U.S. Secretary of Transportation and former presidential candidate Peter P. M. Buttigieg ’04 emphasized the generation-defining nature of the current political moment in a speech at the Harvard Kennedy School’s virtual graduation ceremony Thursday.
Introduced by Dean of the Kennedy School Douglas W. Elmendorf as a “dedicated public leader,” Buttigieg opened his speech by calling the pandemic, confrontations with racism, and climate change the issues that make the current moment “so difficult, so sensitive, so dangerous.”
Although he never attended the Kennedy School, Buttigieg said he spent a lot of his time as an undergraduate working at the school’s Institute of Politics. He spoke about his experience within the school, and told the graduates he was sorry that their experience had to be through a screen.
“I hope you carry the effects of this disrupted season in your lives as a kind of propulsion, a reminder of the importance of the service to which you have been called,” he said.
He compared the feelings of the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic to 9/11, a disaster that his class faced during their time at Harvard. As in the current moment, his class sensed, but didn’t fully grasp, how much of an impact the disaster would have on the world, he noted.
“I do think it’s important to mark the fact that the very thing that has disrupted your experience at the Kennedy School — along with so many other crushing effects in your lives and across the world — can also be a remarkable source of purpose in the public lives that are ahead of you,” he said.
Buttigieg spoke about the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, American Jobs Plan, and American Families Plan.
“Any one of these three endeavors taken individually would be a historic undertaking,”he said. “Collectively, they comprise the greatest investment in our country and people in generations.”
He compared the Biden administration’s plans to efforts of the past, including Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Teddy Roosevelt’s Square Deal, and Harry Truman’s Fair Deal. He called Biden’s packages the “Big Deal.”
“There’s no denying that their emergence represents a new window of what is possible in this country — a window different in scope and scale, from the limits on our thinking just two years ago,” he said. “The ‘Big Deal’ is based on a big ambition, to demonstrate how good government can indeed do big and good things, and do them well.”
Buttigieg concluded his remarks by noting the graduates’ generation has more experience and lessons learned than previous generations.
“I am eager to see how you will use the wisdom you have learned here to serve your countries, the places you call home, and our kind — humanity — in this decisive time,” he said.
—Staff writer Isabel G. Skomro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @isabelskomro