Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland Delivered Commencement Address at Bard College’s One Hundred Sixty-Second Commencement on Saturday, May 28, 2022
Text (unedited) of commencement address by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland
Good evening, President Botstein, faculty, staff, and the Class of 2022! I am honored to be with you and the people who love you on this beautiful afternoon for this important step on your life’s journey.
I acknowledge that we are on the ancestral homelands of the Mohican and Iroquois Tribal Nations, who have stewarded these lands for millennia, and I thank the ancestors for giving me space here, and thus the profound opportunity to have this time with all of you.
Du hino meh, Idz ah dyu ee dza, suwimi hanu.
I am a member of the Pueblo of Laguna. I am who I am because of the people who raised me. My maternal grandparents were boarding school and assimilation survivors. I identify as a Pueblo woman, and my pronouns are she/her.
You should all be proud—I know that getting to today wasn’t easy, but you did it. YOU DID IT!
Your Bard education will not only lead you into the next chapter of each of your lives, but I also believe that it has instilled in you the power to change the world for the good.
We should all believe in that possibility and always work to make the world a better place for everyone. An education, and specifically a college education, is a unique gift. None of us are born to be naturally afforded a higher education. It takes hard work and every support system to succeed in it, and along the way, you have recognized the value you bring to this endeavor.
I don’t have to tell you that the college experience is about more than just gaining an education—it’s about the connections you make, the new ideas you share, and exposure to a new world beyond the one you were nurtured in by your parents and your communities.
Here, you have had opportunities to think about our country and our world from the different perspectives of this beautifully diverse class of students.
As I look out over this sea of mortar boards, I think about the professors at my alma mater, who didn’t just teach me how to string complex sentences together or to analyze English literature, they also cared that I needed to get out of an apartment lease because it was an unsafe environment. They counseled me when I mourned my father’s death and they never ceased to inspire me because of their combined decades of dedication to teaching and their commitment to a better world for all of us.
Hearing from people at Bard tells me that the community that has been cultivated here over the past four years is similar to what I experienced. You all are more than classmates—you’re each other’s problem solvers, support systems, and friends. You share the experience of getting through First-Year Seminar together, learning citizen science, completing a strenuous Senior Project, and going to the Bard Farm Stand on campus (and by the way, I will say I’m sad that not every college campus has a farm and a market to go with it.)
All this, in the midst of a deadly pandemic that had early and terrifying consequences for New York State. The world will never be the same, but you all are prepared to take on new challenges and achieve tremendous success because of—not in spite of—the experiences you have had together. You and your classmates will be bonded by the collective experience of getting your degrees during the pandemic.
These are moments and circumstances that leave an indelible mark.
However, it’s also the small things that tighten the bonds that you created here—searching for a shuttle that never seems to be on time, eating DTR sliders, and organizing trips to the “Old Gym” or “Smog” for music. Eventually these connections will become your professional networks.
Many of the people I went to college or law school with went on to become incredible lawyers, non-profit leaders, advocates, organizers, and elected officials.
When I was younger, I helped many of those pursuing public office to get elected, because I believe that leadership matters. Because representation matters. And it would take me another decade or so to recognize my own potential as a leader. Needless to say, we learn by doing.
Now, this is the part of the speech, where I say that your college degree is just the beginning of yet another journey. The hard work is not over yet! Even though you have your degree in hand, your educational journey is, in some ways, beginning again.
Some of you will or already have secured a place in graduate or professional school, or perhaps you are traveling, or steeping yourselves in the outdoors and nature for a while. Regardless of what you decide to do, I believe that your passion for fighting the good fight will still be viable whether in a few months or a few years, and that your Bard education is something that will get you there.
In 1978, on the day I graduated from high school, I had no college applications in the queue and not a thought about a career or a future—neither of my parents nor their parents graduated from college, and I had to figure that out on my own. I went from part time to full time at the local bakery where I had worked since I was 15, and I had early and very long hours . . . until one morning I looked in the mirror and asked myself if I would be doing this for the rest of my life. The following day, I called my sister to ask how to fill out a college application.
I started my first semester at the University of New Mexico when I was 28 years old. I had 13 years of experience as a retail salesgirl and later as a cake decorator.
For the record, I can still decorate some pretty awesome cakes, but when I think about how far I’ve come, I also remember that at times I was doubtful about what I could actually accomplish. Though, I never gave up thinking that I could make a positive difference for people who often don’t have a voice. So, to you I say: trust your inner voice, know your strength, and follow your heart.
If you do those things, it will be nearly impossible to not live a fulfilled life through making a positive difference in the world.
I know that your experience at Bard has allowed you to fine-tune your passions, develop critical thinking, and has empowered you to move forward with purpose. Part of that purpose and the privilege of a college education is the responsibility to open doors for others.
