On Sunday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was one of three commencement speakers at Wake Forest University.
He began his pre-recorded speech by quoting acclaimed poet Maya Angelou, who taught at the university for more than 30 years.
"You may not control all the events that happened to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them," recited Buttigieg. "Be certain, she said, that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity."
These words, he said, are especially relevant for the class of 2021, as they were forced to complete their degrees during a global pandemic and must now address significant challenges in their adult lives.
"Perseverance has served you well in your time at Wake Forest. And it's going to be even more needed to come in this season that is ahead in your lives and in the life of the United States," said the secretary. "The past year has exposed deep fractures in the foundations of American life. We see a pandemic, far from over, after claiming the lives of 582,000 Americans and counting, with communities of color suffering the brunt of the public health and economic consequences. We see a worldwide reckoning over racial justice that calls attention to centuries-old patterns of violence and abuse. We're seeing wildfires, hurricanes and other climate disasters that mount as a gathering threat that will only get worse if we don't act. We even see threats to our democracy itself."
He ended his speech hoping that the challenges ahead would inspire recent graduates to make the most of their skills and talents.
"Rarely does history assign so many forms of urgent work to a single generation. And yet, here you are," said Buttigieg. "The potential for your usefulness to humanity is not in question. All that is in question is exactly how you will rise to this occasion."
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