Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Ca.) had a timely message for Howard University graduates stepping into post-college life in the Trump era.
The senator, who graduated from the historically black college in 1986, told students at the school’s commencement in Washington, D.C., on Saturday that they are graduating at a unique time in this country’s history. Citing policies that affect mass incarceration, immigration and health care under leaders “we no longer believe the words of,” Harris told the Class of 2017, “indeed we have a fight ahead.”
“And it’s a fight to determine whether we are willing to stand up for our deepest values,” she said. “Because let’s be clear — we are better than this.”
She urged students to realize there’s no limit to the impact they can have when they reject the “false choices” placed upon them.
“The reality is on most matters, somebody is going to make the decision — so why not let it be you?” she said. “Because, if we’re going to make progress anywhere, we need you everywhere. And, sometimes to make change you’ve got to change how change is made.”
Harris also invoked Howard’s motto ― “Veritas et Utilitas,” meaning “Truth and Service” ― to deliver her point of how the graduates can make a difference. The senator insisted that the graduates speak out, “even when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient.”
She shared an anecdote about her time as a prosecutor during the 1990s crack epidemic, when she admonished co-workers who were ready to criminalize certain people based on where they lived, how they dressed and the kind of music they listened to. Harris told the graduates that they would be in similar situations and they may be the only one in the room who looks like them, but they should never remain silent and instead let their alma mater’s motto be their guiding principle:
“At a time when there are Americans — disproportionately black and brown men — trapped in a broken system of mass incarceration … speak truth — and serve. At a time when men, women and children have been detained at airports in our country simply because of the God they worship … speak truth — and serve. At a time when immigrants have been taken from their families in front of schools and outside courthouses … speak truth — and serve. And at a time of incredible scientific and technological advances as well … when we’re dreaming of a mission to Mars … and unraveling the mysteries of the brain … and entrepreneurs in my home state of California are even starting to test flying cars … speak truth — and serve.
Watch a clip from Harris’ speech below.