Commencement is a time for celebration and inspiration for new graduates ready to change the world. In this episode, co-hosts Dana Rampolla and Charles Schelle share their personal favorite speeches from this year's University of Maryland, Baltimore graduation ceremonies.
First is Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who spoke at the University of Maryland School of Social Work convocation ceremony, outlining his seven reasons for hope.
The second speech is from former Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D), who spoke at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law hooding ceremony, telling graduates to use their knowledge to ignite positive change.
There were many other great speeches at UMB's ceremonies. Here are a few to check out:
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You are listening to the heartbeat of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, the UMB Pulse.Charles Schelle:
Dana, what do you love about commencement?Dana Rampolla:
I think one of my favorite things is when I hear pomp and circumstance start playing every single time when I was graduating from high school until our recent commencement here at U M B, I hear those first couple notes and I just get that tight feeling in my chest and start to tear up.Charles Schelle:
So you take the, uh, emotional. Yes. Route and emotional experience with it. I really like a good speech, even though I cannot tell you what my undergrad speech was about. I kind of remember who it was. Oh boy. It was a columnist for the Washington Post. But in the moment you like to hear those inspiring words. Being able to work commencement like the both of us each year, we hear a lot of speeches, right?Dana Rampolla:
Yeah, for sure. And it's, it is interesting because I agree with you, I don't remember anything about any of my commencement speeches, which is really a sad statement, but, Being an employee at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and having the opportunity to sit through as many as we do each year, there are some that just really stand out and resonate with me as a person, as a professional, and as a, as a mom. You know, I'm always thinking about what my, my children heard when they were graduating, and what our students here and how it feels for their family to sit there and hear great speeches.Charles Schelle:
So for this episode, we're doing things a little bit different. We thought, let's celebrate the commencement season and let's provide some moments of hope and inspiration. We talk about changemakers throughout this past season and, these guest speakers are definitely changemakers in their own right. We wanna highlight two personal favorite speeches this year. One is from Congressman Jamie Raskin, who represents Maryland's eighth Congressional District. He spoke at the University of Maryland School of Social Works Convocation Ceremony. And what I really liked about his speech was that it provided hope, seven reasons of hope so much that he went into why social workers are important to our society and to democracy and hope for the future.Dana Rampolla:
And our second speech that we're excited to share is from our former Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. He served in that role from 2015 to 2023, and he had some great advice and stories for graduates. One that really stuck out was a story about a classmate who didn't turn the last page when he took the bar exam and he missed a question and therefore failed by two points. Oh, it's all in the details. Oh, no. Oh, no. Yeah, he was really enjoyable and just such a, a calm and compassionate speaker. I, I think it was one of my favorites for sure.Charles Schelle:
Definitely. And we've had a few other speeches and, and we couldn't put them all in this episode. Unless you wanted to be here for maybe two hours. So, uh, for our other speeches we have links in our episode description that we wanted to highlight. One is a short and funny speech from University of Maryland School of Medicine's, Nicholas Ponte, uh, he received the Outstanding Scholar Award. Really funny anecdote. I don't wanna spoil it, but a little bit of salty and friendly life advice given to him by a patient of his, um, uh, another one from the School of Medicine was Dana Bowen Matthew, uh, she is a professor of law at George Washington University School of Law. She gave great advice for hope and inspiration as well, and working in the medical field, especially when it comes to equity and diversity. she's also an author and in 2015 she served as the senior advisor to the director of Office of Civil Rights for the US Environmental Protection Agency. So again, check those, links in our show notes and episode description to listen to those. But first one tap is Congressman Jamie Raskin.Jamie Raskin:
Well, thank you Dean Postmus and um, uh, to you Dean Postmus and distinguished faculty members to the moms and dads out there, the grandparents, the uncles and aunts. Us and cousins and friends and siblings, uh, to the 2023 graduating class of the University of Maryland School of Social Work and to the, uh, convocation committee that invited me especially, uh, it's an honor to address one of the nation's great schools of social work. You have an illustrious and storied past here and every time. I hear your name. It makes me proud of our state graduates. You enter an extraordinary profession. It has been central to the development of the major civilizing movements and social reforms of the last century in our country. And the history of social work has been profoundly intertwined with the history of feminism and women's political participation in our country. Our first female cabinet member. The great Francis Perkins who served in President Franklin d Roosevelt's cabinet was a social worker. She played an instrumental role in the creation of social security and the passage of the federal minimum wage law, and she placed the ethic of social solidarity and mutual support at the center of the New Deal. The first woman ever elected