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Transcript of SFSU's May 25 Commencement


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The challenge today is to bring new, fresh thinking and fresh eyes onto all that we do.

The poet Shelley once wrote that the greatest force for moral good is imagination. With the extraordinary challenges ahead, we will need all of the imagination that we can muster. That is part of my message to you today.

Imagination enables us to think in new ways. Imagination enables us to put ourselves in other people's shoes, for our country to put itself in other countries' places, leading to better understanding. Imagination to create a society where every child in the world can reach his or her potential.

Our educational system is a place to help us understand one another, our different cultures, and to search for mutual understanding. San Francisco State, this campus, has been a voice of reason and tolerance and has set good examples of how people can learn from each other and about the world.

We need your imagination to create partnerships flexible enough to accommodate differences of opinion and the willingness to work through those differences rather than to walk away.

We need a new kind of global leadership, and I say this to you because you must be part of it, a new leadership which focuses on conflict prevention and resolution and is dedicated to the pursuit of peace.

We need a new approach which looks at problems from the perspective of each participant, imagination, and develops lasting solutions based on mutual respect and trust.

Among the challenges we must address are the global AIDS pandemic, violence, raging poverty, hunger, homelessness, lack of freedom, environmental degradation, the growing number of refugees, the list goes on and on.

Close to half the people in the developing world suffer from diseases caused by contaminated water or food, and pollution and disease know no boundaries.

So we need imagination and creativity to address the fury of despair, which springs from having no economic options, no freedom, and no hope.

In our invocations today, we were exhorted to be hopeful. That was a magnificent message. These challenges, though, have economic, national security, and humanitarian implications and provide new opportunities for leadership.

Fundamental to any fresh approach is for us to reject violence anyplace in our society.

Failure of imagination has made the world a more violent place. When we celebrate the birthday of Reverend Martin Luther King, we honor the power of his idea of nonviolence, which, Glendy, as you know, originated with Mahatma Gandhi. Nonviolence is a magnificent spiritual gift that has benefited our country so directly. It comes from a part of the world right now that ironically is a very dangerous place -- South Asia.

But why should we resolve our disagreements and our conflicts by using violence? It doesn't make any sense. If we've learned one thing, one lesson on September 11th, it is that what happens in the rest of the world matters here at home.

You, as the new generation of leaders, must not tolerate a world that relies on violent resolution to conflict. As was said in the invocation, we must make decisions personally to reject violence, or the invocation to reach out for peace in our own lives. We must raise our children in a nonviolent way. We must educate our young people to the spirit of nonviolence. And we must make a national decision to reject violence as a means of conflict resolution.

Our country --


HONORABLE NANCY PELOSI: -- must make a commitment to halt the proliferation of weapons from land mines through small arms, all the way to stopping the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons technology.

A rejection of violence must be central to our approach to the future. But it will take imagination. Another -- I don't want to call it advice but just comment that I would like to make to you as the graduates is that, in my life, and I know that in the lives of the honorees here today, most recently, we heard from Millard Fuller, passion has played a very important part.

In another graduation a couple of years ago, I was honored on the program with David Henry Hwang, who wrote the play M. Butterfly. At that time, Peter, I said I don't ever want to be on the program with a writer. You don't want to follow a writer when you have to make a presentation.

But I want to share this with you because I think it's very important.

In advising students what it was like to be successful as a playwright, Mr. Hwang said that you learn from your success as well as your failure. He said failure is quiet, very, very, very quiet. Nobody calls; nobody seeks you out. It's a dud.

Success, on the other hand, is very noisy. Your phone rings constantly, everyone wants your attention, you're in great demand. Success can be extremely loud.

What he told us, though, is that the danger is that sometimes with all of that noise, that you cannot hear what is in your heart, which is what got you where you are in the first place. Your passion for your choices in life are a part of who you are.

We must, we must, we must live our lives listening to our hearts and not being distracted by the noises of success otherwise.

Failure is really not possible in your lives. Whatever setbacks you may have will teach you.

When I got elected House whip, one of the most frequent notes that I received were from people who wrote to me this expression. It said:

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

That's about passion, about believing in the beauty of your dreams. Don't hesitate to do that. And if there's one other thing I'm certain that you have learned here at San Francisco State, it is the responsibility to make the world a better place. America is a great country because our people have always believed in two things: that tomorrow can be better than today, and that every one of us has a personal, moral responsibility to make it so.

That spirit is reinforced every day when newcomers bring to America their courage, their determination, and their optimism for a better life. The diversity they bring is a blessing and a great strength of America. That diversity is very represented in this class.

And so while now I would have taken the time, as Peter said, my other 70 or 65 minutes, to talk about what's wrong with the world and what the challenges are and how you have to rise to meet them, I'll dispense with that, because we want to get on to the celebrations.

(Cheering.) .

HONORABLE NANCY PELOSI: Instead, I'll say I'm not going to address all the bad news. Instead, I'm going to address the good news, which is you.

You, in the diversity of this class, you have learned to respect each other for who you are rather than judge each other for how you are different. As you go forward to make your mark in the world, please do so in the confidence that you have received an excellent education here at San Francisco State that will serve you and the world well.

My advice to you, graduates: Know your power, the power that springs from the quality of your education, the depth of your passion, the extent of your imagination, the strength of your values engendered here at San Francisco State, and the beauty of your dreams.

This is the largest class ever. The times demand in looking out here, I am quite certain, that it is indeed the greatest class ever.

Congratulations to the class of 2002.

Thank you very much.


PRES. CORRIGAN: Thank you, Congresswoman Pelosi.

All right, class of 2002, listen up.

In just a few minutes, we're going to arrive at that part of the program for which you've been waiting, the awarding of your degrees.

Let's echo the comments that we have heard so far. You are, in fact, the faces of the future of this country. You are graduating into a world of exceptional challenges. We believe, as all of our speakers have indicated, that you have the wherewithal and the capability of doing it.

I'd remind you of those banners that fly throughout this campus, that "Love is Stronger Than Hate." We put them up soon after September 11th, when we were all seeking to restore our spirit and cope with our grief. The banners remind us that this is possible and vital, that we can disagree without hate, that we can argue without violence and balance passionate differences with decency and recognition of our common humanity.

As you leave us today, we believe that you are ready to take personal responsibility to address the ethical and moral issues of our society, to work actively in your communities and to help build a more just and caring world.

It is particularly important that you, San Francisco State University graduates, see yourselves in this role, diverse and multicultural, with roots that stretch around the globe, you have the perspectives and experiences that we need to help guide a complex world in that new millennium.

We are confident that you will rise to that challenge. God bless you.


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Last modified May 25, 2002, by the Office of Public Affairs