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Commencement Address 2020

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives

Good afternoon, graduates! Thank you for the immense honor of addressing you—the Smith College class of 2020—on this very special occasion.

I am pleased to convey the congratulations of the Congress of the United States—and to bring special greetings on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus, which I am proud to say is more than 60 percent women, people of color and LGBTQ members.

I also want to extend my warmest congratulations to the parents and grandparents, families and friends, siblings and supporters, and all sharing in this celebratory moment.

Thank you, President McCartney, for the great honor of addressing the storied institution that you lead so effectively. Thank you for your leadership to advance Smith’s legacy as a leading pillar of educational achievement in the world.

And I thank every member of this fine institution: its academic faculty, administrators and trustees, whose dedication have made this day possible for this remarkable class.

Graduates, this is your moment, your success, your achievement!

Your degrees have been carved by hard work, late nights and juggled responsibilities.

Your diplomas are not simply recognition of completed course work. They are the fruit of your faith in yourselves—testimony to your drive, your determination and your dreams to build a better tomorrow.

As you know, you are leaving Northampton and beginning the next chapter in a time of extraordinary uncertainty.

But one thing is certain: You have the advantage of a Smith education—an education measured not only by GPA and test scores, but by the resilience, courage and perseverance you have honed these past four years.

And what is also certain is that, in acquiring this exceptional education, you have become links in an extraordinary legacy of trailblazers, groundbreakers and history makers.

You graduate in the year that women celebrate 100 years since winning the right to vote. We all carry with us the courage of the suffragists—and you especially carry the courage of your founder, Sophia Smith.

Sophia Smith was a highly traditional woman with a highly untraditional vision, who had the courage and generosity to expand opportunities for women—generations before we could vote, run for office or truly participate in our democracy.

But she understood the importance of founding this institution, so that women’s “power for good" could be "incalculably enlarged,” as she said.

Since then, Smithies have been a force for good, changing the world, from:

Otelia Cromwell, who defied discrimination and blazed new trails for women of color, and whose education at Smith was so fine that she went on to become the first woman of color to achieve a doctorate at Yale. We recognize Otelia with Cromwell Day, which also celebrates her niece Adelaide, who made history as the first African American educator at Smith.

Smith’s early recognition of the importance of diversity brings lustre to Smith’s legacy.

In the Smithie tradition also are Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, who rejected the ways of the past and revolutionized the fight for women’s rights.

And I have had the privilege of serving in the House with three Smithies—Jane Harman, Nikki Tsongas and now-Senator Tammy Baldwin—who came to Washington to take their rightful seat at the decision-making table.

During this crisis and in the days, weeks and years that will follow, the world needs your leadership, too.

Our goal as leaders is to shorten the distance between what is inconceivable to some but inevitable to us. Because Smithies are relentless and persistent, I am confident in your ability to do so.

When the president launched his attack on Dreamers, you organized and mobilized to protect privacy, expand job opportunities and secure access to legal counsel for Dreamers on campus.

When you saw bias in policing on campus last year, you demanded and achieved an overhaul of racially insensitive campus policing practices.

And when you decided that your campus wasn’t doing enough to fight the climate crisis, Smithies fought eight long years to convince your trustees to fully divest from fossil fuels and succeeding—and after succeeding, got to work the very next day to reinvest in socially and environmentally responsible companies.

As you begin the next chapter, in this time of uncertainty, it is even more necessary that you make your own environment.

In the tradition of these iconoclasts and visionaries who came before, I urge you to know your power.

Leadership is about having confidence in your vision, your knowledge, your strategic thinking—and how that connects to the aspirations of others.

Recognize that you are the unique person you are, with your own special power to shape the future—for yourself and for our country.

You never know what opportunities the future holds, but you must be ready. I had no intention of running for office or for leadership, but when the opportunity presented itself, I was ready.

My strength sprang from my love of my family and the comfort of good friends. So my closing advice is to stay close and to treasure your family and friends.

When I broke the marble ceiling and became the first woman speaker of the House, I said:

“This is an historic moment—for the Congress, and for the women of this country. It is a moment for which we have waited more than 200 years.

“Never losing faith, we waited through the many years of struggle to achieve our rights. But women weren’t just waiting; women were working.

“Never losing faith, we worked to redeem the promise of America, that all men and women are created equal. For our daughters and our granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling.

“We have made history, now let us make progress for our new America.”

At Smith, you have made history and you have made progress.

Now, it is up to you to make progress for our America. The world urgently needs your leadership—in government, in academia, in the military, in business, in sports, in community service and every aspect of our society.

Speaking with great certainty, I can say: Nothing is more wholesome to politics and government than the increased participation and leadership of women.

So, as you go forth, embrace the groundbreaking legacy of those who came before you. Know your purpose. Know your power.

Thank you for this honorary degree that makes me part of this extraordinary class. Remember, you have a classmate in the Capitol. Come visit!