Speeches and Statements

Rep. Murphy Final Honorary Degree Speech, College of William & Mary (Undergraduate Commencement)

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Washington, May 20, 2022 | comments
Chancellor Gates, President Rowe, Rector Little, members of the Board of Visitors, Ms. Hobson, faculty and staff, family and friends, and—most importantly—students in the class of 2022:   

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

This recognition is very special for me.  To receive it from Secretary Gates, whom I worked for at the Department of Defense and deeply respect, makes it even more special.

I love this school.  As it has done for so many young people, William & Mary changed my life.  Were it not for this college, I would not be where I am today.

I remember when I was accepted to William & Mary.  My parents were so proud.  You see, I’m a refugee from Vietnam.  When I was a baby, my parents, my brother, and I were rescued at sea by the U.S. Navy after our boat ran out of fuel during our attempted escape from our homeland.  We were given sanctuary, and then provided opportunity, in America.

Once we settled in Virginia, my parents worked multiple jobs to make ends meet.  They encouraged me to focus on my education.  The idea that their daughter would attend a prestigious college made all of their sacrifices worth it.

And they were so grateful that—because of William & Mary’s commitment to a diverse student body—I was offered a scholarship package that enabled me to become the first woman in our family to go to college.

I arrived on campus, not knowing what to expect, or whether I would fit in.  But my time here was transformative.  I learned so much from my peers and my professors.  I made wonderful friendships with people from all different backgrounds.  I acquired knowledge, developed character, and gained confidence.    And I had a ton of fun—all of it in strict compliance with both state and federal law.

I have a confession to make.  One thing I did not do was set foot inside this stadium.  I tailgated outside of it more times than I can—or care to—remember.  But I never went in and watched an actual game.  This is literally my first time here.  I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the Zable family.

As I’ve come to understand in retrospect, it was here in Williamsburg—a place so vital to the American experiment—that this abstract idea called the American dream began to feel real to me.

The American dream is rooted in a promise.  It’s a promise William & Mary helped fulfill in my life.  The promise is this:    

Regardless of how modest your upbringing . . .

Regardless of where your parents were born . . .

Regardless of your color or creed . . .

Regardless of your gender . . .

Regardless of whom you love  . . .

Regardless of all of these factors . . .

You can overcome the odds and achieve your personal and professional dreams.

To some degree, your success will depend on your own efforts.  But it helps so much to have people in your corner and a place that’s got your back

And that’s exactly what I had at William & Mary.

***

To the class of 2022, congratulations.  I have so much admiration for you.

In a sense, we’ve come full circle—together.

Do you remember me?  The Asian woman with the Irish name?  Because we’ve met before. 

Four years ago, in August of 2018, I spoke at your opening convocation.  Today, I’m speaking at your commencement. 

Back then, the college was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the admission of women to William & Mary.  Now, we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of the  admission of the first Asian student to the college.  In both cases, we honor trailblazers who overcame incredible obstacles. 

Four years ago, you were freshmen in college and I was a freshman Member of Congress.  We were bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and probably a little annoying. 

Soon after arriving in Congress, I even did my freshman orientation here at William & Mary.  Coming back to campus in a motorcade was a serious upgrade from my family’s over-packed station wagon.   

Now, you are leaving college and I am leaving Congress.  Both of us are about to begin our next adventure in life. 

As you may recall, your convocation was held on a scorching summer day.  It was so hot that the administration asked me to cut the length of my remarks in half, to minimize the chance any of you would pass out. 

Time for another confession.  I almost didn’t deliver that speech.  Fifteen minutes before I was scheduled to address you, my staffer lost the only copy of my remarks.  He left them—and I swear I’m not joking—at a urinal in the campus center. 

Needless to say, he’s no longer a member of my staff.  I fired him. 

Just kidding.  Actually, he’s since been promoted to my chief of staff.  As Secretary Gates has probably witnessed, some people in Washington, DC fail upwards.    

In all sincerity, when you and I gathered together in Wren Yard what feels like a lifetime ago, we could not have predicted what would transpire in the period that followed.  

Your time at William & Mary has coincided with one of the most difficult moments in memory. 

A global pandemic has caused terrible physical and emotional suffering.  A million Americans have lost their lives.  Some of you may have seen your loved ones suffer. 

The pandemic upended your college experience.  It spoiled sports seasons and semesters abroad.  It disrupted your personal lives.  You endured remote learning and social isolation.  You sacrificed to keep others safe and healthy.  Through it all, you showed strength and resilience.

Meanwhile, since we last met as fellow freshmen, our domestic divisions have only deepened.  Our politics are polarized to an alarming degree.  Our democratic institutions are under severe strain.  The Capitol—my workplace—was attacked.  At times, it feels like our union—which generations of William & Mary graduates fought to create and then to perfect—is coming undone.

You’ve been through a lot to get to graduation, and you are graduating into an uncertain world.  There are challenges everywhere you look. 

On the global stage, climate change threatens the only planet we have.  A Russian dictator has invaded democratic Ukraine, causing death and displacement, but also leading to inspiring acts of physical and moral courage by the Ukrainian people.   

Here at home, there is economic anxiety and gun violence, too often carried out by individuals with hate in their heart.

At troubled times like these, I am reminded of the adage that “there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”

Make no mistake:  you are what is right with America.  Our divided country, and our troubled world, need you terribly.  They need your intelligence and they need your integrity.

This amazing place, and the amazing people here, have prepared you well.    

So graduates:  You’ve made this place proud.  You’ve made the people who love you proud.  I know you’ll continue to live your life in a way that makes them proud. 

Thank you again for this extraordinary honor.  It means more to me than I can ever express.

Good luck and Godspeed.

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