Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, addressed the University of Baltimore School of Law’s 86th commencement on Monday, May 20, 2013. The Baltimore native also received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.
Pelosi grew up with politics. Her father, Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., served as mayor of Baltimore from 1947-59 after representing the city for five terms in Congress. Her brother Thomas D'Alesandro III also served as mayor, from 1967-71.
Leader Pelosi has represented San Francisco in Congress for 25 years. She has led House Democrats for a decade and from 2007 to 2011 served as Speaker of the House. She is the first woman to do so in American history.
The Christian Science Monitor wrote in July 2010: "[M]ake no mistake: Nancy Pelosi is the most powerful woman in American politics and the most powerful House Speaker since Sam Rayburn a half century ago."
Speaking before a packed house at The Lyric, Pelosi recalled that as a girl she used to visit the venue on Wednesday evenings with her mother and on Saturdays with her classmates to hear the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
She also mentioned that another prominent Baltimorean, future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, had celebrated his high school graduation at The Lyric.
It was Marshall who, in 1954, argued for the named plaintiff—the father of student Linda Brown—in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. The Topeka, Kansas, third grader was refused enrollment at her neighborhood school because she was black. On May 17 of that year, the Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional.
"I was in eighth grade, and I remember it so well," Pelosi said of that day. "[My father] went on TV that night and he said, 'This is the law of the land and it will be enforced and honored in Baltimore, Maryland.'"
The Baltimore Board of Education "had the courage" to make the city's school district the first south of the Mason-Dixon Line to desegregate its schools, Pelosi emphasized.
Leader Pelosi called on UB's graduates to help restore confidence in American democracy.
"Our Founders envisioned a government ... of the many, not the government of the money," she said. "And it is our task—yours as lawyers, mine as an elected official, ours together as citizens—to restore confidence in our politics and our government."
Continued Pelosi: "With your leadership, we must increase the level of civility in politics and reduce the role of money, and when we do, I promise you this, we will elect more women, more minorities, more young people to public office much sooner. That's a ... wholesome thing for our great country."
As the ceremony concluded, Pelosi told the 2013 law school graduates: "I am honored to be a member of your class, and as you go forward remember that you have a friend and a classmate in the Capitol of the United States."