Vice President Kamala Harris congratulates students during Tennessee State University's graduation ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Photo by Alan Poizner/UPI | License Photo
May 7 (UPI) -- Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday told students to "follow your moral compass" during her commencement speech at Tennessee State University.
Harris told Tennessee State students that the world they were graduating into "is unsettled" and referenced the war in Ukraine as nearly 600 graduates walked the stage at Hale Stadium, according to a White House transcript of her speech.
"It is a world where long-established principles now rest on shaky ground," Harris said. "We see this in Ukraine, where Russia's invasion threatens international rules and norms that have provided unprecedented peace and security in Europe since World War II."
Harris said that Americans had believed that "the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity had, for the most part, prevailed" but that now the fundamental principles of democracy, such as equality and fairness, are being called into question.
"Inequality has always, sadly, existed in our world. The gaps between the rich and the poor, men and women, the global north and global south have existed throughout our history," Harris said.
"And through this pandemic, the gaps have become much larger. Globally, extreme poverty is on the rise, as is extreme wealth."
Harris congratulated students for graduating despite having traveled a "stony road" through the COVID-19 pandemic that affected their college experience.
In her speech, the vice president also appeared to quickly address the recent leak of a draft opinion from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito seeking to overturn Roe vs. Wade and a ruling from a federal appeals court temporarily reinstating a controversial Florida voting law.
"Graduates, I look at this unsettled world and, yes, I then see the challenges, but I'm here to tell you, I also see the opportunities. The opportunities for your leadership. The future of our country and our world will be shaped by you," Harris said.
Harris told students that she never attended Tennessee State but, like them, had graduated from a historically Black college or university (HBCUs) - which she referred to as "cathedrals of education." She graduated from Howard University in 1986.
"I stand before you today as the Vice President of the United States of America and as a proud graduate of an HBCU to say: There is no limit to your capacity for greatness," Harris said.
"And there is no obstacle you cannot overcome, and there is no barrier you cannot break."
Before her speech, graduates told a university publication that they were "grateful" to have Harris speak during their commencement ceremony.
Tiara Thomas, a student trustee on the TSU Board of Trustees who will receive her bachelor's degree in political science, said that "overjoyed is an understatement."
"I am so grateful to have a woman like Vice President Harris who has been exactly where I've been, step by step, as an HBCU grad, and is where I'd like to be someday," she said. "This has pushed my TSU experience over the top."