Considered by many of her College friends the last person who would end up in politics, Wu described as life-altering the post-graduation experience of moving home to Illinois to care for her mother and her younger sisters, and opening a small business to help support the family. She learned “how so many of the systems we had to interact with weren’t designed for people like my family.” The lesson turned her toward politics.
Wu graduated from Harvard Law School in 2012 and was elected to the Boston City Council in 2013 at the age of 28, becoming the first Asian American woman to serve on the legislative body. In January 2016, her colleagues elected her president in a unanimous vote, making her the first woman of color to lead the council. During her tenure, she helped pass legislation for paid parental leave, climate resiliency, housing stability, food justice, and workers’ rights. She also helped develop the city’s Green New Deal, a roadmap for how Boston can mitigate the threats of climate change.
In her brief remarks, Wu advised the graduates to seize their own truth by discovering what gets them “excited to wake up in the morning.” Wu said she finds her “greatest meaning in building community and helping change people’s perspective on what’s possible.” She encouraged her audience to “see what is truly real,” by engaging with the world around them. In her role as mayor, Wu regularly rides the MBTA, in part because she is a “transit nerd,” she confessed, “but also because there’s no better way to get expertise in transit policy and to experience the system you’re trying to improve day in and day out.” Seek out experts who know more than you do, Wu added, and ask questions. Finally, Wu cautioned her listeners about the perils of the misinformation age, urging them to “tell the truth when it’s hard … because fundamentally, speaking truth is the only way to build a foundation for trust. And that is what we are missing in our society in our democracy today.”
In closing, she encouraged the graduates to “harvest your imaginations to focus on the good we can do when we work together. And let’s let go of our instincts to protect the status quo. And harness your leadership and charisma and knowledge to help others do the same.”
Class Day falls on the day before Harvard’s official Commencement ceremony and features a guest speaker selected by members of the graduating class. Wednesday’s event included student speeches, remarks from the Harvard Alumni Association’s incoming president, Allyson Mendenhall ’90, M.L.A. ’99, and an address by Rakesh Khurana, Ph.D. ’98, Danoff Dean of Harvard College.