to Congress. Jeanette Rankin from Montana in 1916 was a social worker. And a Republican. She was a passionate campaigner for a woman's suffrage. And after being elected to Congress from a state that enfranchised women early, she fought for the 19th Amendment for all women to get the right to vote, and that was ratified four years after she went into the house. She was a crusader for social reform, for voting rights and election reform, and a passionate anti-war activist who voted against us participation in the first World War. Barbara McClusky, the first woman ever elected to the United States Senate in Maryland, a Democrat, and the longest serving senator in our state's history was and still is a committed social worker. And she, of course, went to this great school, um, and Senator Mikulski talks about it all the time as a formative influence in both her professional life and her political life. And for her public office, she said was just social work with power. And she never abandoned the sense of social mission and public purpose that she learned right here with this amazing faculty. So I know that you launched your careers with a spirit of great pride in the past than deep affection for this remarkable institution. But I also don't need to tell you that we're sending you off to do nearly impossible work. Under conditions of sharp political polarization and dramatic economic inequality, and that you will almost certainly be underpaid for your indispensable and excellent and intricate service to our communities. And yet, and yet, I cannot think of anyone in America. In a better position to help our society and shape a positive American future than the members of your graduating class. And because I am allotted, uh, just 10 minutes here and a foolishly. Already used three of them telling you things you already know. Uh, I wanna give you seven reasons before I leave you, for you to be feeling tremendous optimism about your work and hope for the American future. So it's seven reasons in seven minutes. One reason for hope enclosed in each remaining minute I have. And the first reason I bring you is for my own political career. And when I first got into politics, I ran for the Maryland State Senate against a 32 year incumbent who was president pro tem of the Senate and the boss of our local political machine in Montgomery County. And when I announced the Montgomery Journal, our local paper quoted pundit who said, Raskin's, chances of victory are considered impossible. And nine months later we got 67% of the vote, and the Washington Post had an article quoting pundit who said Raskin's victory was inevitable. So we went from impossible to inevitable in nine months. Because the pundits are never wrong, but I like to tell young people that in politics, nothing is impossible and nothing is inevitable. But it's only just possible through education and organizing and mobilizing people for change and anything that seems inevitable. Was once considered impossible. So you and your careers, by your creativity in your college, your compassion and your education will regularly make the impossible, inevitable in the lives of other citizens and other families. And that's the first reason I want you to be optimistic today. And the second also comes from that same campaign of mine back in 2006. And when I did my kickoff speech and subfreezing weather in January, I laid out all the impossible things that I wanted to do in Annapolis and Dean Postmus, uh, mentioned some of them like passing marriage equality and abolishing the death penalty and bound banning, uh, military style assault weapons in our state. And adopting a national popular vote and enacting medical marijuana for sick people. And after I gave my speech, a woman came up to me and she said, Grammy, Jamie, great speech. I loved your speech, but one thing she said, take out everything you've got in that speech about gay marriage because it's not gonna happen. It's never gonna happen. And it makes you sound like you're really extreme, like you're not in the political center. And I had to swallow hard because I didn't have man that many, um, Attendees with me that day when I kicked off, and I didn't want to offend her, but my three kids were right there watching, and I remember so much my 11 year old son, Tommy, being there and looking right at me to see how I was gonna respond. And so I said, thank you very much for telling me that, because it makes me realize that it's not my ambition to be in the political center. It's my ambition to be in the moral center. And that's why I call myself. That's why I call myself a progressive. The heart of that word is progress, and we can make progress towards morality. Our job in politics is to find the moral center the best that we can and bring the political center to us. And the reason I'm telling you that story is because Maryland ended up doing all those things. Not because of me, but because of everybody who was in office doing all those things that inspired me to run for office in the first place. Um, we made the impossible, inevitable by operating from the moral center, not the political center. And you too can do that every single day in your work. I have seen politics. And I have seen government and I've seen public policy, and I have seen social administration work here in the state of Maryland, and you are the next generation that's gonna make it work. The third reason I offer you comes from a two minute conversation that I had with Paul Essa Bina, who is the manager. Of the Hotel Dil Koen in Rwanda, and the subject of the movie Hotel Rwanda about the Hutu Hutu genocide against the Tutsi minority in Rwanda back in 1994. And when the Hutu military unleashed a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Tutsi. Uh, Mr. Essa Bina, who is Hutu, allowed more than 1000 Tutsi refugees to secretly take shelter in his hotel, saving their lives. And when I saw him speak about it more than a decade, LA later I had the chance to ask him a question, and I asked him this simple question. I said, you