PROVIDENCE — US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday urged the Brown University class of 2022 to believe in hope and goodness, despite turbulent times that have threatened democracy, seen senseless killings on America’s soil, and widened the country’s political divisions.
“We have hope in America. We have hope in young people. It’s your future,” said Pelosi. “You must take responsibility for it.”
“Graduates, you are our hope,” she said.
Pelosi addressed the thousands of Brown graduates and their family members during the school’s Commencement ceremony on Sunday, and spoke of how the arts and sciences can bring the country together.
Among this generation of students, she said, there are leaders sounding the alarm of climate change and gun violence. She said during one of the country’s darkest hours, President Abraham Lincoln spoke of bringing the country together, and she encouraged these students to summon solidarity.
“You are the authenticity that America needs,” she said. “We know this: Hope is the most powerful weapon against threats against democracy. We should have hope, because we believe in America.”
Though Brown largely kept learning in person during the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced of many college students to move out of their dorms in the Spring of 2020 and attend classes virtually, often in isolation, graduating in person was something to be celebrated. The major theme of Sunday’s commencement was that these students finally “made it” through the last four years, earned their Ivy League degree, and are now entering the workforce during one of American’s most turbulent and politically divisive times.
As Pelosi began her speech, someone in the crowd screamed, “We need gun control!” Another person yelled out that she was “a criminal.” Moments later, Pelosi noted that Congressman David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, was in the crowd, and called him a “champion in the fight against gun violence in our country.”
“You are graduating in a vastly different world,” said Pelosi. She mentioned the leaked Supreme Court decision that could overturn Roe v. Wade, limiting a women’s right to choose to have an abortion in many parts of the country. She said same-sex marriage could also be at risk. “We can’t let that happen,” she said. The crowd cheered.
Pelosi noted that she had little interest in politics when she first ran for Congress three decades ago. She learned that “There is nothing more wholesome in our country, in our politics, than the fuller participation of women in leadership.” Pelosi went on to become the first woman to be elected the Speaker of the House.
“Know your why. Be ready. You just don’t know what’s around the corner for you,” she told the graduates.
Pelosi was awarded an honorary degree from Brown , along with eight others who have achieved great distinction in their fields. They included former Rhode Island Department of Health director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, physician and public health leader Dr. Seth Berkley, Nobel Laureate and economist Guido Imbens, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Stanley Nelson, Reggae icon and U.S. Marine Shaggy, Brown leaders and benefactors Alice and Thomas Tisch, and technology scholar and educator Zeynep Tüfekçi.
Brown also honored the late telecommunications pioneer George H. Billings, who died in October 2021, and was a Class of 1972 graduate.
Graduating senior Michelle Liu spoke on behalf of the Class of 2022.
“The pandemic put our lives on pause... Many of us spent that spring semester scattered across the world,” she said. She told the story of her immigrant parents, who moved to the US from China, and who encouraged her to go into computer science for financial stability. But she dreamed of being a professional writer, taking moments to understand what her future held. “Pausing is scary, she said. “But pause is as necessary as it is scary.”
She added: “Let us pause to find how we want to live.”