tv Commencement Speeches Rep. Lauren Underwood Mills College CSPAN May 29, 2019 12:40am-1:10am EDT
of all and not just the few? will you hear the voice of the forgotten? will you embrace the way of the cross? that is the question you must answer, and isolate you that on that question depends the future of this country. but i have great confidence in you, class of 2019, and even more, i have confidence in the lord who calls you, and because i do, i believe that nunn is foregone, the age of pelagius is ending. bill that future, class of 2019. build it for us all. thank you very much. [applause]
lee. this is at mills college in california. [applause] representative underwood: good morning. here in my3, i sat cap and down in this belief that i would soon be getting my degree from the greatest college in america. yes, i am a proud alumna of wills -- mills college, but i want to congratulate you to the awesome class of 2019. i am so happy to see you, so proud of you, so glad to be here. let me take a moment to thank president elizabeth hillman for that very inspiring introduction, but also for her
tremendous leadership. to dr. hernandez, the trustees, administrators, staff, family, friends, all of you today, thank you so much does without your guidance and without your support, our graduates would not be walking across this stage today. so we honor you for your commitment to education and your dedication to these brilliant and beautiful students. i just have to thank the mills family for today. andhank you, all, so much, for the support that has brought us here. when i was a student at mills, i was the young single mother on welfare raising two small sons. yeah. into inspired to get politics and get involved mainly in the student body, as president of the student. it was the black student union,
ok? and i had the great privilege here at mills of introducing the first african-american woman also to runongress, for the presidency of the united states, our beloved congresswoman shirley chisholm. i introduced her right over there in the student union. it was here at mills that i met this phenomenal woman who inspired me to step up and lead as a woman and to get involved. i have the great honor of introducing another bold black, brilliant woman who is tp the cause to lead. that woman is my friend and colleague, the honorable representative lauren underwood. [cheering and applause] rep. lee: let me tell you about this magnificent woman.
at 32, congresswoman underwood is the youngest african-american woman ever elected to congress. since 1789. she was a part of the historic wave of women and people of color elected to congress last november and i was thrilled to come her last january. a four term republican incumbent, that is who lauren district that is over 80% white and had never elected an african-american to congress. unbelievable. yes, we can. can!yes we rep. lee: because lauren was extraordinary woman, i was proud to support her during her race.
congresswoman underwood is a registered nurse, it with a bachelor of science as nursing from the university of mercy -- of michigan, and a master of public health from john hopkins university. [cheering and applause] prior to her election, congresswoman underwood served as a senior advisor at the u.s. department of health and human services helping communities across the country prevent, prepare for, and respond to threats,, to bioterror and public health emergencies. she also helped implement the affordable care act. [cheering and applause] rep. lee: and helping to maintain it. and helping to broaden access to those on medicare, improving quality health care, and also reforming private health insurance.
congresswoman underwood taught future nurse practitioners through georgetown university's online masters program. believe me, she is one of the wokeest members in congress. to public office herself, congresswoman underwood has been fighting to expand access to the affordable care act for all. she has introduced the health care affordability act. legislation would increase health care affordability by reducing premium costs for consumers who purchased of plans -- purchased plans through the affordable care act marketplace. she also introduced legislation to protect people with pre-existing conditions by banning junk health insurance plans that do not include coverage for the care they need. [cheering and applause] and, that bill passed
the house just this week. [cheering and applause] rep. lee: just this week. congresswoman underwood founded caucusck maternal health -- congress has been missing in action, but finally, we will give due attention because of the critical issue of health disparities impacting black mothers and infants. [cheering and applause] i am proud to be a part of that caucus myself. lauren has come for such a time as this to congress as we fight back the attacks on women's health and reproductive rights. [cheering and applause] let me just say, my dear friend and mentor congresswoman shirley chisholm once said, at present, our
country needs women's idealism and the determination. politics thenin and anywhere else. these words, these words still ring true to me. i know that shirley chisholm would be proud to see this incredible woman taking up that mantle. congresswoman underwood represents the next generation, like you do, of women leaders. it is my pleasure and honor to welcome her to my alma mater and to thank her for being here today. give congresswoman underwood a mills college welcome. [cheering and applause] thanksswoman underwood: you. hi!