risked your life and everything you had to save other people's lives. What made you so different from the people who were unwilling to act? And he gave me this most amazing answer. He said, A lot of people walk around with guilt and shame about something they may have done in the past, and that makes them feel that they cannot act to do good in the present. It paralyzes them. But I realized, although I had done some things I was not proud of in my life, that I could still act to help a lot of other people. Now, you do not have to be perfect. To do good in the world. And so that's a reason for great hope, which you can carry with you in the world. You do not have to be perfect to do good and to be good. My friend Kate Benic tells me that this will be key to your success as a social worker. You may have been in bad trouble. Like Malcolm X was before he went to prison, but you can make a good trouble later on As my late colleague and friend John Lewis called it, you can always go from bad trouble to good trouble in your life. My fourth reason for hope is that most of the common negative messages. We receive about human nature are just propaganda in disinformation. And the vast majority of human beings on Earth do good the vast majority of the time. And I can't prove this to you in one minute, but there's a great book that I recommend to you by Rucker Br Bregman called Humankind, which can prove it to you. And by the way, this would make a great graduation gift for anybody. Still trying to find one. Um, it's called humankind, but in the book, Bregman debunks almost all of the key negative messages we carry around in our heads about the depravity of our species. You know, William Golden won a Nobel Prize in literature because of his novel, Lord of the Flies, which has sold tens of millions of copies in which we all read and were traumatized by in middle school. But as Bregman explains it, the lore of the flies is completely demolished. As a thesis about human nature by the evidence of a real world shipwreck of Australian school boys in 1965 who found themselves stranded on a desert island, and they created a peaceful, functioning democratic community with fairness and rules and absolute decency. And the boys form bonds of lifelong friendship. And became men of real character and conscience. Meantime, the author of The Lord of the Flies, William Golden, was a depressed misanthrope who as a teacher once divided his students up into gangs and urged them to fight one another. I've always understood the Nazis golden. Once said in an interview, because I am of that sort by nature, the Lord of the Flies is not a reflection in the mirror of human nature, but a reflection in the mirror of its author Bregman. Similarly demolishes, the other major cultural proofs of human depravity we carry around in our minds like the Milgrom experiments undertaken in the early 1960s at Yale by a social psychology professor who purported to show that people were willing to administer painful shocks. To experimental subjects if they were told to do that by someone in authority? Well, Bregman shows the totally dubious methodology of the study, and he demo debunks all of it as something verging on a fraud. The point is that so much of what we've internalized about the alleged evil of our own species is just wrong and false. The evidence is that while undoubtedly there have been a lot of fanatical and pathological leaders who come to power, Vladimir Putin is one who comes to mind from abroad. Um, most people end up rejecting these leaders as tyrants and monsters, and your job is to help translate the ordinary moral sentiments and intuitions of the vast majority of the people into effective public action reform and change. My fifth, my fifth Reason for You. Um, is that whenever things look grim, if you feel surrounded one day by corruption and insurrection and inequality and indifference, remember that we stand on the shoulders of giants who overcame far greater odds than we face. Even today, Frederick Douglass was born enslaved, not even hour away from here. At the Y River Plantation on the eastern shore, he escaped from the violence and oppression of slavery to become America's leading abolitionist and freedom fighter and a major national leader through Civil War and the reconstruction. Harriet Tubman. Was also born into slavery in Maryland and became a leading abolitionist and freedom fighter who rescued and liberated at least 70 enslaved people on the eastern shore. And Frederick Douglass said, if there is no struggle, there's no progress. The struggle may be moral or physical, or moral and physical, but there must be struggle, power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will. A message to you from a fellow Marylander in the 19th century, and if Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tug Tubman can conquer slavery with the Supreme Court against them and the US Senate against them and. The entire scientific establishment against them. We can conquer climate change in our time with the entire scientific establishment on our side. We can make that happen and it might not feel like it sometimes, but you can look to another great hero of the American Revolution. Tom Payne, who said, these are the times that try men and women's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will shrink at this moment from the service of their cause in their country. But everyone that stands with us now will win the love and the favor, and the affection of every man and every woman for all time tyranny like hell is not easily conquered, but we have this saving consolation. The more difficult the struggle, the more glorious in the end will be our victory. A message to you from the 18th century from Tom Payne. Um, so my sixth reason is this, um, so many people belonging to the new generations of Americans, uh, generations millennial and Y and z and I can't keep them all straight because I'm sinking deep in the middle age here. But, um, all, all of the young people that I know are way beyond. The