tv Commencement Speeches Stacey Abrams American University CSPAN May 30, 2019 12:26am-12:54am EDT
on c-span2 at 9:30 am a look at standards and oversight for artificial intelligence. at noon, a forum on athletes and activism most -- hosted by the atlantic. on c-span three at noon, a look at budget priorities and tax revenue. at 1:30 p.m. the acting deputy secretary of defense talks about the pentagon $750 billion budget request. stacey abrams was the 2018 democratic nominee for georgia governor. a race she lost. this year, she was the speaker at american university in washington. washington.
ms. abrams: thank you for having me here. i had more than 20 years to figure out what i wanted to do. until now i had no idea what was going to happen. i didn't imagine many of the outcomes of the last six months. i knew little about the preceding 20 years. that is entirely ok. i certainly thought i knew what was to come. some of you may know from my had a veryi was 18 i bad break up with a very mean boy. he said nasty things about me and how i was not going to find love. because i was too committed to
doing other things. i've possibly set inappropriate things back to him. i don't remember that part of the conversation. [laughter] what i remember was the sense that i was going to show him. i was going to accomplish many things, control the world, and make his life difficult. i took myself to the computer lab at soma college. this is back in 1992. when i turned on the computer, i did not log onto the internet, i logged on to lotus123. i began to type out all of the things i planned on accomplishing the next 40 years. i wanted to be mayor of atlanta. i wanted to be somewhere near opera. i wanted to be a writer. i knew the way to get those things done was to write it down. over the last 20 years i have tended my spreadsheet.
i have looked at it and cultivated it. i have made changes and edits. ignored race things and others. along the way, i realized i have no idea what i was talking about. life, butlan for my what i was trying to do was prepare to succeed. that is what i want to talk to you about today. you don't have to plan your life the way i did. in the process, we have to prepare to succeed. we do that by knowing what we believe, knowing what we want, and knowing that sometimes it might not work. first, you need to know what you believe. responses, they are shaped by what we hold to be true. beyond the labels of party and ideology are the deeply held convictions that shape those labels. too often, adherence to preservative -- conservative or
progressive, democrat or republican or independent. to being pro this or anti-that becomes an excuse for lazy thinking. it becomes an excuse for hostile action. for today, i urge you to set aside your label. saysre what your principal about the world you wish to serve. beliefs are our anchors. if they aren't we run the risk of opportunism. making choices because others do so, not because we should. those anchors should never weigh us down. they should weigh on our capacity for reasonable compromise. for seven years i served as a democratic leader in the house of representatives. my abilitye about because my title was minority leader. there was to be no confusion that i was to get there by myself. what they wanted me to understand, what the system is designed to do is force compromise and force our beliefs to be lived. that is why i was able to work
with the republican governor to push forward the strongest criminal justice reform in georgia history and i would argue in american history. [applause] thank you. said i have to set aside labels for the work that we were going to do together. it worked. we also have to understand is critical to know what you believe because public policy is complicated. we are balancing the needs and desires of the company of demand. they all seem to have merit. as leaders, you represent not only those who share your values but despise all that you hold dear. must beiefs, principles concrete and fundamental. you have to know what they are. be willing to distinguish between a core belief and an idea that sounded good because you read it on twitter. as public servants you will expose your beliefs to policy
and action. take the time to deeply examine those notions that you would call your own. be certain you would ask others not only to share those principles but as leaders that you would deny access or restrict someone's freedom to enforce that belief. fundamentally, that is what we do. ancestral teachings or religious tendencies are not sufficient cause for belief. you can clap for that, it is ok. [applause] as the provost pointed out i am the daughter of two united methodist ministers. one of the darkest days of my days they talked about heaven. we were coming back from church and my mom turned around and said look, you have to figure out what you believe because we can't take you with us. we had to examine what we wanted to be true and how we were going
to live our lives. they were never going to be able to make their decisions for us. they wanted us to understand that we needed to hold our core beliefs because our beliefs would shape the world we bring forth. if you believe something, make sure you mean it. once you know what you believe, try not to believe in too much. i am loath to follow folks who are certain they know everything. the ones who have a definite opinion about every headline, decision, and they can give you the answer before you ask the question. if you can't figure out who is that person, it might be you. [laughter] be one, beliefs shouldn't everything. public policy usually isn't good or evil. sometimes it is not that interesting. it is monday and and routine. it cuts across neighborhoods and ideologies. when it only allows for a single
myopic focus, when you made your decision before you know the question, you do not have the capacity to be a leader. you leave no room for debate and missed the true role of government in public policy. you missed the chance to learn and become a better public servant. i have core beliefs. i don't have an unshakable position on every issue. i don't believe taxes are good or evil. i believe poverty is an abomination and freedom of and we havebe held to restore justice to criminal justice. [applause] i believe climate change is real but i don't believe there is one answer to solving the problem. i understand most of all that i have to accept that i may not know enough about an issue to render judgment. which is why i have to study and read everything i can. especially counter arguments to my own position. that is why we must always seek
