Warren Delivers George Washington University Commencement Address
As Progressives in Congress Hold the Line on President Biden’s Agenda, Warren Tells GW Students to Get in the Fight for What They Believe In
“Progressives in Congress are holding strong in support of President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda...we will hold the line until we win this fight.”
“[W]e’re a long way from true equality....You have power. You have used the opportunity given to you, so now, get in the fight to expand opportunity for someone else.”
Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today delivered the keynote address at George Washington University’s (GW) Commencement Exercises. As Progressives in Congress hold the line in strong support of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, Senator Warren focused on the importance of fighting for what you believe in and expanding opportunity for others to build a more equitable future.
Senator Elizabeth Warren: George Washington University Commencement Address
October 2, 2021
**As Prepared for Delivery**
Good morning, GW!
Thank you President Blanc and the Board of Trustees. I am truly grateful for this honorary degree.
To the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021 - a double graduation and a double sigh of relief... The late nights, the early mornings and the virtual classes are over! You’ve made it to the finish line in the face of a global pandemic. Congratulations!
Graduation ceremonies are peculiar events. They bring together community, families, and friends for hours of pomp and circumstance.
Meanwhile the graduates –look at their eyes–the graduates are nodding in and out, nursing hangovers and tapping their little hearts out hoping to make a match on hinge.
Hey, grads - I’ve heard from folks that if you add a selfie with me to your profile the matches roll on in. I can’t swear to it, but that’s what I’ve heard.
So let’s dig into this Commencement speech. Let’s start with the obvious:
You’re graduating during a time of tremendous crisis. A global pandemic, a racial reckoning, fires and floods and droughts from accelerating climate change, and the aftermath of an assault on our nation’s capitol.
Ok, that’s a downer list on graduation day. But I'm here today because my heart is full of hope. Hope that rests in you, the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021.
So here’s some simple advice as you enter your next chapter: focus on what you believe in, then fight like hell for it.
I give this advice from experience. I’ve been known to pick a fight every now and again. Ask a banker. Or a Bloomberg.
But I don’t fight for sport. I fight to make things happen. The way I see it: if you want to make change, you have to be willing to make a real commitment—and that means being willing to take the risk that you could get hurt.
Yeah, it’s risky. But there’s a deep joy in choosing fights you believe in. Sometimes you win - and the changes take your breath away. But even when you lose, you’re not sorry you fought the righteous fights.
I ran for president and I lost. But ask me how sorry I am that I ran. Not. One. Bit. Every single day for 15 months, I had the chance to stand up and fight for what I believe in, a chance to fight righteous fights. It’s better than caffeine.
You may already know what you are ready to fight for, but I’ll tell you why I’m in the ring: It’s for you. I fight because I believe that every new generation in this country deserves more opportunity than the last.
I know the value of opportunity first-hand.
From the time I was in second grade, I wanted to be a teacher. Can we hear it for any teachers or future teachers in the group?
But for me to be a teacher, I needed to go to college. Back in Oklahoma, my daddy was a janitor, and my mom worked the phones at Sears. There was no money for college. Besides, my mother already had a plan for her only daughter. In fact, two plans: find a husband; raise some kids.
I, on the other hand, had a different plan—always a woman with a plan. I was a high school debater and I parlayed that into a full scholarship right here at George Washington University! Thank you, GW!!
So here I was, this 16-year-old girl from Oklahoma headed to college in Washington, D.C. I was over the moon.
It was the 1960s, a time of resistance and change in America. Civil Rights. Anti-War. Women’s liberation.
And change was needed. Fun fact - when I unpacked my suitcase at Superdorm—1900 F Street—there were still places in America where a married woman could not own property or start a business or sign a contract without her husband’s permission. Care to guess one of the places where that was true? I’ll help you -- Texas. Let’s just put a pin in that.
So it was a big deal for me to make it to college.
GW was the first big door to open for me.
I loved it at GW—and I am grateful for all that I learned here. But I didn’t follow the textbook on what to do with that open door. After two years, I dropped out, got married, and—you guessed it—moved to Texas.
Yeah, I dropped out of GW, but I never gave up on my dream of becoming a teacher. And thanks to a commuter college in Texas that cost $50 a semester, I graduated and taught special ed. Let’s hear it one more time for the teachers.