hi, everybody. thank you. thank you so much. hi! [laughter] congresswoman underwood: president hellman, board of trustees, students, families, and distinguished guests, thank you for inviting me here to celebrate with you today. thank you congresswoman lee, for that introduction. is the veryra lee definition of a bold leader who has always done the right thing. havee are all so lucky to her in congress. you all know her well, she is your congresswoman. first real introduction came to her in my first days after i won the election. she shared her thoughts of congress. legend, aioneer, a mentor, and i am so honored to
be here today at the mills college, her omma modern. thank you. -- her alma mater. thank you. be a woman. that is my mom used to tell me and my sister whenever we faced tough situations. it did not matter if it was after a fight with a friend, losing a race for student council, -- or managing to kill a mouse in my first big girl apartment, but being too terrified to throw it out, i know, so logical, but my mom was always there with the shortest ted talk. be a woman, lauren. she would utter those words. part reassuring, part instructive, part challenge. it is her way of saying be brave, be strong, and be courageous. and for generations, the ladies in my family have exhibit five
these characteristics -- exemplified these characteristics. grandma and my grandfather experienced injustice every single day from segregated water fountains and restaurants, to limited professional opportunity that under resourced, colors only schools. justice,a marched for equality, and for full civil of thefor some leading voices in the movement. my other grandmother was horrified as are cleveland, ohio neighborhood was consumed by violence fueled by the rise of crack cocaine. securednized and resources for a safe space, a community center as an alternative to using and hustling. it became a light and a very dark time and an anchor for the neighborhood. my mom displayed a courageous act of her own.
she took a leap and she was the first and her family to enroll in college. [cheering and applause] congresswoman underwood: my sister and i were lucky. mom taught us to be strong and powerful and do not limit or hold ourselves back. we were fortunate to have it instilled from us from the very beginning that being a woman meant being courageous. [cheering and applause] ingresswoman underwood: remember turning 30 and feeling a little restless. i was approaching a major life transition. it was the fall 2016, and the election was only a few weeks away. time in theng up my obama administration and trying to figure out what i wanted to do next. i took a celebratory solo trip to south africa and spent the 15 hour flight learning from some all-time great women. an article on michelle obama, book, and a book
that so fundamentally spoke to my circumstances, "all the single ladies." i took inspiration from the stories of revolutionary women diddefied expectation and not let traditional roles, stereotypical power structures, or our country's limited vision for women's leadership stop their quest for equality, justice, and change. i did not know what was next to my life but i knew that there were generations of single women who managed to be bold and courageous as a catalyst for progress, making the difference in their community, our country, and across the world, and did not let political circumstances limit their impact. later,hort weeks our world changed when donald trump won the election. people always asked me if trump inspired me to run. [laughter] truthsswoman underwood: is, trump selection changed my life. homecelerated my move back
to chicago and it was a catalyst for identifying the nonnegotiable american values called into question in the early days of his administration. thinking back, our visceral reactions to the travel ban, the cavalier way they move to take away the health care, and the fundamental disrespect towards journalists and the free press, it was a terrifying time, but i did not retreat. when i step forwards to run, i knew i was taking an exceptional risk, one that would require me to sacrifice my job, my savings, my time with friends and family, and required 100% of my intentions. i knew that risk could and incomplete heartbreak. i was a first-time candidate running an ache -- in an congressional district nobody thought i could win, a person of color, or a young adult. back towards a preliminary
conversation with a local leader, he was so doubtful that the district could flip, he spent the meeting scrolling through his facebook like he needed to get an update on his candy crush game, ok? risk,ng to run was a big but i decided to take it. i knew mike immunity deserved better representation and that i was the person -- i knew my community deserves better representation and that i was the person to do it. channeling shirley chisholm, i would offer leadership in are community. when i was eight years old, i was finally allowed to take swimming lessons. insisteds strict and that we finish swim lessons before playing and the new wave pool that opened and the neighborhood. little young to master being a woman, so like other kids, i was nervous during swim lessons.
