University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Okay, so what are your questions?  What’s going on?  How are you thinking about life?

STUDENT:  Really nervous right now.  (Laughter.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  What’s your name?

STUDENT:  Noah.  Nice to meet you.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Hi, Noah.  (Inaudible.) Well, listen, I — you know, I’ve been traveling around the country, and a lot of the work that I’ve been doing recently, now that all the COVID restrictions have lifted, has been to meet with students.  You guys are where it’s at.  I’m telling you, you guys are where it’s at.

STUDENT:  (Inaudible.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, you’re very — you’re very kind, but here’s what I want you to know: I need your leadership, and we need you to lead.  Okay?

When you look at what’s going on in our country right now, there is so much that is so foundational in terms of whether we are going to stand for our democracy, for the principles upon which we were founded, which was about freedom and liberty. 

I don’t need to tell you guys — we’ve come out of almost two years of a pandemic where we literally told people to isolate, and what that means in terms of people feeling alone. 

And, you know, when people feel alone, it can be very disempowering.  And the strength of our nation has always been: out of many, one; that we think of ourselves as having much more in common than what separates us.

And part of your leadership that I’m asking of you is to remind people about communities and about the whole and about the fact that we’re all in it together.  It’s so important.

And one of the other issues that I’m going to ask you to just really lead on is reminding everyone you know, including those who are active in terms of they’ve already gone past school, about the importance of the climate crisis.
You guys are going to pay the price for what we do or what we have not done on this issue.

I was just meeting with a group of people, talking about a conversation I had last night with the FEMA administrator — the head of FEMA — about what’s going on in Puerto Rico, how the island has been devastated by extreme weather.

And we’re seeing extreme weather in my home state of California — wildfires.  My brother-in-law is a firefighter.

Let me tell you — right? — what’s going on with people, evacuating entire communities because of these wildfires.  We used to talk about “wildfire season.”  Now it’s all year.

You look at hurricanes and floods. 

And so what we need to do — right? — it has to be about: Let’s save this planet, these precious resources that this planet has and it gives us to sustain life.

And I’m going to count on you guys to remind folks about the fact that — let’s not accept false choices, right?  Investing in a clean energy economy is about creating jobs.  It’s about ensuring that we also — that you all and your children and grandchildren will be able to breathe clean air and drink clean water.

The work that we need to do is about working with our partners around the globe, because — hey, I head up the Space Council.  Let me tell you something: I talk with astronauts from time to time who are up in space when I’m talking with them.  And the last group, because I was out in Houston, at the Johnson Space Center, and then I actually went for the Artemis launch in Florida.  Sadly, it didn’t go off as we planned; we delayed it. 
But I ask astronauts when I talk to them — some of them (inaudible) in space — and I say, “Tell me what, having been in space, has changed your perspective about this.”  And almost to a one, they tell me, “You’re in space looking at Earth and you realize how delicate it is and how fragile.”  Right? 
So, on this issue of the climate crisis, in addition to every other issue that you guys might address and think about in the context of the work of your government, the work of each of us — right? — as members of a democracy, how you think about what we need to be doing in a way that takes on some of these issues and dispenses with the unnecessary conflict and the, you know, partisanship, and it’s really about saying, “Hey, let’s band together on this, because we’re all in this together.”  It doesn’t matter who you voted for last time or who you vote for next time.  If we don’t come together on this issue, we’re all going to pay the price.
So, anyway, I just wanted to come by to tell you guys that I’m really proud of you for just embarking on your freshman year, except for one person — (laughter) — and just continue.  It’s an exciting time.  You guys are meeting and sitting next to each other that are going to end up being lifelong friends, I’m telling you. 
My freshman year, I met people who I ended up — you know, we ended up being — I’d be Godparent to their children.  Right?  People you’ll know your entire life. 
So, enjoy this experience.  And your big brains are like a sponge right now.  So just absorb it all.  Ask all the questions.  And just lead.  Just lead — because we need you guys.  Okay?  All right.  Thank you all.  (Applause.) 

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