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House Speaker Pelosi calls on grads to use enthusiasm, expertise to address 'great challenges of our time'

In her Convocation address under glorious blue skies in a crowded Schoellkopf Stadium May 29, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi called for the enthusiasm and expertise of Cornell's new graduates to make a difference.

She called for the newly minted Cornell engineers and architects "to build the new green infrastructure and to power the world with the clean technologies of the future" and for College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students to "cure disease, feed the world and minister to all that is God's beautiful creation." To liberal arts grads, she said, "We need your ideas and imagination to address the great challenges of our time," and to business graduates, she said, "We need you to pursue the fruits of American capitalism with enthusiasm, while remaining always mindful of the responsibilities that come with the freedom of the marketplace."

The first woman to hold her position in Congress, Pelosi noted that Cornell has produced many pioneering women, including former Attorney General Janet Reno '60, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg '54 and the first woman cabinet member, ILR School lecturer Frances Perkins, who served under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and played a key role in creating the minimum wage, Social Security and the eight-hour workday.

Calling Cornell a place that instills the value of civic responsibility, Pelosi cited members of Congress that hail from the Big Red, including Gabrielle Giffords, MRP '96, Kurt Schrader '73 and Bob Filner '63, Ph.D. '73. She noted that her son-in-law, Michael Kenneally, MBA '93, is also a Cornellian -- and a Republican. "It's a mixed marriage," she joked.

At a press conference preceding her Convocation address, Pelosi said she had spent the morning meeting with Cornell students and their families as well as with local political and civic leaders. She had also received a jersey signed by members of Cornell's championship basketball team; she "immediately tweeted to the world" that news, she said.

On her party's prospects for the fall, Pelosi said, "Let me declare that the Democrats will be the majority [party] after the mid-term elections" in November.

Asked about the federal government's role in natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale in light of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Pelosi said, "We need a new energy policy and to subject the techniques and the technology that we are depending on to some pretty tough examination."

Energy independence is a national security, environmental, economic and health issue that can "fuel our prosperity by creating jobs in a clean, green way," she said. Pelosi also said the national deficit "is a moral responsibility for us. I'm a grandmother. I don't believe in leaving bills for my grandchildren or my children."

Noting House passage two days earlier of a repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that makes it illegal for gay members of the armed services to serve openly, Pelosi said, "It's a discriminatory policy that should never have been in effect." She said she was grateful for Cornell President David Skorton's letter in support of the repeal, which was signed by other university presidents. "We won by 40 votes. … Don't Ask, Don't Tell, I believe, is over."

Also at Convocation, Senior Class President Jeffrey Katz spoke of the opportunities that abounded these past four years and said he looked forward to seeing classmates on the news or cited in textbooks in the years ahead. And Class of 2010 Alumni Co-Presidents Darin Lamar Jones and Stephanie Rigione presented Skorton with a check for $166,051.11, the senior class gift (matched by two anonymous trustees), which will fund a scholarship for incoming freshmen.

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Blaine Friedlander