2017 Commencement Address – Senator Amy Klobuchar

2017 Commencement Address – Senator Amy Klobuchar


Well thank you so much president Anderson you guys look great in the sun on the first hilltop graduation in 60 years.
That’s pretty cool. And it is just great to be here with the St. Olaf Class of 2017.
Thank you Ben wherever you are for your heartfelt words about courage and the importance of the focus on community.
So first as your senator I do bring you official greetings from the great state of Minnesota from our unofficial poet laureate Garrison Keillor.
And he would tell you that our state is a state where all the women are strong all the men are good-looking
and all the oles are above average
so faculty and staff thank you the success of the students is your success too
parents grandparents my daughter as was mentioned graduated from college just last weekend so I know what you’re going through
the pride the panic the back up rain gear
losing the in-laws I did that, okay
but I found them so don’t worry about it and graduates congratulations
when I hear of the music and I saw all of you come in
what’s triggered in my mind of course was my daughter’s graduation then and of course my own
I remember that feeling of worrying I was going to fall when I came over the stage where the mortar board was going to fly off in the wind I saw all of you do that and then I’m also reminded of my actual official walk that I will never forget to similar music
and that was way back I was the Hennepin County Attorney I was brand new in my job
see? I told you and Bill Clinton was president this was a long time ago
and I somehow got invited at the last minute to introduce him for some crime legislation and we were standing outside of the East Room it was filled with people more cameras than I’ve ever seen in my life and I’m standing outside the door with the president
very nervous and they start playing music similar to what you marched into but this time it was “Hail to the Chief” you know
duh-dah-duh-dah right?
so I just start walking in and all of a sudden I feel this big hand on my shoulder and his voice says
“I know you’re going to do great out there but when they play that song I usually go first.”
That’s a true story so anything that happens to you today graduates will be better than that
so this is why for over 140 years St. Olaf has been dedicated to preparing students to have successful careers and successful lives but St. Olaf has been talked about as so much more than a learning institution
it’s a community a place where character is built
minds are enriched perspectives are expanded you’re a hub for students who can’t wait until they graduate to get involved in the world
I’m thinking of Leonard Vibbi one of today’s grads
there we go who developed a program to help women who survived the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone or Colin Scheibner who helped discover an entire new dwarf planet
Wow named DeeDee
did he name it himself? that’s pretty cool
and you are a powerhouse of musical talent and this class is a perfect example
several of you have studied around the world received national recognition like Sam Viguerie who was the National winner of the 2016 MTNA young artist competition or Sarah Bauer who interned this summer with the La Jolla Music Society
and whether you are part of the St. Olaf Band the Orchestra, okay…
or the Choir you know music isn’t just a hobby here it’s part of life at St. Olaf you are the only school in the country whose students can actually waltz to your fight song now speaking of your fight song you’re also the home of one of the most dedicated athletic programs and one of the older rivalries in the country and I know it won’t be long
before the basketball team joins the football team and gets the goat trophy back where it belongs
you are also a support system second to none
and that’s so important because you’re going to need that support as you turn the page to a new chapter of your lives
you go out into the world
the world that’s changing that can be chaotic and a world that truly needs you so maybe you are a bit like my daughter one thing that really bugs her
is when people make fun of her generation of Millennials
and you know too often your generation gets a bad rap
these are actual news headlines not fake news these are things I actually found true okay here it goes Business Insider this is a true headline “Millennials are killing the napkin industry”
it’s because you’re opting for paper towels but maybe that’s not dumb okay CBS News headline “Blame Millennials for the vanishing bar of soap” so that worried me a little bit from a hygiene perspective but then I found out you are using liquid soap instead okay that’s smart The Economist’s asked rather desperately Why aren’t Millennials buying diamonds? maybe you have an answer for them on that and the New York Post my old favorite one
“Millennials have officially ruined brunch”
right? I think we need more than brunch right now
now I don’t make fun of Millennials at all why number one I have a millennial that I really love my daughter
number two I hire Millennials all the time run an office that’s full of half Millennials okay and some of my favorite Millennials that I’ve hired are from are from this very college St. Olaf like Evan in my
DC office and Emma Youngquist where are you?