racism, the sexism, the homophobia, the immigrant bashing. They're also a little bit beyond grammar too, but that's a different problem. Um, but they have succeeded beyond the false idols of the past. The young are committed to addressing the climate crisis and overcoming racism, and they are serious about defending freedom and expanding equality in our country. Our future is a pro-democracy, pro-freedom, pro-human rights future, and you can see it in the young people of America, and there's a reason. That reactionary forces in America are trying to shut down college student voting and to disenfranchise the young population, but it will be impossible to do that. You cannot disenfranchise entire generations. The real threat to their empowerment is the crisis and mental and emotional health. And so if we can keep their spirits up, if we can safeguard their health and teach them how to organize, then democracy will prevail in this new century. And finally, my seventh and final reason for you comes from my dad, Marcus Raskin, who was a political philosopher, and he used to say to the kids in my family, when everything looks hopeless, you are the hope. You are the hope. And yeah, I know that this is a lot of pressure and even guilt to impose on you on your graduation day, but when I look out at this magnificent. And Startlingly young class of 2023 of graduating students, uh, what, what just happened there? Um, all I can see in your faces is hope. Great hope for our future and in our future. You are the hope, indeed and you will be the hope. For the countless people you come to serve over the course of your career. So there are my seven reasons for hope for you. I could actually give you hundreds more, but like all commencement speakers, I've run out of time and the rest is up to you. So God's speed and may fortune love you. Thank you.Charles Schelle:
Wow. That, that was a lot for that speech. He packed a lot of information in. A lot of great. Reasons for hope. I, I liked how he weaved a little bit of everything, of, what's on the line for the future and, and how social workers can be the reason that we hope for a better future.Dana Rampolla:
Yeah, and personally if you've taken any time to read or if you haven't, you might wanna kind of Google him. He's been through a lot of experiences in the last year that were really, I. Challenging and emotionally exhausting. And for me to see that he can come out of those experiences and still inspire hope in others, really speaks to who he is as a human being. So kudos to him for being able to withstand all of that and share such great wisdom with everyone.Charles Schelle:
Absolutely. Our next speech is from the University of Maryland, Carey School of Law. And this again, is former Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and his speech and message to students. And he really hits on, misinformation and truth and honesty and some other, just standup qualities that I think we all should follow.Brian Frosh:
Well, uh, thank you very much for that kind introduction, Dean Hutchins. I think it's gonna be straight downhill from here. I'd probably be better off just sitting back down. Uh, and, uh, Well, let me, let me tell you about, uh, my graduation from law school. This is many years ago when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. We had a very distinguished speaker at our commencement, and I don't remember his name. Um, I don't remember anything that he said. I do remember very distinctly wishing that he would stop talking. And, uh, all I can say is if you find yourselves in that position this morning, uh, Dean Hutchins made me do it. Um, I wanna say congratulations to all of you. I was really impressed by the remarks of Sam and Kaka and, uh, You all have a great deal to be proud of. Uh, you take a big step in a journey that you have shared with your friends and your your family, and you should take time to savor that you are, uh, I'm sure, excited. Uh, you should be proud, uh, and uh, you probably are. Uh, A bit uncertain as I know I was when I graduated from law school. But this is a watershed moment, uh, for all of you. And, um, I know when I graduated, and I'm sure you're going through the same thing, I'm sitting there wondering, you know, what's next? Did I make the right choices? Uh, will I ever find a job that I think is fulfilling? Uh, Will I ever get out of debt? And I, I can tell you, I, I can answer all of those questions based on many, many years of experience. I can answer them very directly. I don't know. Uh, when, when I look in the mirror, I see an 18 year old trapped in this aging wreck of a body and, and. I, I spent decades in public office. I, you know, as Dean Hutchins mentioned, I got bills passed. I sued people, I prosecuted people, and the whole time I'm thinking to myself, when are the grownups coming back into reassert control? I, I don't, I don't think those questions ever go away for, for anybody. Um, and, uh, I know most of you are probably apprehensive about the bar exam, and I'm going to tell you a bar exam story. So this is a trigger warning. Okay? This is a true story. It didn't happen to me, but it happened to one of my close friends in law school. Uh, he was in a five person bar review study course or study group. And, uh, at the end of day two, because back in those days there were lots of essays. It was a, an essay day, and his group, uh, got together after the day and somebody said, I can't believe there was a Marbury versus Madison question on the essays. And one kid said, what? Marbury versus Madison question. My friend said, you know, the one that was on the back of the bar exam, he said, I never looked at the back of the bar exam. It was a 25 point question. He failed by two points. Yeah. So, um, there. There's some, there's some morals to this story. Of course, he made, he made his friends swear that he would not be identified if anyone told this story. But there the first lesson is, you know, you're lawyers. You gotta look at every page, you gotta read every sentence, you gotta read