Related: Celebration, Political Issues, Trinity Alumnae, Women, Women's Leadership

Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Knowing Her Power


Nancy Pelosi sworn in as speaker(photo credit: Speaker Pelosi website)

Thursday, January 3, 2019 was a day for the history books.  Nancy Pelosi was elected once again to be the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.  What makes her election historic is the fact that in 230 years since the founding of this nation, only ONE woman has ever been the Speaker out of 54 individuals to hold the position — and that ONE woman has been Nancy Pelosi, Trinity Class of 1962, the highest ranking and most powerful woman in American politics.  Speaker Pelosi returns to that position after first holding it from 2007 to 2011, and her re-election for a second time is notable since it’s been more than half a century since Sam Rayburn was re-elected as Speaker after a period out of office.

I was honored to receive Speaker Pelosi’s invitation to witness this historic moment first-hand in the House gallery on Thursday.  What a thrill to watch this historic proceeding “live” and unfiltered by any television commentary — an extraordinary moment for me!  How exciting to see our distinguished alumna stride down the center aisle of the chamber as the powerful and compelling leader that she is, standing at the forefront of the Democratic leadership and California delegation as she ascended to the podium.  For me, as for others, this was an indelible memory of not only a Trinity Alumna but a Woman of Power taking her rightful place in charge of her peers in the People’s House.

Speaker Pelosi noted in her acceptance remarks that the 116th Congress, which she now leads, has more than 100 women members at long last, in this year that also marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.  The new Congress also reflects the triumphant march of women and men of color, representatives who are more diverse by race and ethnicity and religion and experience than any Congress in history.

In her acceptance remarks, Speaker Pelosi noted the challenges this nation currently faces, and set a new tone of optimism and forward thinking, saying that in the recent election,

“…the American people spoke, and demanded a new dawn.

“They called upon the beauty of our Constitution: our system of checks and balances that protects our democracy, remembering that the legislative branch is Article I: the first branch of government, co-equal to the president and judiciary.

“They want a Congress that delivers results for the people, opening up opportunity and lifting up their lives.

“When our new Members take the oath, our Congress will be refreshed, and our Democracy will be strengthened by the optimism, idealism and patriotism of this transformative Freshman Class.

“Working together, we will redeem the promise of the American Dream for every family, advancing progress for every community.

“We must be pioneers of the future.”

Nancy Pelosi(photo credit MSNBC screenshot)

Nancy Pelosi loves her alma mater, and Trinity was so thrilled when she chose Trinity to host the very first televised event after her election.  So it was that we hosted the MSNBC Town Hall “The Speaker” with Joy Reid interviewing  Speaker Pelosi in O’Connor Auditorium on Friday, January 4, 2019.

Women’s power was very much on the minds of our students and all in the audience that morning.

Student Asks Question(screenshots above and below from MSNBC The Speaker)

When Trinity Political Science Major Ewaoluwa Ogundana asked Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ’62 how she handles the challenges of being the highest elected woman in America, Speaker Pelosi replied with her trademark phrase of confidence:  “Know Your Power.”  Ewaoluwa was one of several students invited to pose question to the newly-elected Speaker during the MSNBC Town Hall.

student asking question(click on this link to watch the full segment on Women and Power)

Students and alumnae who were present cheered loudly when Speaker Pelosi entered O’Connor Auditorium, transformed by the MSNBC crew into a dazzling set appropriate for this occasion.  MSNBC Political Correspondent Joy Reid kept the conversation lively with a number of provocative questions ranging from Impeachment to Health Care to Black Lives Matter to what it was really like to live at Trinity with the Class of 1962!  Click on those links to see the full clips of each segment!  I am so grateful to Speaker Pelosi for the many lovely comments she made about Trinity in the course of her remarks, and we are also grateful to MSNBC for the amazing coverage of her alma mater.

Joy Reid and Nancy Pelosi(photo by Timothy Russell, Trinity)

Before the program began, Trinity Alumna Airen Washington ’16, who is also now a master’s degree student in the Strategic Communications Program, gave a welcome and introduction for MSNBC Political Correspondent Joy Reid.  Airen (on the right in the photo, below) was also interviewed by NBC4 Anchor Barbara Harrison — see this clip of the Harrison story on the event.

