By BRUCE SCHREINER – Associated Press
Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday urged Tennessee State University graduates to apply their leadership skills to help meet the multitude of challenges posed by an unstable world.
In his undergraduate commencement speech at the historically black University of Nashville, Harris said the class of 2022 is “on the brink of a new frontier,” highlighting the prospects for new breakthroughs in technology and medical research.
But with war raging in Ukraine, risks from climate change and basic freedoms under threat in the United States, graduates are heading for an uncertain future, she said.
The vice president also highlighted her connection to Tennessee State graduates as a fellow graduate of another historically black university. She remembers seeing Howard University, her alma mater, the first time she flew on the vice presidential helicopter. While reminiscing about her time as a student, she said it reinforced the realization that “I could be anything, do anything, even if it had never been done before – like you.”
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Harris — the first female vice president of the United States and the first black woman and person of South Asian descent in the role — received a rousing reception from the debut crowd.
As graduates enter a world “full of opportunity,” the vice president also pointed to a series of challenges threatening “fundamentals” around the world and in the United States.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens “international rules and norms”, Harris said. In the United States, she stressed the need to protect women’s suffrage and rights.
“You graduate in an unstable world both abroad and here at home,” Harris said. “In the United States, we are once again compelled to uphold fundamental principles that we have hoped to have been established for a long time,” she said. “Principles like freedom to vote, women’s right to make decisions about their own bodies. Even what constitutes the truth, especially in a time when anyone can post anything online and claim that it’s is a fact.
Harris pointed to troubling issues such as climate change that have accelerated and other issues that have long persisted – disparities in wealth, access to health care and the criminal justice system.
“And graduates, I look at this unstable world and yes, I see the challenges then,” she said. “But I’m here to tell you, I also see the opportunities. The opportunities for your leadership.
Highlighting their potential, she told graduates they had survived a global pandemic and had the advantage of growing up in the digital age.
“There is no limit to your capacity for greatness and there is no obstacle you cannot overcome,” she said. “And there’s no barrier you can’t break.”
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