Vice President Kamala Harris packed her nearly 19-minute speech at Tennessee State University’s commencement ceremony on Saturday.
In addition to congratulating the graduates on their accomplishments, she acknowledged the long-standing struggles faced by many of those who attend historically black colleges and universities and their families.
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Harris also spoke about politics, warning graduates of the challenges she anticipates they will face, and hope they can resolve, in what she called the “unstable” world they are entering.
Here are some of the most important — and controversial — topics mentioned by Harris.
The war in Ukraine
“There’s also no denying that your class has come down a rocky road,” Harris told the Class of 2022. The world you’re graduating in is unstable, she added.
“We see that in Ukraine,” Harris said, referring to the now 10-week war that began when Russia invaded the eastern European country on February 24. The war — and the Biden-Harris administration’s response to it — captured the nation’s attention. .
Harris said Russia’s invasion threatened “international rules and norms”.
Kamala Harris on Roe vs. Wade
She also referenced the heated abortion debate that was reignited when news broke earlier this week that the United States Supreme Court was set to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion nationwide.
“Here in the United States, we are once again compelled to stand up for fundamental principles that we had hoped had been established for a long time; principles like the freedom to vote, the right of women to make decisions about their own bodies, which constitute the truth,” she said. as the sea of blue caps in front of her roared.
Harris chided Republican lawmakers and conservative justices earlier this week when she argued abortion access would be severely limited in nearly half the country if Roe v. Wade was canceled.
The gap between rich and poor
The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the widening gap between rich and poor, with black households generally falling further behind their white peers — a type of inequality that seems to have always existed, Harris noted. .
“The gaps between rich and poor, men and women, the global North and the global South, have existed throughout our history. And through this pandemic, the gaps have become much greater. Globally, extreme poverty is on the rise, as is extreme wealth,” she says.
Misinformation + the future of technology
Harris also argued that “what constitutes truth” is under attack as rampant misinformation online further divides the politically divided country.
“What constitutes truth, especially in a time when anyone can post anything online and say it’s fact?” Harris asked.
The White House has singled out social media companies, accusing them of “killing people” for allowing misinformation about the pandemic to spread.
She said the Class of 2022, who “grew up online,” will be tasked with building the future of tech
“Graduates, you stand on the edge of a new frontier, where we are building the platform for the next phase of technology…where we are defining these fundamental principles that will underpin the 21st century,” she said. .
Voting rights + climate crisis
Harris also told the graduates that the nation was once again ‘forced to stand up for fundamentals that we had hoped were long established,’ like the freedom to vote, and challenges that were never resolved, like the growing threat of change. climatic.
Voting restrictions have emerged in many states since Republicans and former President Donald Trump claimed the 2020 election was in jeopardy, but Democratic legislation aimed at countering recent state restrictive measures has stalled l ‘last year.
The Biden-Harris administration has also vowed to tackle climate change, with the president’s latest budget proposal signaling a commitment to tackling global warming, but Russia’s war with Ukraine also threatens global energy supplies. .
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What didn’t she mention? Student loan debt
A subject that the vice-president did not mention on Saturday? Student loans.
More than 41 million borrowers haven’t had to make payments on their federal student loans since March 2020, and Biden recently extended the moratorium through Aug. 31, but the White Houe is facing growing pressure to offer widespread debt relief for student borrowers.
Meghan Mangrum covers education for the USA TODAY Network – Tennessee. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.
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