every word. This guy, uh, let me go back and say that this guy retired a couple of years ago from a very long and distinguished career. As a judge, the second moral of the story is that it doesn't matter how many times you get knocked down, it matters how many times you get back up. Um, if you haven't ever failed at anything, if you haven't ever made a huge uh, mistake, you will. It's gonna happen. It happens to everybody. Um, and, uh, the, the thing is you should try to avoid stupid mistakes, but you're certainly gonna make mistakes. And the critical thing is to figure out what you did wrong, pick yourself back up and go get'em, um, with your law degree. You have a tool that will allow you to improve the lives of your clients and of society at large. Thousands of years ago, the Greek scholar Archimedes said, give me a place to stand and I will move the world. What he was talking about was leverage, and as a lawyer, you have a powerful lever. You have the ability to be agents of change. Like the people who were sitting behind me, like Congressman John Sarbanes. The law is your tool, and you should use it as a force for good and as a force for justice. By graduating from law school, you've demonstrated that you have the ability to think critically, to analyze sharply, to write compellingly, and to solve problems. Nimbly, you're in the 1% now. Perhaps not in wealth, but in terms of ability and achievement and potential to make an impact, you are among the elite. The skills that you have learned are skills that throughout history have improved the lives of human beings. Uh, about. 10 or 15 years ago, I listened to a course on cd. It's one of the great courses. It was a course called Big History, and it was taught by Professor John Christian and it's now on the web. It was literally a history from the Big Bang to today. 13.7 billion years in a few lectures. It was a half a billion or a billion years for each lecture that he, uh, gave. So the perspective is like nothing else you've, uh, ever seen in any other course. Uh, it starts with cosmology, the creation of the universe, the formation of the galaxies, and ultimately our solar system. And finally, the earth. Then it moves into geology, the movement of, uh, continents and then, uh, the beginning of life biology. Um, and there are many lessons in this course, but the one that I think is most pertinent for today relates to the question of why human beings have come to dominate the earth. Why we have spread over over every continent and why we're able to adapt to so many environments and why we have caused the instinct, e extinction of thousands and thousands of other species and managed to, uh, survive ourselves. And the answer is not because we have the biggest brains. We don't, it's not because we have opposable thumbs. It's because of what Professor Christian calls, uh, collective learning. We, like many other animals, learn things and are able to, to pass them on to our, uh, children and have them passed on from, uh, our parents. But we have, uh, Archived accumulated and passed on knowledge from thousands of years ago and from thousands of miles away. Every case you read, every TV show you watch, every modern tool that you use from a pencil to a cell phone represents the collective learning of millions of people. With the internet, with cell phone technology, the speed and volume of collective learning, uh, grows and it grows exponentially. We know what a scientist across the world has discovered. Within minutes or even seconds of that discovery, you stand on the cusp of the most rapid advances in knowledge in learning. In human history, artificial intelligence, of course, will accelerate those advances. As lawyers, you are uniquely well equipped to take advantage of that rapid learning. As I look across this gathering this room, I ask each of you to capitalize on collective learning. When we look around the world today, it's clear that we need change agents. We see it across the planet in a changing warming climate that threatens natural resources and the lives of billions of people. We see it right here at home where our nation is in turmoil, racism, violence and hate seem to be on the rise. At times the rule of law, the foundation of our democracy and the subject of your studies for three years is under attack. In my lifetime, the only period that was as perilous as troubled was the 1960s when we were in the middle of the struggle for civil rights and in the middle of the Vietnam War in 1968. Uh, Bobby Kennedy, the former president's brother, not to be confused with his slightly Aled son, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Uh, was running for president and, uh, Bobby Kennedy was to speak at a rally in Indianapolis. Shortly before the event, Martin Luther King was assassinated. The Secret Service wanted Kennedy to get out of town. And he refused. He insisted upon addressing the crowd and they did not know that King had been murdered. There were no cell phones in those days, no internet. So when he told them, if you listen to the recording, there's kind of a collective gasp and then cries and screams and spoke extemporaneously. And he, among the things that he said was the following, he said, what we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom and compassion for one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer in our country. Kennedy spoke those words 55 years ago. It's pretty clear. That my generation has failed to achieve the ideals that he expressed. It's up to you. I hope you will hold yourself and your colleagues to the highest standards. I hope you will strengthen and adhere to and respect our legal institutions. Our democratic system cannot survive without them. If you want to make a difference, take responsibility. You now have a place to stand, change the world. Thank you very much and congratulations.Jena Frick:
The UMB Pulse with Charles Schelle and Dana Rampolla is a U M B Office of Communications and Public Affairs production edited by Charles Schelle, marketing by Dana Ramola.