Multimedia — May 22, 2012

2012 Commencement Address: Congressman Earl Blumenauer


The Honorable Earl Blumenauer, U.S. Representative for Oregon's Third District, address the Class of 2012 at the May 20 Commencement ceremony.

PNCA proudly graduated over 100 undergraduate students and 25 graduate students from eight undergraduate and two graduate programs on May 20, and the 2012 Commencement Address was delivered by Congressman Earl Blumenauer.

A lifelong resident of Portland, Oregon, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-3) has devoted his career to public service. While still a student at Lewis and Clark College, he spearheaded the effort to lower the voting age both in Oregon and at the national level. He was elected to Oregon Legislature in 1972, where he served three terms and Chaired the House Education and Revenue Committee in 1977-78.

He was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1996, creating a unique role as Congress’ chief spokesperson for Livable Communities: places where people are safe, healthy, and economically secure. A leading environmental advocate both in Oregon and Congress, Congressman Blumenauer has authored and co-sponsored legislation to preserve and protect public lands, shift the nation’s energy policy towards renewable energy and energy efficiency, curb global warming, clean our nation’s water bodies, and many others. He has worked on specific bills such as The Little Sandy Protection Act (2001) which enhances and protects the Bull Run Watershed Management Unit, the source of drinking water for the Portland metropolitan area.

2012 Commencement Address: Earl Blumenauer

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2012 Commencement Address (transcript)

by Congressman Earl Blumenauer
U.S. Representative for Oregon’s Third District

Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today. I’ve been looking forward to this for some time. One of my staff sent me an email yesterday wishing me luck, and attached to it was an article about commencement speaking. It included a quotation from actor James Franco, who no longer accepts invitations for commencement speaking because, and I quote, “I don’t want to give a thankless speech to a bunch of ungrateful people who would criticize me and then forget the whole speech anyway.”

Well, there are risks inherent in a commencement speech, but they are totally outweighed by the opportunity to be part of an important shared experience with graduates and families, the institution and the community. I have a special interest in this moment, because your time at PNCA has been one of profound change. The college may be over a century old, but it’s most significant changes have been occurring during your time. Today, it has become the fastest-growing independent college of art and design in America. The stature of the institution, its diversity, and strength of the student body are demonstrated here before us today. You’ve already played a key role in the future of this institution. Because of people like you, supporters of the college have been willing to dream big, and invest heavily.

All of you share to a significant degree playing a role in what PNCA will become. As someone with a lifelong commitment to Portland, as Tom outlined, it’s important to acknowledge the difference that you’re making here. Bright young people, who could be anywhere else in the world from Seattle to Singapore, have chosen Portland. You have not just helped PNCA’s future, but you’re helping Portland be America’s best European City, right now.

I’m not talking about the Portlandia caricature, where young people come to retire, and we energetically organize the allergy pride parade or obsess about the living conditions of the chicken we’re about to eat. Some of this as you can imagine, cuts a little close to the bone. You remember when Fred and Carrie did the bit about artisan light bulbs? Honestly, couldn’t that have been a studio project at PNCA? I think so.

The Portland experience can have a profound impact on a student. I suspect that Steve Jobs, Reed College’s most famous dropout, learned more from his two years couch surfing in Portland than he did in the first semester classes he never finished. You are however, building a skill set, contributing to an institution and a community that are all reflecting where America needs to go. And where you need America to go.

In an era of profound challenges, and change that many times in the past people would take for granted—issues of healthcare, employment, retirement security—everybody needs to acknowledge that things are a little different right now. But lest I be accused of pessimism on what should be a day of celebration, let me be clear the challenges that we are facing are entirely within our power to address, and correct.

Some are certainly easier than others. The problem of healthcare, for instance, is not for a lack of knowledge, or a lack of money. We spend more money than any country on earth, often for mediocre results and Americans get sick more often, take longer to get well, and they die sooner. But at the same time, we have communities across America that are delivering high-quality health care at lower costs including, I’m proud to say, Portland Oregon. The Obama administration just bet 1.9 billion dollars that we in Oregon led by our Governor John Kitzhaber can deliver on the basics of health care reform with better outcomes and lower costs.

We could discuss American spending on the defense budget, where again we spend almost more than the rest of the world combined. It’s an area where we could easily save hundreds of billions of dollars just by right-sizing our nuclear arsenal and use the savings to rebuild and renew America, strengthen education and, by the way, still be the most powerful nation Earth. We could talk about agricultural policy, where we could save billions of dollars that flow to large agribusiness that don’t need it and don’t deserve it. Instead we could be helping more farmers and ranchers, protect the environment, grow healthy food and make it accessible to people, particularly our children, stopping the supersizing of them.

Those are just three simple examples of where we can take the opportunity to bend the cost curve, create hundreds of thousands of family-wage jobs, and improve the quality of life. For each of these problems, and more, there is a path and there are adequate resources to do better while we reduce long-term costs. We are constantly however, proving the wisdom of Winston Churchill, who observed, “You can always count on the American people to do the right thing after they’ve exhausted every other possibility.”

This is where we need you. Some problems are going to be solved with time and experience. For instance, I’m confident there will be marriage equality in the United States within the decade. In part, it’s because people like you totally support it and don’t understand why it’s an issue. In part, because you are involved with communication to some of the older generation, helping them understand through reflection, media, and experience with your own friends and families. In fact as I think about it, it may not take ten years for marriage equality.

In a supercharged political climate, other issues are more of a challenge. Facts, if they matter at all, are in dispute. We are polarized and there is an aversion to compromise as perhaps never before seen in our history. There is some fascinating empirical research on climate change where people of one party, the better-educated they are, the more concerned they are, the more they believe in the science, and the impact that humans have on climate change. There is another party, where the better-educated the people are, the less they believe in the science and the more they doubt human causation.

Now put aside the merits of the arguments about climate change for a moment, and think about what that means: How are we ever going to solve problems in this hyper-partisan era where we are wired differently, when we think differently?

You are an important part of this solution. Because with your creativity, with your ingenuity, with your being able to portray ideas in ways that aren’t simply facts and figures, debate points and focus group-proven arguments, you’re able to help us build bridges about what people care about, what they feel, and what they hope for.

Then there is all this technology that you are steeped in. Now I don’t know if Facebook is one of the twenty-five most valuable companies in the country, but it does have over nine hundred million people who use it. That would represent the third largest nation in the world, more people than reside in North and South America combined. It’s part of a technological revolution where a year ago, we saw one young, frustrated man in Tunisia with a lighter, a cellphone, Facebook and YouTube, start shock waves of the Arab Awakening that are still playing out.

You live in this world and you understand, and you can manage it in a way where hundreds of millions of Chinese followed the drama of the blind dissident who made his way to freedom to the United States. Who could have imagined that a year or two ago?

Well, I don’t know about how much insight wisdom or enlightenment I can impart. One thing I can do this afternoon is to take what was supposed to be a twenty-minute speech on the agenda, and give you back 8 minutes. It might help you beat the crowd from the Timbers game so that you’ll get home tonight with more time to celebrate with family and friends.

But I would ask that you share with me one of those minutes right now, to reflect on the nature of our times, on the opportunities and challenges that you face, and are equipped to help us manage. How you will experience and accomplish ways to bring people together, fewer lawyers and lobbyists, and more artists, to make our communities more livable, our families safer, healthier, and more economically secure? I ask that you give me one minute to reflect on that. 

[60 seconds pause]

A minute can be a long time. Use yours wisely.

Thank you very much.

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