to understand what others believe. and why. i had a friend named bobby flank we both agreedn, we were from georgia and that was it. he introduced legislation every year that i would propose every year. we talked together and learned about one another. in the process we were able to aid one another and work together on a bill. it was about civil asset forfeiture. when bobby and i introduced an amendment together it was so startling and surprising to the body that the speaker called about and we think it passed stunned tople were say no. i listen to bobby and he listened to me and we were able to address the issue that affected his rural, white community and my urban black community. we were able to move beyond our position and hear each other's
arguments and find a solution. the truest road to good decision-making is acknowledging the other guy might have a point. even if it is not yours. if it turns out the new information alters your thinking , the terrifying reality may be that you are accused of flip-flopping. i know that is the death sentence to any ambition. as a society who seeks to champion knowledge, we must accept that a person can change what he or she believes, as long as that change is authentic and grounded in an examination of philosophy and reality. changing who you are to accommodate others or to advance your career is not worthy of real leaders. [applause] hear me clearly in this day and age. when evolution is based on investigation and interrogation, when people are willing to admit date made a mistake, that should
be celebrated and welcomed. it makes us smarter, it makes us stronger. [applause] as you enter the world of public affairs for the first time or on a return ticket, became to know if you are evolving or caving in. the internet will never let you forget. whether you leave here destined to be an administrator or policymaker or active citizen, always be clear in your mind the difference between principal and policy, belief and behavior, policy is what we should do, principal belief is why we do it. know what you believe, know why you believe it and be willing to understand the other side. know what you believe and next, know what you want. you may have heard that in 2018 i ran for governor of georgia.
[laughter] [applause] the first two weeks after i i reachedy candidacy out to friends and family to raise the absurd amount of money. my family has no money so i was mostly calling friends. in the course of this process i reused -- raised over $42 million, the most of any candidate in georgia history. it didn't start out that way. i started calling friends, people who invested in me when i ran for legislature in 2006. people who invested in me when i became minority leader. people who supported the organization i started to register more than 300,000 people of color in the state of georgia. people who stood with me at every turn. over and over i would call and hear stacy we think you are so talented. stacy i think you are qualified.
but you are a black woman. i was like i know. [laughter] ify whispered it to me as they were giving me a terminal diagnosis. capableided what i was of based on what they saw. not based on what they knew. people i had known for years kept telling me that i wasn't ready for this. it was suggested that i support the other person running and asked for a role in her duration. that didn't work for me then and it doesn't work for me now. [applause] i was told i needed to wait until georgia was ready for me. i was told to wait my turn. while, listening to people who supported me for many years, i started to wonder if maybe they were correct.
if i was pushing too far, too fast. i listen to doubts and started to internalize the definitions of my capacity. until i reminded myself that i knew what i wanted and i had a plan to get it. when um high, when you stretch , your your conceptions ambitions will be strong. especially when there are those who do not share them. do not edit your desires. [applause] you are here in the space, entering this world to want what you want, regardless of how big the drain. you may stumble along the way but the journey is worth the work. do not allow logic to be an excuse. we allowrs when ourselves to be less. we think if it were possible, someone would've done it before.
fact is, no one can tell you who you are. i became the first black woman to be a major party nominee for governor in our 242 year history. [applause] clear, i realize i'm not the governor. [laughter] that is a topic for another day. what i do not ask is why hasn't anyone done it? what i ask is how do i get it? if we have the ambition to save our world, we have to ask how we do it and not why it hasn't been done. that is why you are here and what you are going forward to do. [applause] how? by writing it down and making a plan. if it is an idea in your head it is easy to forget. it is easy to let it float away
in the idea that doesn't have concrete meaning and doesn't have concrete action. if you just see a title on the roster but you don't make a plan to get there, you will regret it your life. forced to question by plotting how you get there. knowing you believe you have a reason and knowing what you want, you can start to draw the map. if you know what you believe and you know what you want, you need to be prepared to know it might not work. otherwise known as stacy 2019. our beliefs may close off avenues that are available to others. our ambitions may be different for traditional paths. our persons may challenge the status quo made -- more than the quote is ready to accommodate. you may screw up and have to try again. opportunity is not a straight road. to take full advantage we must be prepared to fail. to stumble. or to win in a way that looks
nothing like you imagined. for those of us who are not guaranteed access, we must realize that not all worlds operate the same. we are required to discover the hidden formula to success. too often, opportunity looks nothing like we expected. to have this very real possibility, look for unusual points of entry. i began my career by learning to do the various jobs it takes for me to get to my ultimate goal. i needed to know how to manage a team, raise money, make talk -- tough choices. i volunteered to fund raise. i showed up at places that weren't expected. harvested a dream that seems outside. maybe too big to admit to yourself. i talked about my dreams publicly. i wanted to be the governor of georgia. one day i intend to be the president of the united states.
