Saturday, December 22, 2007

Good morning, and welcome to the graduates, to my faculty and staff colleagues, to other University of Iowa students, to family and friends, and to honored guests. It is my great pleasure to share with you this remarkable and once-in-a-lifetime occasion.

Before going further, please, everyone, join me in offering congratulations to these magnificent graduates!

Many people have made this day possible. Out there in the audience are parents, grandparents, husbands, wives, partners, significant others, children, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives and friends of the graduates. Now, graduates, please join me in applauding these people who have made this day possible!

I know that student remarks at commencements often begin by shouting, “We made it!” Well, I feel compelled to say that myself today, though for a different reason. Today marks the end of my first semester as President of The University of Iowa. I am experiencing an important milestone myself. So I’m going to shout with you, “We made it!!!”

I know that today is all about looking forward. But I’d also like to take a moment and ask you to join me in looking back at how you got here. You’ve worked hard, encountered setbacks, and experienced great joys. And I know that a lot of you and your families struggled economically to get you through college. But I’m confident that you know the struggles and efforts have been worth the achievement of your being here today.

I myself am the daughter of an immigrant father who never had the opportunity to finish high school, let alone think about college, and a mother who barely finished high school before entering the work force. But my parents knew the value of an education, and they struggled and succeeded in giving me the opportunity to be the first in my family to go to college. So I very much appreciate, on a personal level, the sacrifices—of all kinds—that you and your families have made to gain an education here at Iowa.

As I noted before, I am a newcomer to Iowa, having arrived as a brand-new Hawkeye just five short months ago. And what a time to move here! Presidential caucus season! My word! I was truly unprepared for the exhilaration and frustration of being first in the nation to choose nominees for the highest office in the land. The mailings, the phone calls, the town hall meetings, the handshaking, the rallies—and, oh, did I mention the phone calls!!!???

But it has, honestly, been an inspiring experience. What a privilege to see first-hand so many talented people, up close and personal, who want to bring our nation and our world into a bright future. All of them—Republicans and Democrats alike—want to help create a world that is humane, peaceful, and prosperous. They all say they want to accomplish this through change. And they all have their own individual concepts as to how to effect that change—through hard work, through hope, through unity, through experience, through new ideas, through a new realism, through leadership, through action, through principles, through faith, through bipartisanship, through reawakening, through courage and boldness . . . and on and on.

Well, those are all great things, and those are all necessary. And certainly we want a President who will exhibit all those qualities and make all those commitments. Like everyone else, every four years, I enter the voting booth and mark my ballot for a future that I want to see for myself, for my family and friends, for my students and colleagues, and for my community and country.

But you know what? I’ll make a confession. I don’t look even to such a high office as President of the United States for my greatest hope and faith in the future of this country and this world. Where I look is right under my nose, every day, in my work in higher education and in my work at this great university. Where I look for the brightest future is straight out at you—the graduates of The University of Iowa!

You want to find people who have worked hard and accomplished much? Well, here you are!

You want to find people full of new ideas and optimism? Well, here you are!

You want to find people who give us hope for a humane, peaceful, and prosperous world? Well, here you are!

You want to find those with the talent to lead us into a remarkable future? Well, here you are!

In a couple of weeks, the people of Iowa will gather in their church basements, school gymnasiums, community centers, and library meeting rooms to caucus for their hopes and dreams. In a little less than a year, everyone across the country will enter the voting both and declare their choice for the best person to lead us into a positive future. But today, we do something even more powerful. We gather here, in this arena, to confer upon you a college degree, and to send you and your vision and your talents off into the world to make it a much, much better place.

Today, I’m voting for you!

That’s why I’ve spent my entire career in higher education, that’s why I’ve spent a lot of decades (never mind how many) in public universities, and that’s why I’ve come to Iowa—and to today’s ceremony at Carver Hawkeye Arena. I place my faith, my hope, my optimism, my trust, our future—in you.

That great educator Maria Montessori once said, “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.” Although I have the strongest belief in democracy and our political system, I would even revise Montessori’s statement to say, “Establishing a bright future is the work of education; all politics can do is give us a few tools.”

My charge to you today is to honor the confidence that all of us gathered here have placed in you, the confidence that you are the leaders of all our tomorrows. And that leadership starts today.

So congratulations once again. And thank you, as graduates of this magnificent institution, for being—once and always—the greatest of Iowa Hawkeyes!