Spring 2022 graduates of Tennessee State University received the speech of a lifetime when Vice President Kamala Harris delivered their commencement address today. Harris, a fellow HBCU graduate of Howard University, has made history as the first Black and first woman Vice President of the United States. Prior to joining the Biden Administration, she has held a lifetime of public service, including roles as District Attorney of San Francisco and Attorney General of California. She was sworn into the United States Senate in 2017.
Harris was joined at the commencement by longtime friend and Tennessee State University President Dr. Glenda B. Glover. “Today is extraordinarily special, because TSU continues to make history,” said Dr. Glover. “Tennessee State University, this day, May 7, 2022, we have present with us, the Vice President of the United States of America, the honorable Kamala D. Harris!” Dr. Glover, TSU’s 8th president, also serves as International President and CEO of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., of which Harris, is a member.
As Harris made her way to the stage, she was welcomed by Jada Hammer. The VP applauded the graduating business administration major for her accomplishments, and for holding one of the top grade point averages in her class. “Thank you Jada for that introduction, and for your 4.0! How about that,” she began. “I cannot say enough about the President of this university, Dr. Glenda Glover. Dr. Glover you have been a tremendous friend to me for many years. I thank you for your leadership, and Tennessee State University is extremely fortunate to have you as its leader.”
As the graduating students begin to prepare for the next stage of their lives, she reflected on the journey that the graduates embarked upon with each other. “Graduates, I know it has been a long hard road, but you made it,” she said. “Look to your left and to your right, and look all around you. These are the folks who have been by your side, literally and virtually, since your first day as a Tiger.” She also spoke to her own HBCU experience, and what it can teach about keeping connections. “I speak from personal experience when I say, hear me now, there are future members of your wedding party in this class,” she said. “Someone sitting near you will ask you to be godparent to their child. Other years, you will reach out to some of the people around you when you’ve had a bad day, or a great one, and they will reach out to you too. And many of them might be present for your swearing in after your election into public office,” she said, referring to her own historic election.
“Class of 2022, you made it through,” became a running theme in Harris’ address. This class has survived an unexpected, and still ongoing pandemic. Through it all, they persevered and ultimately prevailed. “It cannot be denied that your class has traveled a stony road,” she said. “A pandemic, that took away so much of the college experience that you once imagined, and the world you graduate into is unsettled. It is a world where long-established principles rest on shaky ground.” She used the political and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine as one of the latest example, bur not the last. “In the United States, we are once again forced to defend fundamental principles that we hoped were long settled; principles like the freedom to vote, the rights of women to make decisions about their own body, what constitutes the truth…”
She also addressed the urgency that she should have. The global north and global south have existed throughout history. Global extreme poverty is on the rise, as is extreme wealth, she said. “In the United States, we are once again forced to defend fundamental principles that we hoped were long settled; principles like the freedom to vote, the rights of women to make decisions about their own body, what constitutes the truth, especially in an era where anyone can post anything online and pass it as fact.”
However, with what may seem like a bleak world to enter, Harris proposed that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, which will be guided by this graduating class for years to come. “Graduates, I look at this unsettled world and yes, I can see the challenges, but I’m here to tell you that I see the opportunities. The opportunities for your leadership. The future of our country and our world will be shaped by you” she said. “I stand before you today as the Vice President of the United States of America and as a proud graduate of an HBCU to say, there is no limit to your capacity for greatness. There is no obstacle you cannot overcome, and there is no barrier you cannot break.”
Vice President Harris’ full commencement speech can be seen in the event’s livestream on YouTube here.