Vice President Kamala Harris gave a sobering look at the “unsettled” world students are heading into as she delivered the commencement speech at Tennessee State University on Saturday.
The vice president discussed the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as the looming possibility Roe v. Wade will be overturned by the Supreme Court after a draft opinion leaked earlier this week.
“The world that you graduate into is unsettled,” Harris said. “It is a world where long-established principles now rest on shaky ground. We see this in Ukraine, where Russia’s invasion threatens international rules and norms that have provided unprecedented peace and security in Europe since World War II.”
“We believed that the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity had for the most part prevailed, that democracy had prevailed,” she continued. “But now the certainty of fundamental principles is being called into question, including the principles of equality and fairness.”
The crowd erupted in cheers when Harris remarked that the students were facing an unsettled world where Roe v. Wade may be overturned.
“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 bodies, even what constitutes the truth, especially in an era, when anyone can post anything online and claim it is a fact,” Harris said.
Harris congratulated the students on succeeding in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Class of 2022, you made it through and it cannot be denied also that your class has traveled a stony road — a pandemic that took away so much of the college experience that you once imagined,” she said.
Shifting to a more optimistic tone, the vice president said that each student is well-equipped to tackle the “biggest challenges of today” by drawing from their lived experiences and personal attributes.
“Most importantly, you have the ability to see what can be unburdened by what has been,” she said, drawing from her stump speech on the campaign trail.
As a fellow graduate of a historically Black college and university, she expressed “there is no limit to your capacity for greatness.”
“I want you all — each and every one of you — to always remember that you are not alone, that you come from people, that you come with people,” she said. “Because I promise you, there will be a time when you will walk into a boardroom or a courtroom or maybe even the Situation Room, and you will walk into the room and find you are the only person in that room who looks like you or has had your life experience.
“At that moment, you must remember you are not in that room alone. Always know that you carry the voices of everyone here and those upon whose shoulders you stand.”
Harris is also scheduled to give the commencement speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on May 18.