My story has a lot more twists and turns: Moving. Babies. Law School. Divorce. [swipe left!]. Second marriage. [swipe right!]. And, finally, ending up here with you on this beautiful day.
OK, an amazing journey and a lot of fights still ahead, but it all started with opportunity. A chance to earn that diploma—the one you are about to pick up. A key into the future.
I’m deeply grateful for those opportunities—deeply grateful.
But I never forget that I was one of the lucky ones. For so many women, the doors stayed shut and locked. Those doors kept out women, people of color, poor people. Black and Brown women dealt with double helpings of discrimination and disparity. Opportunity was a controlled-access road, available to those of the right color, the right gender, and the right background.
And sure, there is much progress to celebrate today. In Texas, a married woman can sign up for a credit card all on her own!! Be still my beating heart. Progress sure, but don’t kid yourself. We’re not on a straight line of progress. In fact, right at this moment, even as doors are opening, across this country other doors are closing.
Take a look at what has happened to women, particularly women of color, since COVID hit.
- There are nearly 2 million fewer women in the workforce than before the pandemic began.
- In August 2021, hundreds of thousands of new jobs were added to the economy, so how many of those jobs went to women? 100% 50/50? Nope. Only 11.9% of those jobs went to women.
- And just in case anyone missed the point, one in four women say they can’t go back to work because they don’t have childcare.
And it isn’t just economic blows.
- Over the past year, violence against women and girls has skyrocketed.
- Suicide rates among girls 12-17 jumped more than 50% last year.
- Domestic violence shelters and helplines have reached capacity.
And now, with an extremist Supreme Court, some states have decided to tell women that they must bear the burden of an unwanted pregnancy, even one resulting from rape or incest. And they have empowered self-proclaimed bounty hunters to go after anyone who might help people struggling to find an abortion. And yes, Texas, I’m looking at you again because you are so wrong.
And can I make just one little observation to the side? Right now, Progressives in Congress are holding strong in support of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. Yeah, there’s a lot of talk about the price tag, but want to know who benefits most from his agenda? Women. A big reconciliation package means universal childcare for mamas and babies. It means raising the wages of every childcare worker and preschool teacher in America. It means homecare for millions of seniors and people with disabilities. That’s what progressives are fighting for, and we will hold the line until we win this fight.
Which brings me to all of you.
Progress is not one and done. Today people who were once left out of the conversation have more seats at the table, but we’re a long way from true equality.
So here’s my advice to you: Get in the fight. Get in the fight for opportunity. Race. Gender. Sexual identity. Opportunity to survive in a world not suffocated by climate change or bled to death by wars.
You’re here. You’ve graduated. You have tools. You have power. You have used the opportunity given to you, so now, get in the fight to expand opportunity for someone else.
Your fight doesn’t have to be full-time—but it could be. It doesn’t have to be national—but it could be. You get to pick the fight and you even get to pick how to fight it.
There are lots of ways to do this.
Get in the fight for our democracy. Expand voting rights. End gerrymandereing. And if that means getting rid of the filibuster – toss the damn thing on the trash heap of history!
Be conscious of the racial element of every fight. Every crisis we face—from unemployment to climate—falls hardest on Black and Brown women and their families. It’s on all of us to become anti-racist and take on the fight to advance racial justice.
And yes, now more than ever we need you in the fight for reproductive justice. Because opportunity starts with control, control over your own body. It’s time for Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act and get Roe v. Wade written into law.
I know what you’re thinking -- that’s a lot to carry. After all, some of you are barely sober this morning.
Yes, it’s a lot to carry, but this is the moment you have been called to. A once in a generation chance to redefine opportunity in America.
Now is the time to make a down payment on the America you will live in. Now is the time to set the course for generations to come.
In a few minutes you’re going to walk across this stage for your diploma. You’ll embrace friends and family you haven’t seen in person for a long time. Many of you will sell furniture online, turn in keys to old apartments, and wave at your friends while their cars pull away.
In these final moments you have with each other, make a promise to yourself, a promise to your parents, a promise to your teachers and friends who helped get you here, a promise that wherever you go in life, you will fight for what you believe in.
I promise that you will never be sorry if you fight a righteous fight.
So here’s to you Class of 2020 and Class of 2021. Get out there, dream big, fight hard and build an America we can all be proud of.
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