Nancy Pelosi greet Airen Washington(photo by Timothy Russell, Trinity)

Many alumnae who saw the broadcast have written to me to comment on how impressed they were with all of the Trinity students who participated, especially those who asked questions during the Town Hall.  In addition to Airen and Ewaoluwa, above, the students asking questions included (photos are screenshots from MSNBC video):

Carol SardinhaCarol Sardinha is a student in the Master’s in Occupational Therapy Program and she asked Speaker Pelosi how she would fix the Affordable Care Act.


Shelley Ward (below), a student in the Journalism and Media Studies Program in SPS, asked Speaker Pelosi if she supported the Black Lives Matter movement.


Michelle Vazquez, a first year Political Science major, posed a question about the deaths of two young children while in Border Patrol custody, and asked what Speaker Pelosi intended to do about the situation at the border.  (photo on left by Timothy Russell, Trinity)



Meanwhile, throughout the program, the Class of 1962 (photo by Timothy Russell, below) basked in the glory of their classmate and reveled in her recollections of the “ice cream theft” and other escapades as Trinity students.


Other notable Trinity alumnae were able to join us for the Town Hall including former Congresswoman Barbara Bailey Kennelly ’58, now a Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Trinity; and Kathleen Sebelius ’70, former Secretary of Health and Human Services and former Governor of Kansas. See Secretary Sebelius on left, below, with Peggy O’Brien of the Class of ’69, and Trinity’s Board of Trustees Chair Sister Patricia O’Brien.  Many members of the Board of Trustees, below, were also happy to salute Speaker Pelosi on this grand day.

As the program closed, Speaker Pelosi stopped for a minute to relate one of her favorite stories (and ours!)  — at the ceremony at which President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, Speaker Pelosi in her first tenure as House Speaker was present (she was the major architect of the law) along with Secretary Sebelius who also played a major role in the legislation.  With Nancy and Kathleen standing on either side of the president, Speaker Pelosi asked President Obama if he would take a photo with the “Trinity Sisters” and he said, “Sure, where are they?” — looking around as if to search for nuns in habit.  With that, the Speaker and Secretary exclaimed, “We’re right here!” and so the famous photo of President Obama and the Trinity Sisters became history:

Trinity SistersI love this photo and the story behind it for several reasons:  certainly the way in which it celebrates two Trinity Women who achieved so much for the people of our nation, and the smile on the president’s face tells us how much he appreciated their hard work.  The photo also illustrated a terrific article by Kevin Carey in the Washington Monthly (see “The Trinity Sisters”). But even more, the photo and story behind it — and the fact that Nancy Pelosi tells this story often — reveals the deep and lasting importance of the bonds we share across time and generations, the real love and friendship in the “Trinity Sisterhood” that has shaped and influenced Trinity Women for twelve decades.  To Know Our Power, we also have to know the value of relationships and friendships, to build strong bonds with each other, to work shoulder-to-shoulder through the hard times, to celebrate with great joy together in the good times.

During the show, in reflecting on women and power, Nancy said that one of the important qualities of women in leadership is their ability to have each other’s backs, to support and lift up each other, to realize that none of us can accomplish anything great all on our own.  That powerful statement of leadership philosophy echoes how many women lead across many positions — and contrasts sharply with the “I, alone” hubris of some current male leaders.

Nancy Pelosi steps up once more as Speaker of the House of Representatives at a time of tremendous challenge for our nation and our political system.  Indeed, our very future as a free people may be at risk, given the tendency toward abuses of power and threats to diminish individual rights that we keep hearing from the current administration.  Researchers on women’s leadership have noted a phenomenon known as the “glass cliff” — it means that women often become leaders in times of the most peril,  after a catastrophe, or when the house is teetering on the brink of collapse.  The election or appointment of women leaders often signifies a realization of the need for change before it’s too late — before the house falls off the cliff.  Given Speaker Pelosi’s long-proven powers as a legislator and leader, we know that she can draw a map to move this nation away from the cliff.  Given her unapologetic knowledge of her own power, we have reason to be confident that she will seize every opportunity to forge a better, stronger, more certain future, to “redeem the promise of the American Dream” she proclaimed in her acceptance speech on January 3.

Congratulations, Speaker Pelosi, our Trinity Sister!!

(photo credit)

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