A Celebration of Educational Acheivement
Address to the Graduates by The Honorable Barbara Bailey Kennelly ’58
The Honorable Barbara Bailey Kennelly ’58, the first Trinity woman elected to Congress, congratulated the Class of 2012 and introduced her friend and colleague, Democratic Leader Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi ’62, at Commencement.
Congratulations to the Class of 2012, and to your families and friends who are here celebrating with you today! You have all worked hard to get here, and you deserve high praise for the goal you have reached.
I cannot tell you how honored I am to be part of this glorious celebration of your educational achievement, and to have been invited to introduce my dear friend and fellow Trinity alumna – a woman who is celebrating her 25th year in Congress – a marvelous accomplishment! – Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Leader Pelosi and I both graduated as Green Class members, though the Leader entered Trinity the fall after I graduated. Although that was a few years ago, and today’s graduating Class is Red, not Green, we all have something very important in common. Trinity’s mission: to produce educated graduates who are capable of taking care of their families and making a meaningful contribution to their community. It is the common thread that binds generations of Trinity women, and now men, no matter when they come through Main’s doors.
The mission of education, family and service has been a part of Trinity since its founding by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who established the school, all the way to your wonderful President, Pat McGuire, who is responsible for so much of what Trinity is today and its marvelous reputation.
This mission has molded all of us Trinity graduates in ways that stay with us our entire lives. When Leader Pelosi and I were here, a deep sense of responsibility to others was instilled in us and we learned to be leaders so that we could find ways to change the world for the better. Knowing you are fortunate to be part of this marvelous community makes you realize a deep moral obligation to pass along some of the fullness of your life to others.
Leader Pelosi is absolutely a model of the ideal Trinity woman. She has so many roles in life – a faithful wife, excellent mother and grandmother, and an outstanding political leader. It was through politics that she found her calling – the path through which she could initiate positive change for our country.
When you are elected to Congress, you have to discover the issues that drive your passion, and learn how to be an effective legislator so you can advance the causes you believe in. You also must be aware of the needs of the district that sent you to Congress. Leader Pelosi knew many issues needed an effective advocate in Congress: she understood our schools must be better, our environment must be protected, our nation’s health care crisis must be addressed. She also knew from her own district that fighting HIV/AIDS had to become a national priority.
By now we all know how hard she works and how she rose through the ranks of leadership, but what some of you may not know is how brave and determined Leader Pelosi is when faced with injustice. I just recently returned from a trip to China – a nation that is rapidly becoming an economic powerhouse. But it wasn’t long ago – June of 1989 to be exact – when China was in the news for a different reason. After nearly two months of pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the army violently dispersed the crowd. No one knows how many students were killed that day. And although America’s political leaders expressed their disapproval, Nancy Pelosi was the one who knew rhetoric was not enough – something had to be done to stop the abuses.
Over the next decade, her battles with the Chinese government would force leaders in Washington and Beijing to take note. She built her reputation as a relentless advocate for human rights. She mounted a fierce campaign to require China to stop punishing its own people for speaking out in support of democracy before allowing China to join the World Trade Organization. She challenged trade policies promoted by both Republicans and Democrats until human rights were addressed. Human rights protection went beyond politics for Leader Pelosi – this was a moral issue. Today, although we know there are still problems in China, I am quite convinced there could never be another Tiananmen Square. And both nations understand that since we are superpowers, we should and must be friends, but not at any price.
She showed similar legislative know-how and resolve during the recent health care debate. Those of us with front row seats during the historic confrontation about the Affordable Care Act know one thing: it never would have become law without Leader Nancy Pelosi at the helm of the House. She managed to pull together a party with widely divergent views on what the right prescription was for healthcare reform and get legislation passed – something that had been attempted repeatedly for many years but never accomplished. She was successful because of her strong leadership, her political instincts, and her determination that a country as great as ours must provide a better health care system to its people. Again – not a political calculation, but a moral issue.
You are about to hear from a woman who has led an exemplary life, and who has developed the tools and demonstrated the skills required of an effective leader in American politics. Our modern Congress has existed for 224 years. In all that time, there has only been one woman Speaker of the House – one woman who has stood second in line from the presidency – and that woman is Nancy Pelosi. And this year – on the 25th anniversary of her election to Congress, she has agreed to spend today here with this graduating class. How proud Trinity is of her, and how fortunate you are to have Leader Pelosi as your Commencement speaker.