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‘The world needs your leadership,’ Pelosi tells 2020 grads at Smith College’s virtual commencement

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday.Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

They couldn’t do it in person Sunday, but more than 700 Smith College graduates carried on anyway, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leading the charge in a commencement speech that urged more of the leadership, resilience, courage, and perseverance she said they had already demonstrated.

Rerouted by the global pandemic, the storied college’s 142nd commencement went virtual.

“Graduates, this is your moment, your success, your achievement,” Pelosi said to an audience that tuned in at noon via Facebook Live.

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

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Their leadership, and all that their hard-earned degrees bestowed, will come in especially handy during these “uncertain times,” Pelosi told her audience from the Northampton school, the largest of the Seven Sisters, as the group of prestigious, traditionally women’s colleges in the Northeast are known.

“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,” Pelosi said.

Smith College awarded 721 degrees on Sunday to 671 undergraduates and 50 advanced-degree students from 41 states and 29 countries, a spokeswoman for the school said.

Degrees ranging from neuroscience to creative writing, statistical and data science to religion, race health and society, were awarded to newly minted bachelors, masters, and academic doctors.

“We didn’t get a full four years, but I think we still had a pretty great three and three-quarters,” Rosalie Toupin, president of the Student Government Association, said during her online address.

The best of what Smith has to offer will likely come next, she said.

“I’m pretty excited to become a Smith alum. To go out into the world and proudly tell people I graduated from Smith College. To see what is in store for me, what you all accomplish and to help lift the future generations of Smithies into forming their own legacy.”

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“In acquiring this exceptional education, you have become links in an extraordinary legacy of trailblazers, groundbreakers, and history makers,” Pelosi said with a nod to Otelia Cromwell, a 1900 graduate who went on to become the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate degree from Yale University.

Pelosi applauded noted feminist writers Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, graduates from 1956 and 1942, respectively, and their indelible contributions toward womens’ liberation.

Pelosi, a Democrat and the first woman to serve as speaker of the US House of Representatives, championed “three Smithies” who had served with her in that chamber.

Admired colleagues, former state representatives Jane Harman of California and Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts, along with sitting Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, had all come “to Washington to take their rightful seat at the decision-making table,” Pelosi said.

The Speaker urged the class of 2020 to not only know their power, but to align it with the advantages of their Smith educations to harness good and blaze new trails.

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

Pelosi wound down her message with an open invitation for the graduates to join her in not only smashing glass ceilings, but busting through the marble one that separates women from the highest halls of power.

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“For our daughters and our granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling,” Pelosi said. “We have made history, now let us make progress for our new America.”

Pelosi’s final call to order: “Know your purpose. Know your power.”


Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com or 617-929-1579. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.