and one day, particularly bad. the day we learned how to tread water. my heart be accelerated and that is how i found out that i had a heart condition. it causes an irregular rhythm. my condition is treatable. people have literally won olympic medals after being diagnosed with the same condition. that i expect to anytime soon. [laughter] but asswoman underwood: condition like mine can only be managed if you have access to treatment and you have to have access to get care to get diagnosed in the first place. if i had not had access, if i had run into a lifetime cap on my insurance, or if i'd been denied coverage because i had a pre-existing condition, who knows what might have happened or where i would be today. i do not know the answer to the questions, but i do know this. if i did not have a pre-existing condition, i probably would not have been elected to office because i might not have run. and without my mom's words to be
a woman in my mind, i may not have had the courage. i went to my congressman's town hall and heard him promise to protect health care coverage for people like me with pre-existing conditions. and i believed him. you should know, i am not someone who thinks my elected representative and i have to agree on everything, but i do think that when they make the promise, they should keep their word. when he went back to d.c. two weeks later and broke that promise, i was mad. more than mad. i knew i had to do something. i decided to run for congress. [cheering and applause] congresswoman underwood: i always wanted to help people. as a kid, after i was diagnosed, i got to see a lot great nurses in action who did so much to help me and because of that, i had this idea early on that i wanted to grow up and be just like them. i did eventually go to nursing
school at the university of michigan and later, when i was earning my masters at jon hopkins, i made a friend who was working on a masters in public health. my friend became lieutenant commander in the u.s. public health commission core and an epidemiologist, working to investigate and eliminate health disparities. in 2017 just as i was serving the last few days of the obama administration, my friend gave birth to her beautiful daughter, and three weeks after that, she collapsed and passed away from complications from high blood pressure related to her pregnancy. she was 36 years old. was a wake-upath call and a reminder of how devastating and pervasive disparities are that women of color face and in our health care system today. so much so, that even a federal employee with a phd and access to world-class care could lose her life because of them.
my friend's story with me every day and congress and as the youngest black woman to ever serve in congress and a millennial currently working my way through the avalanche of baby shower invitations [laughter] mygresswoman underwood: friends story inspired me to work with a colleague to form a new black maternal health caucus to tackle these disparities head on. [applause] a onceswoman underwood: obscure issue is now receiving the bipartisan attention and presidential campaign promises that suggest that solutions are on the horizon. beyonceore we have feminism, my first introduction to the concept was via a british pop group in the 1990's. the spice girls. i was captivated by their call for girl power, and that 10
years old, i was convinced that i could be anything i wanted to be when i grew up. in our representative democracy with the youngest congress in a generation, and the most diverse congress ever, women's voices are the loudest, boldest, and the most powerful coming out of our congress. [cheering and applause] we areswoman underwood: leading the way, and we are saving our democracy. foughtress, women have for federal funding for breast-cancer research and after school care. for breast-feeding spaces for women at work and in our airports. for accountability to companies who market toxic products to people of color. and those are a few items on a very long list. it makes the difference to have women making the policies. today, even though we are more than half of the u.s. population, women are not even one quarter of the congress. that is in spite of the fact
that when women get elected, we get more done. it is a fact that women in congress get more bills passed. and we see similar outcomes and other spaces with problems with our presentation. last year, less than 5% of fortune 500 ceo's were women even though study after study has shown that putting more women in management roles increases company profits. and one survey of companies in california, 25 to have the highest percentages of women serving as executives on their boards had 74% more higher returns. sometimes the person has to be you. during our new member orientation shortly after election day. -- election day, we were briefed on congress's rules around sexual harassment. after i learned about the rules, i found that there was room for improvement.