[applause] in between, my responsibility is to do the work to do those things real. not only for myself but person sitting there thinking i want that too but they are afraid to say it aloud. others for ourselves but . our stumbles like the opportunity for others to follow. we have to understand that knowing what we believe and want means that sometimes there will be obstacles in the way of getting there. i will tell you, if you are willing to put in the effort, except the grunt work that makes you prove your metal, it will come. it may not be in the form and shape that you expected but sometimes it leads you to standing on a stage aggressing -- addressing a group of people
you didn't know you have a chance to meet. you're stumble lead you to falling into new opportunities. [applause] to get there, i need you to utilize your networks. you are joining an extraordinary community of graduates from the american university. know everyone.t most of the help you need is only a few degrees away. ask for it. if you don't get what you need, ask again. broaden your understanding of who knows whom and who can help. broaden your understanding of where power actually lies. don't ignore the i.t. guy or the administrative assistant. , or thatkeeping staff mid-level associate you haven't quite figured out what they do. is, it's theit administrative assistant who can squeeze you onto the calendar when you're trying to get into see someone. it is the janitor who could open that office when you forgot to
do something that needs to be done or anyone notices. it is the intern that you ignore that could help you finish that last-minute project. status, those who share our space are part of our network. show them respect and they can show you the way. [applause] when you learn that it might not work, embrace the fail. search for new opportunity. in the wake of my campaign for governor, for about 10 days i wallowed in despair. then i reminded myself of why got into this in the first place. poverty inn mississippi. a working-class hobby my mom called the genteel poor. we read books and watched pbs. my parents would wake us up on
saturday to go serve. .o take us to homeless shelters when we would point out that the whites were at home, we didn't have running water, my mother reminded us there was someone with less and our job was to serve that person. my dad would say having nothing is no excuse for doing nothing. [applause] i ran for governor of georgia because i believe in a better world. i believe we can educate our children and guarantee economic security. we can provide access to justice and a clean environment. i believe more is possible for all of us. i believe you can accept the marginalized and not exclude those who have opportunity and access. i believe we can be an inclusive society without relegating ourselves to notions of identity as a bad thing, instead using identity to see one another, see
obstacles, and make people better and stronger. that is why i read. [applause] in the wake of not becoming governor of georgia, i had the opportunity to sit back and wallow. to worry and fret, or to simply be angry. found iti decided to because i believe voter suppression is real and we will fight for voter integrity. i believe in the united states of america. [applause] accountaunched their because i know the 2020 census is the story of america for the next decade and we need to make certain everyone is counted. if they are not, they will not count. that is our opportunity.
neither role is where i expected to be today. there are other roles that wait for me. maybe before 2020, maybe after. for me, the responsibility is to act as if today is the last day. to do the work i know needs to be done. not because of the position i hold, because of the work that awaits us. that is your charge. that is your calling. work, when the't fail seems permanent, acknowledge the pain but reject the conclusion. our beliefs are there to sustain us. us stumbles exist to remind that the work indoors -- endorse. resources ande ground our dreams in robust reality. you stand as the architects of our better lives.
those who don't fret and worry, who don't just stand on the sidelines but get into the scrums and make it work. you are here because you believe that more is possible. you have been trained to make more a reality. you are here because you accepted your destiny as public servants. as leaders for our current age. withation is grappling existential questions. our allies and enemies watch to see how we respond. elections pull against the urgency of government and we cannot forget they are not the same thing. you might be tempted to harden to wile yourself off from people and ideas that challenge your direction. you are here in this school because you understand the deeper calling of our obligation. social contract to build a better, stronger, more resilient role.
theare the embodiment of most deeply held belief of everyone here. that american university, the school of public affairs, that your family and classmates will all hold today. a singular belief that shall illuminate us today and forward. we believe in you. thank you and congratulations. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute,
which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> c-span's "washington journal" live every day with news and policy issues that impact you. morning wehursday will discuss special counsel robert mueller's statement on the rusher probe. then afghanistan's special inspector general will be on to talk about u.s. reconstruction efforts in afghanistan. be sure to watch "washington journal" live at 7:00 eastern on thursday morning. join the discussion. >> live thursday on the c-span networks. president trump speaks at the air force academy commencement in colorado springs at 12:30 p.m.. that is on c-span. at 2:00 p.m., discussion on russia's growing role in the middle east. the u.s. house holds a pro forma session when democrats may try for a third time to pass a disaster relief ill. standards, a look at and oversight for artificial intelligence.
at noon, a forum on athletes and activism hosted by the atlantic. on c-span3 at noon, a look at state budget priorities and tax revenue. at one: 30 p.m., the acting secretary of about the pentagon's current $750 billion budget request. we continue our look at some encementyear's comm speeches with mark walker. representative spoke at his alma mater, piedmont university. [applause] rep. walker: thank you to the faculty, executive board, graduates, it is a privilege to be back here at piedmont international university. the thing i noticed