who is returning to St. Olaf in three weeks
to get married at this very campus
I have also seen and this is my third reason
Millennials passion for our world
and I believe that you are truly
the hope and our future the young people that I know are hardworking and honest and committed and driven
they are innovative and collaborative
and they are big-hearted and you don’t have to take my word for it because studies have shown that this generation is more diverse more inclusive
more globally minded than those that have come before
and this generation is working as hard if not harder than other generations
and you are doing this while you are facing challenges in a world that is bigger and more connected
so when I look out into this crowd of students I don’t worry about the future of soap or brunch or diamond rings
I don’t worry about the future of our nation
because I believe our future is in good hands
because it’s in your hands
as you take on these new responsibilities and challenges know this purpose is important
but so is taking chances
and you’re going to find this sooner
sometimes rather than later so is from time to time failing
before Oprah was Oprah she was fired from her job co-anchoring the 6:00 p.m. news in Baltimore (true story)
before Bill Gates launched Microsoft he had a company called Traf-O-Data
ever heard of it? I haven’t either
Abraham Lincoln experienced his fair share of setbacks
including losing a job before he ran for president and Michael Jordan missed more than 9,000 shots in his career
I have my own failure story too it’s not about basketball
I was working as a waitress at the Baker square pie shop but my career came to an abrupt end when I once spilled eight ice tea’s on one customer
that was the moment when I decided to go to law school
so maybe you will not spill a tray of tea all on one person but I can tell you that you will have some failed moments and it happens to everybody my favorite example of this is how you have to embrace and celebrate failure because it often leads to something else is Ben & Jerry’s ice cream
if you ever visit Ben & Jerry’s ice cream they actually have a graveyard celebrating their flavors that didn’t work they have actual tombstones to honor the nearly departed or depinted flavors like “Holy Cannoli” and “this is nuts” and “turtle soup”
the epitaph for “Holy Cannoli” reads “now in front of the pearly gates holy cannoli sits and waits what brought its ruin no one knows
must have been the pistachios” but who knows
without taking these chances without learning from these failures maybe we would have never had “Fish Food”
maybe “Chunky Monkey” would never exist
so you have to take chances and you’ve learned that here
some of you took a chance on your freshman roommate you didn’t quite know
what to make of it first
and that person became a lifelong friend
or someone you’ll make sure and call when you get into your other life others took a chance when they got dragged to a class or someone told you try out that class
or someone maybe one of your professors said
try out that class only to find your chosen major and perhaps your profession
you have to try and sometimes it’ll work out and sometimes it won’t
but when it doesn’t you get up
and you try again and you look out for each other when that happens
you’ve learned how important that is this class has
how to support each other and don’t forget that lesson you’ve been prepared well here at St. Olaf
a college that is steeped in faith that is committed to thinking beyond the individual
beyond the national St. Olaf has prepared you to help create a stronger global community now more than any other time when the rhetoric has been heated about people who are from different races or different places
that education is really important
what I’ve learned pretty quickly
the last few years in Washington is that
even if you want to isolate yourself
from the rest of the world
which of course is not our goal the rest of the world
doesn’t let you eventually international problems and opportunities
come knocking at your door for me they come with a phone call from a scared dad whose daughter’s high school group is marooned
in Guatemala by a mudslide
or during a meeting with local steel workers
who are right over illegal steel dumping
from around the world they come from the Minnesota family of a young man imprisoned in Iran for hiking in the mountains
or another behind bars in the United Arab Emirates for posting a YouTube video
or when a student asks how can we prevent Russia from undermining the power of her vote in elections moving forward
in our state we have time and time again embraced internationalism
in business in humanitarian aid
in international adoptions
in the openness that we have shown in our colleges and universities and businesses and neighborhoods to immigrants and to refugees in the understanding that we stand up not just for our democracy in the United States but for democracies all over the world we have welcomed students from across the world
students like Sam from Indonesia who is out there today who interned in my office
or students like Norbert who received who received the first-ever St. Olaf Rwanda scholarship
I actually first learned about Norbert when he was applying for a visa
