On Saturday, Vice President Kamala Harris stood before Tennessee State University’s class of 2022, reviewing the past and a future unknown to the graduating students.
Before her played a montage of the country’s history of Black Americans, of Emmitt Till’s murder, the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr., all of which led to the first Black president, Barack Obama, being elected.
Now Harris stood on a historically Black campus as the first female vice-president, the first Black vice-president and the first Asian-American vice-president of the United States.
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 early last week.
“You are a generation that grew up online and survived a pandemic,” she said.
“And the world that you graduated into is unsettled,” she added.
Although inequality has always existed, she said, history is repeating itself as women and men once again face disenfranchisement through extreme wealth inequality, disparities in criminal justice, voting rights and other “fundamental principles we hoped were long settled.”
“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.
These issues now loom over the graduates’ futures and now fall on their shoulders to create a better future, she noted, as she looked over the mainly minority students.
There will be many times that these graduates will look at a room full of people that don’t look like them, but Harris reminds them they’re not alone.
“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.
She ended on a note about her mother.
“My mother would often say to me, Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, make sure you are not the last,” said Harris. “I have been many firsts in my lifetime and as I look out at all of you today, I know I will not be the last,” she said. “I cannot wait to see the future you create.