REMARKS AS PREPARED
Governor Kate Brown
University of Oregon Commencement Address
Monday, June 17, 2019
Thank you, President Schill, for those kind words of introduction.
Class of 2019 — It is a true privilege to be with you this morning, as you close one chapter of your life, and begin another.
I join with your family, friends, and the entire University of Oregon community in celebrating the years of hard work that led to the diploma you receive today.
And let me be clear in saying that first and foremost, today is a day for celebration. It is most definitely not a day for long speeches.
Indeed, when it comes to speeches, I have long been a fan of what Franklin Delano Roosevelt called “The Rule of 3 B’s”—Be brief. Be sincere. Be seated.
I do have to admit that no matter the length of the speech, delivering a commencement address is still a bit nerve-wracking. And when President Schill invited me to speak today, I immediately started to worry whether I could find words that you graduates would find helpful or inspiring.
And then I reflected on my own college graduation — more than 30 years ago at the University of Colorado. As it turns out, no matter how long I tried, for the life of me I couldn’t remember who gave the commencement speech or a single word of what they said. I took that as a sign of a very uninspiring speaker. My spouse told me it was a sign of old age.
In hopes that you might remember some of what I said today, I did some research to find inspirational nuggets offered by some well-known commencement speakers.
Here’s the guidance that actress Amy Poehler offered at another university: “Even though as a class you are smart, you are still allowed to say “I don’t know.” Just because you are in high demand, you are still allowed to say, “Let me get back to you.” This will come in handy when your parents ask when you plan to move out of their basement and you can answer, “I don’t know. Let me get back to you.”
As it eventually turned out, three events occurred in the past few weeks that crystallized what I wanted to say this morning. They were events that caused me to think about three remarkable Oregonians who have long served as inspirations to me, and who have set examples, that, if followed, will ensure that your futures will be bright and fulfilling.
The first event was just down the road in Lebanon, at the commencement ceremonies of the College of Osteopathic Medicine. I had the pleasure of speaking alongside Governor Barbara Roberts, who, in 1990, shattered a glass ceiling when she became the first woman to be elected Governor of Oregon.
Barbara became involved in public service in the mid-1960s as a mother and a housewife. The local school district informed her that they would not provide her son, Mike, who was autistic, with a public education. With absolutely no experience in politics, she began to lobby for a change in the state’s education laws. And she didn’t stop until the Oregon legislature became the first in the country to pass a law requiring educational access for children with special needs.
That law would change the lives of thousands of Oregon families, and it would start Barbara on a path that would begin with her election to the local school board, and end with her election as Oregon’s governor.
Here are the words that Governor Roberts shared with those graduates: “The first political success for my son cemented my belief that if your cause is just and you are determined enough, and sometimes even brave enough, one person can make a difference.”
I share those words with you today because there will be a time in your life or career when you will be called upon to stand on principle, to stand against the crowd, or to act when someone’s rights are at risk. When that happens, remember the example of Governor Barbara Roberts, and, in the words of someone who is a very good friend to this University, “Just do it.”
The second event that kept running through my mind as I thought about today, was the commemoration this month of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Like many of you, I marveled again at the courage, tenacity, and sacrifice exhibited by those young American soldiers.
Thinking about those true heroes led me to recall the words of another predecessor of mine in the Oregon Governor’s office. His name was Tom McCall, and his impact and influence on our state still reverberate some 83 years after he graduated from this university, and some 44 years after he left the Governor’s office.
It was Governor McCall who moved Oregon to the front lines of the environmental revolution. He championed a bill that forever protected public ownership of Oregon’s beaches. He fought for changes that brought what was then a very endangered and polluted Willamette River off its deathbed -- restoring it to the treasure it now is for this city and our state.
Governor McCall said, “Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky. They are individuals who say, ‘This is my community and it is my responsibility to make it better.’”
Class of 2019, my hope and prayer for each of you is that you will not have to earn the title of hero on a battlefield. Rather, you will earn it in classrooms, city halls, or courtrooms, where you can give your time and talents to make your community better.
The third and final moment I share with you occurred just a few days ago—on Thursday, when a memorial plaque was dedicated on the grounds of the State Capitol in Salem honoring the life and legacy of Dave Frohnmayer.
I know many of you are familiar with Dave’s incredible record of accomplishment, but it is worth repeating.
Quite simply, Dave Frohnmayer was one of the finest individuals I ever met, and one of the finest this state ever produced.
Born and raised in Medford 79 years ago next month, Dave attended Harvard, Oxford, and UC Berkley, before moving home to Eugene to teach at this university’s law school.
Eugene residents elected him to serve three terms in the Oregon House of Representatives. He was then elected Oregon’s attorney general in 1980, and was re-elected in ‘84 and ‘88.
Not once, but twice, in his run for attorney general, Dave received the nomination of both the Republican and Democratic parties. That is how much his work was respected.
Dave narrowly lost the Governor’s race to Barbara Roberts in 1990, which turned out to be a great benefit to this University, as he returned here to serve as law professor, dean of the law school, and then 15 years as a transformative President of this University of Oregon.
Dave brought honor, integrity, and intelligence to each position in which he served. But, he also knew that his most important role was that of husband and father. He and his wife Lynn established the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund, which has raised millions of dollars for medical grants. And it is on the trail of finding a cure for the disease that claimed the life of three of their daughters.
Dave lost his own battle with prostate cancer a little over 4 years ago at the very young age of 74.
I often find inspiration in his resolute and eloquent voice, which rings loud and clear in the words of his speeches. There are many paragraphs that I would like to share with you, but perhaps, in the time we find ourselves in now, these words are the most relevant and the most important:
“Passionate dissent is expected and welcomed in political debates, but it must be balanced with mutual respect. Where politics divides, common humanity should unite. Maintaining an even temperament, avoiding needless overstatements and simplifications, and appreciating the power of humility could help restore that balance. If those rules guided our politicians’ speech, Republicans and Democrats just might be able to shake hands, agree to disagree, and work toward a common solution…”
Class of 2019, the lives and careers of Barbara Roberts, Tom McCall, and Dave Frohnmayer stand as testimony to the fact that one person—one dedicated person with good ideas—can change the world.
There is no reason why that person shouldn’t be you.
The world is your home. Commit yourself to home improvement.
There is no shortage of projects. Pick one: a cause, a candidate, a child.
Build community. Foster hope, progress, and innovation. Shine your light into dark and difficult places.
If five or 25 years from now, someone asks who gave the commencement speech at your graduation, I don’t give a damn if you don’t remember my name. But I do hope you say “She challenged me to stand up for my principles and for justice. She challenged me to make my community better. She challenged me to respect others and to work toward common solutions.”
Your education at this great University of Oregon has given you the tools needed to rise to these challenges. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
Congratulations and go Ducks!