[laughter] congresswoman underwood: before i was even sworn in, i drafted prohibit sexual relationships between congress members and their staff. [cheering and applause] congresswoman underwood: i pushed for these changes, and they were voted into effect on my very first day in congress. [cheering and applause] thatesswoman underwood: was a change that was long overdue and all it took to make it was one new person with one new perspective to notice a problem and to fix it. this will happen to you. in your careers and serving your communities, and your hobbies. because of what you have learned here and support you found and the friends you made, you will be ready. but to get to the point where you have the power to fix the problems you see, you often have to start by taking the risk of, by being a woman, and
putting yourself out there in a bold way. whether you are starting a business, applying for a job, submitting something you wrote for publication, or running your office -- for office for yourself. and doing that takes courage. where do you find the courage you need? this in hermade special on netflix which i miraculously was able to watch. a teddy roosevelt quote that has been particular and factual -- it is not the critic who counts, nor the man who point out when the strong woman stumbles, or when the doer of deeds could have done better. the credit longs to the woman who was actually in the arena, who if she fails, fails while daring greatly. obviously, teddy roosevelt used man and the not woman, but you get the idea. [laughter] congresswoman underwood: the reality is whenever we put ourselves out there or try to be
great, there is always going to be people who have something to say. you all have come up and the time where the anonymous culture of the internet has spilled over into real life. ghosting instead of breaking up. trolling on top of in person bullying. demeaning comments can stop us , andur tracks sometimes mean more to us than the support of the most important people in our lives. some of those people are here today, our amazing family and friends. [cheering and applause] you arewoman underwood: pretty lucky to have spent the last several years at mills college surrounded by these incredible bosses, dynamo women, just like the women i get to serve with in congress. you got to be a part of a tradition here of women using their voices to lift each other up, a tradition that only continues to the present day because of the women who organized and marched in 1990's
to keep mills college true to its original mission and on empowering women. [cheering and applause] congresswoman underwood: it is a good thing they did because that mission matters now more than ever before. i am reminded of this every day when i show up to work with my colleagues. i was sworn into the u.s. house of representatives as a member of the most diverse congress ever with more diverse women serving than ever before. and i am not kidding about the diverse part. this18, the new women that country elected included the two youngest women to ever serve, first muslim woman, the first native american woman, a pediatrician, a helicopter pilot, a former professional mixed martial arts fighter was also the first lgbt member of congress from kansas, a navy veteran who started a business where you paint your own ceramic mermaids, and me. [cheering and applause] congresswoman underwood: we have
each other's backs and we are setting the agenda and we are having fun while doing it. the trolls and the critics are out there, and i'm going to be real with you -- they will be waiting for you when you leave this amazing graduation bubble we are all in today. young enoughre growing up already experiencing this your whole life and away way i never had to. i do not have to spend my middle school years worrying about random strangers trolling me online or trying to make my social media perfect, and let me tell you, i am grateful for that. a lot ofi experience online attacks, especially with deciding to run. i do not let it get to me. i heed my mom's advice. called me ae troll radical feminist, which i assume was an insult, but i am really proud of that one. [cheering and applause] haveis point, i really heard everything including a
bunch of things i'm not going to repeat here in front of your grandmas and little brothers and sisters. but it was never as bad as it was the day before my election in 2018. we had spent a year and a half working so hard and we were so close to winning, and just when we were this close to the and, my opponent got this whole thing calling me a liar, telling me that i could not possibly done all of the things that i said i had done. they kept trying to make fetch happen and it was awful. [laughter] congresswoman underwood: i was a pretty ambitious kid growing up just as i am sure a few of you ladies were and are, so i was already very aware when people do not think you have any business making decisions, they have no problem letting you know. but what my opponent did on november 5, 2018 was on a whole other level. just for a moment, he got in my head. he made me afraid i might lose. just like i did in the primary,
when i was winning more than 50% of the total overall votes, i had to dig deep to overcome my fear and get across the finish line. election and it chicago sun-times the next day said, lauren underwood cannot be written off. it took them long enough, but that was nice. the truth is, that election was not the first time someone told me that i can't or i was not good enough, or i should wait my turn. it probably will not be the last. at some point, you will likely hear all of those things too, if you have not already. no matter how used it you get or how prepared for it you are, sometimes it might still get to you, and get under your skin, and you might feel the fear creeping in. this is what i want you to do when that happens. i want you to focus on the people who stepped into the arena to help. to the ones will be inspired by you, or who need you to keep fighting for them. i want you to listen to the people who really know and
support you. trust that other women will step into the arena with you and will be there backing you up. and remember, just like me and just like all of the other girlfriends in congress, you have a perspective to offer and a story to tell that no one else can. and we need you to tell it. to make a difference and a way that only you can. this is my parting advice. that on yourself. go -- bet on yourself. ande a woman boldly courageously, and enjoy this huge achievement today that you all worked so hard for. i am so honored to be here to celebrate you. congratulations and thank you. [cheering and applause] congresswoman underwood: thank you. congratulations. huzami spoke to graduates of boston university law school. [applause]