When I won my election and became one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress alongside Sharice Davids, it was incredibly clear that people looked up to us and that we had the means to leave the ladder down for future leaders.
Leaving the ladder down for those who follow you, and for the next class of students to climb is one of the most important things you can do.
Now, I made plenty of mistakes before I set on the road to Capitol Hill. I was not perfect, I wasn’t groomed from a young age to go to college, run for Congress, or be a cabinet secretary. My work experiences, my work navigating life for my child and me, and my mistakes, good and bad, led me to my life’s purpose.
No one finds success alone.
We all have family and community who have said a kind word, given us $20 for our birthday, and even the smallest tokens of support have helped you all get to this point.
I’m here today—a 35th generation New Mexican, not because I have done anything on my own, but because centuries ago, my ancestors worked hard, fought drought and famine, reclaimed their land, and had the intelligence and foresight to protect our culture and traditions against all odds.
You never know how one’s journey will inspire their future.
My father was a 30-year career Marine, who won the Silver Star Medal for saving the lives of six Marines in Vietnam. My mother was a Navy veteran who went on to spend 25 years as a federal employee working in Indian Education. As a child, my dad’s military career took us to military bases on the east coast and throughout Southern California on the west. I went to 13 public schools before graduating from high school. I raised my child Somáh as a single mom, and there were many times when I had difficulty paying for rent and even basic necessities. In fact, because times were sometimes so hard, I am still paying off my student loans.
All of these experiences and especially the struggles, have made me who I am today.
We need more people in leadership positions across the board who understand the struggles that people face. We need leaders who understand persistence and know what it means to be fierce in the face of adversity.
It’s why representation matters. It’s why I’m so impressed by the work Bard does to ensure the doors of opportunity are open to a broad group of students who bring their whole selves to this institution—their experiences, perspectives, and struggles.
This is part of the big picture. It’s part of who you are and who you will become.
To the parents, family, friends, supporters and other members of the Bard community—we all know that any educational endeavor is a family affair. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank YOU for all that you do to support these amazing graduates. Let’s give them a round of applause.
And I want to sincerely congratulate all of the graduates on a job well done, and this community for creating a place of learning that challenges students to rise to the occasion in addressing, head on, our changing world. There is a transition to a clean energy future, a climate crisis, and true equity that need to be embraced by fresh hands and minds, and you are the ones suited to this mission.
But most importantly, never discount the perspective that you bring.
I never thought that the times I spent with my grandfather in his corn field, in the still summer air, irrigating, hoeing weeds, and picking worms off of corn, would mean something to a career in public service—that I never dreamed I would have; until it did.
Your life and your experiences matter greatly, and I wish you all the joy in the world in seeing that value come to fruition in ways you may least expect. I have hope for the future, because you all will lead it.
I know my generation and even past generations haven’t entirely lived up to our end of the deal, otherwise you would be inheriting a country where every individual and every ecosystem is thriving.
I know you all have the intelligence and foresight to move our world in a loving direction of progress, and for that, I thank you.
Thank you all for the tremendous honor of being your commencement speaker today and BE FIERCE.
ABOUT THE COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER
Secretary Deb Haaland made history when she became the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. She is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a 35th generation New Mexican.
Secretary Haaland grew up in a military family; her father was a 30-year combat Marine who was awarded the Silver Star Medal for saving six lives in Vietnam, and her mother is a Navy veteran who served as a federal employee for 25 years at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As a military child, she attended 13 public schools before graduating from Highland High School in Albuquerque.
As a single mother, Secretary Haaland volunteered at her child’s pre-school to afford early childhood education. Like many parents, she had to rely on food stamps at times as a single parent, lived paycheck-to-paycheck, and struggled to put herself through college. At the age of 28, Haaland enrolled at the University of New Mexico (UNM) where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and later earned her J.D. from UNM Law School. Secretary Haaland and her child, who also graduated from the University of New Mexico, are still paying off student loans.
Secretary Haaland ran her own small business producing and canning Pueblo Salsa, served as a tribal administrator at San Felipe Pueblo, and became the first woman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors, overseeing business operations of the second largest tribal gaming enterprise in New Mexico. She successfully advocated for the Laguna Development Corporation to create policies and commitments to environmentally friendly business practices.
Throughout her career in public service, Secretary Haaland has broken barriers and opened the doors of opportunity for future generations.
After running for New Mexico Lieutenant Governor in 2014, Secretary Haaland became the first Native American woman to be elected to lead a State Party. She is one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress. In Congress, she focused on environmental justice, climate change, missing and murdered indigenous women, and family-friendly policies.
Post Date: 05-28-2022