House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) urged graduating seniors in her keynote address to harness the freedom of speech and push for change during the Class of 2014 commencement on Saturday.
Throughout her speech, Pelosi highlighted the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement and stressed the importance of upending the status quo to challenge mainstream views.
“You here at Berkeley are already disruptors in many ways,” she said. “Being called a disruptor, in my view, is a very high compliment.”
Pelosi was the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House from 2007-2011. She has represented the San Francisco district for 26 years in the House of Representatives.
Pelosi follows a long line of distinguished commencement speakers, including politicians and entrepreneurs alike. Last year, Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak delivered the commencement address, and then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright served as keynote speaker in 2000.
This year’s commencement drew about 22,000 attendees, an increase from last year, according to Andy Pino, campus director of communications and media relations.
Pelosi also noted that the commencement ceremony fell on the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision and used the occasion to stress the importance of ensuring high-quality education for all American youth.
“Opportunity for all has always been a defining feature of our economic system. Yet, we have challenges. So let’s be disruptors,” she said. “Let’s build ladders of opportunity … Education is a critical rung in that ladder.”
She encouraged the audience to make efforts to close the opportunity gap, pass immigration reform and realize the potential women have in the economy.
“I thought it was risky that she went into politics, but I think it’s important that we address those issues,” said graduating senior Tram Nguyen. “It’s about time we’re not scared to talk about women’s rights and immigration policy.”
While Nguyen appreciated Pelosi’s speech, she said that other seniors might not have agreed with the direction of her address. In the middle of Pelosi’s remarks, one graduating senior shouted, “No politics!”
Pelosi at times referenced popular campus locations and landmarks ranging from the Golden Bear Cafe to the Campanile.
“She did her research on the institution so she knew what she was talking about,” said graduating senior Sharlee Taylor.
Other speakers at the commencement included Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who stressed the importance of public education and called for a united Berkeley community, and University Medalist Rebecca Peters, who received the top annual award for her water purification projects overseas and local work on water issues.
Dirks spoke about maintaining the quality of public higher education institutions and also granted alumnus Andres Roemer an award for his civil service in Mexico. Roemer’s call for critical thinking as a better alternative to drones and war garnered applause from the audience.
Recognizing Roemer and Peters, Pelosi thanked graduates for their commitment to public service and encouraged them to continue striving for change, recounting her own experience in transitioning from a homemaker to a politician.
“I had no idea that I would go from kitchen to Congress,” Pelosi said. “My wish is that you know the power to light the future with your ideals, your optimism … My wish is that you will be disruptors when necessary and that you will enjoy every single moment of it.”