to come to this country his application had been put on hold and I was thoroughly impressed with his record and worked with the State Department to get his visa approved Norbert is graduating today and then he is going to continue building a non-profit he started in Rwanda to connect homeless children with foster families and help struggling parents create a positive environment for their kids as I mentioned before
St. Olaf is known for your music
and when I hear your choir I’m reminded of the words of the uniquely American poet Walt Whitman in his poem “I hear America singing” he said these words “I hear America singing the varied carols I hear” for Whitman when he talked about hearing America singing these were the songs of the mechanics
of the carpenters of the Masons of the shoemaker’s for us gathered today
we hear the very carols of students and parents
of sisters and brothers
of faculty and staff a chorus of different faiths
races, creeds and many walks of life
every song is important
every singer is important and every voice deserves to be heard even the smallest voice
you know in Minnesota we have the biggest Somali population in the country
and we are very proud of that community and last year when I was visiting with that community I heard a story about a family they had been here for years they thrived there in business and one night the mom and the dad and it was right during the height of a lot of anti-muslim rhetoric they went out to dinner in the suburbs and they went out to dinner with two kids and
this guy walks by and he looks at the four of them and out of the blue he says
“you four go home you go home to where you came from”
and the little girl looks up at her mom and she says
“mom I don’t want to go home you said we could eat out tonight
I don’t want to eat dinner at home”
you think of the words of that innocent child she only knows one home
and that’s the state of Minnesota
she only knows one home and that’s the United States of America so graduates this is your home too and I know your education will make this a better place for that little girl and so many others
you’re going to make it a better place because you are a part of a generation that actually wants to make it better
you will make it a better place because you will go into the world with purpose
and still take chances and be buoyed by the occasional failure you will make it a better place because with your St. Olaf degree
you understand that we are intertwined in this world from Rwanda to Indonesia
to Slovenia those are my relatives
to Japan to Guatemala
to Northfield Minnesota but mostly this College has taught you to be respectful
to be civil and to have empathy
this is about assuming the best in everyone you meet
a past president of my alma mater talked about how the presumption of innocence
is not just a legal concept
the presumption of innocence he says
rests on that generosity of spirit
which assumes the best
not the worst, of a stranger so assume the best
and not the worst and not just of your friends and colleagues and fellow students
but of people that you just meet but you may not really know
people you might not even agree with politically
be generous be gracious and let this generation be defined as a generation of good stewards
for this country for the value of learning
and for our democracy Minnesota is truly counting on you and our country is counting on you
all of you so I’m going to end like I began with just a brief little story about my daughter
because it’s been on my mind just like your parents have you on their mind
so when she was four years old she was in our church nativity play and she was to play the angel
and we were sitting out there in the pews and she had this gigantic white angel outfit with these big drooping wings but she wouldn’t go out to practice and I finally looked at her I said
“why won’t you go out there?”
and she said “I want to be the donkey”
and I looked and these two hot teenage boys were in that donkey costume I said no Timmy and Joey are the donkey you can’t be the donkey
“I want to be Mary” I said no Mary is 14 years old you cannot be Mary
I said I don’t understand it
you have the best part in this whole thing
you get to come out at the end and spread your wings
and she finally looked way up to the top of the church and she says
“mom, I don’t know how to tell them I don’t know how to fly” and I told her that day
“you know what honey? not all angels fly”
it is not lost on us that you are the first class in so many decades that are on the top of a Hill this means that you are the guardian angels, right?
you as close as it gets to heaven here
you are the guardian angels for so many people
those you meet those you maybe have never meet
those who may not even know what you’ve done for them this may be
in what you choose to do with your life
this may be in how you choose to volunteer
this may simply be a kind word
a momentary decision, a gesture that’s what that’s about
you will be the guardian angels of this country so that’s a lot on your shoulders some pretty heavy wings but I know you have the wings to fly so take this chance
take this moment to be bold
this is your moment to lead, so fly congratulations class of 2017

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