Pelosi Urges Smith Students to Contribute, with Confidence
Year on Democracies
- September 8, 2021
- By Stacey Schmeidel and Linnea Duley ’16
In a Presidential Colloquium after receiving an honorary degree at Smith College tonight, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Smith students to have the confidence to contribute to their communities, their country and the world.
“This country needs you,” Pelosi told Smith students who gathered with faculty and staff in John M. Greene Hall for the event. “Know your power. There is no contribution that anyone can make that is like yours.” (Video of Pelosi’s talk is available on Smith’s YouTube page.)
The colloquium—the inaugural event in Smith’s Year on Democracies—was organized to award Pelosi the honorary Doctor of Laws degree that she had been scheduled to receive in 2020. Smith’s 2020 graduation ceremony was held virtually due to the pandemic, and Pelosi delivered her commencement speech online. In that speech, she promised to come to Smith, when the time was right, to receive her honorary degree and address students in person.
Tonight’s Presidential Colloquium—a conversation between Pelosi and Smith College President Kathleen McCartney—covered issues ranging from the meaning of democracy to fair representation in government, from the impact of misinformation to the recent withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan after 20 years of war.
On Afghanistan: “I think we made the right decision to leave. Our hearts break for the 13 U.S. service members whose lives were lost trying to help people. Not in combat; trying to help people.…As we go forward, we have to shine a bright light on what’s happening with women and girls in Afghanistan….For 20 years women and girls had freedoms. I don't know that you can really turn that back.”
On preserving fair representation in government: “If you suppress the vote, you are suppressing democracy.”
On countering the impact of misinformation and conspiracy theories: “We are committed to the freedom of expression—it’s fundamental to our democracy. We are not committed to a profit motive exploiting misinformation to the detriment of truth.”
On climate change: “We all have a moral responsibility to pass this planet on to future generations. It’s a health issue. It’s a jobs issue. It’s a security issue.”
On “getting up every day,” as Pelosi said in her autobiography, “with the strength to fight the good fight”: “I knew my ‘why.’ So be ready. You never know when you’ll be needed.”
Throughout the conversation Pelosi demonstrated the thoughtfulness and the breadth of knowledge that have made her, as McCartney said, “a pioneering public servant and … a champion for the most vulnerable in our society.”
Pelosi’s colloquium was attended by some 500 Smith students, faculty and staff who received tickets in a special ticket lottery. Attendance policies were shaped by Smith’s evolving COVID protocols, which currently limit attendance at Smith College events to people in Smith’s asymptomatic testing program.
Several thousand people watched a livestream of the event on Smith’s Facebook page. The video remains online for viewing on YouTube.
A small number of protestors gathered outside John M. Greene Hall before the event. The protests were peaceful.
At the end of the night, Pelosi and McCartney embraced. “How lucky are we,” McCartney said, “that the Honorable Nancy Pelosi is now referring to herself as a Smithie!”