The Lieutenant Governor delivered the keynote address at the University of Washington’s commencement ceremony for the Community, Environment, and Planning program last Saturday.
Housed in the College of Built Environments, the Community, Environment, and Planning program takes an interdisciplinary approach to community issues and planning, and students finish the program with a capstone project of their design. Projects ranged from redesigning Seattle intersections to be more bike-friendly, to using photography in elementary schools to encourage K-12 interest in the environment — a wide variety of approaches to the common goal of conscientious community planning.
The Lt. Governor spoke to the class’ common civic ethos by offering advice for both personal success, and for making an impact on the world.
On personal professional development, the Lt. Governor urged students to stay in contact with their instructors in the years to come. The Community, Environment, and Planning program, with a close-knit cohort of 38 students this year, represents a great opportunity for mentorship, and the Lt. Governor advised students to continue to seek out their advice past graduation.
The Lt. Governor also cautioned students against the reflexive distaste many young people have towards politics, and advised them to engage with the political process in order to enact the changes they want to see. “If you want your policy ideas to be heard,” he said, “get to know those who will make changes. Or run for office yourself.”
On larger goals, and on making an impact in the future, the Lt. Governor offered the following three value statements: pursue greater inclusion; tackle pockets of injustice; and use your privilege for good.
The Lt. Governor used his own story to illustrate the importance of inclusion. Excluded at various instances throughout his childhood due to blindness, the Lt. Governor had the experience of repeatedly needing to demonstrate that activities like recess, field trips, and geography class all had the capacity to be inclusive of a blind person. Similarly, he said, in these dense urban environments in which we live, and in which students will likely go on to plan, maintain a commitment to inclusivity — seemly small decisions in urban planning have the potential to affect the lives of hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of people.
The Lt. Governor also acknowledged that large community issues – solving homelessness, traffic congestion, or climate change — can seem overwhelming. He offered this strategy for tackling such large-scale issues: identify “pockets of injustice,” within the whole, and solve those issues piece by piece. As one example, the Lt. Governor described the advocacy he pursued to make U.S. paper currency distinguishable by touch, and hence accessible to the blind. The issue, relatively unknown in the public consciousness, has the potential to affect tens of thousands of Americans – and now, due in part to this advocacy, the new $10 bill will not only feature a woman for the first time, but will also be the first U.S. bill to include a tactile feature to make it distinguishable by touch.
In closing, the Lt. Governor offered a final challenge to students — to use whatever privileges they possess to expand opportunities for others. The Lt. Governor added that while it is fashionable to identify privilege, much more meaningful is to put that privilege into practice – by elevating discourse on public policy, by educating elected officials, and by moving communities toward greater inclusion.
“Don’t ‘check your privilege at the door’,” the Lt. Governor said, “It’s handy. Put it to use.”