Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday urged graduates of Tennessee State University to apply their leadership skills to help them tackle the challenges presented by an unstable world.
In his graduate commencement speech at the Historically Black University in Nashville, Harris said the Class of 2022 stands “on the verge of a new frontier,” pointing to the potential for further breakthroughs in technology and medical research.
But with war in Ukraine, climate change at risk and basic freedoms at risk in the United States, graduates are stepping into an uncertain future, she said.
The vice president also emphasized his relationship with graduates from the state of Tennessee as fellow graduates of another historically black university. He recalled seeing Howard University, his alma mater, when he first flew on the vice president’s helicopter. Reminiscing about his time as a student, he said it reinforced the realization that “I can be anything, do anything, even if it’s never been done before – like You.”
Harris—the first female US vice president, and the first black woman and person of South Asian descent in the role—was greeted with a warm welcome from the opening crowd.
While graduates are entering a world “full of possibility”, the vice president pointed to a series of challenges threatening “fundamental principles” around the world and in the United States.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens “international rules and norms,” Harris said. In America, she pointed to the right to vote and the need to protect women’s rights.
“You graduate into a volatile world abroad and here at home,” Harris said. “In the United States, we are forced once again to defend fundamental principles that we hope were long settled,” she said. “Principles like freedom to vote, women’s right to make decisions about their own bodies. Even what is the truth, especially in an age when anyone can post anything online and claim that it’s a fact.”
Harris pointed to burning issues such as climate change that have intensified and other problems that have persisted for a long time – inequality in wealth, access to health care and the criminal justice system.
“And graduate, I look at this volatile world and yes, I see the challenges again,” she said. “But I’m here to tell you, I also see opportunities. Opportunities for your leadership.”
Emphasizing on their potential, he told the graduates that they have survived a global pandemic and have the advantage of growing up in the digital age.
“There is no limit to your potential for greatness and there is no obstacle you cannot overcome,” she said. “And there’s no barrier you can’t break.”