your dreams.

This is the largest class ever. The times demand in looking out here, I am quite certain, that it is indeed the greatest class ever.

Congratulations to the class of 2002.

Thank you very much.

 


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