Donna Brazile said her family was so poor growing up in New Orleans that they became waterfront property owners after every significant rainfall. But, she said, she never lost hope.
“It just goes to show that girls can aim high and be all that you can be,” Brazile, a political strategist, analyst and author, told 101 graduates during Jarvis Christian College’s 2019 Commencement Ceremony.
Brazile, the first African American woman to lead a mainstream presidential campaign, implored graduates to never lose hope but it must be accompanied by faith and action.
“Choose hope because hope is God’s gift to help counter discouragement, to dissolve cynicism and despair. Choose hope and believe that you can be the change that you want to see,” Brazile said.
Brazile, who worked to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday, said it would be up this this generation to get to the mountaintop. She also told graduates they must be willing to speak the truth to power.
“You can’t sit down and get anything. You’ve got to get up. You’ve got to step up, and sometimes you can’t wait for somebody to call. You’ve just got to be there because they know you should be there. And don’t wait for somebody to give you a seat at the table. Bring your own folding chair.”
She told graduates that they must prepare to act. “You can pray over a pile of bills and when you open your eyes the bills are going to still be there. Prayer works, but it always must be accompanied by hope, faith and action. God expects action,” Brazile said.
Brazile, a Louisiana State University graduate, also serves as a college professor, has served as interim chair of the Democratic National Committee and recently signed on as a political commentator for Fox News. She served as campaign manager for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign. She also worked for other Democratic presidential candidates - Jesse Jackson and Walter Mondale in 1984 and Dick Gephardt in the 1988 Democratic primary.
Brazile implored graduates to embrace their responsibility as leaders.
“You soon will be in charge. Whether it’s as a national leader or a small-business owner, or as a neighborhood leader, the responsibility for what happens next will be yours.”
Brazile has been active in Democratic politics since her teens. She was a volunteer for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaigns in 1976 while in high school and in 1980 as an LSU student.
She has twice served as interim chair of the Democratic National Committee - in the spring of 2011 and again from July 2016 until February 2017. She also has served as vice chair of the DNC. Following her presentation, Brazile said she was done with running campaigns and would likely opt to be a party elder. She declined to identify her choice for the Democratic nomination.
“It’s still early,” she said, “And the race is wide open.”
Brazile was a weekly contributor and political commentator on CNN’s The Situation Room and appeared on American Morning and its successor, New Day. She regularly appeared on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon and frequently appeared on Anderson Cooper’s guest panel of political experts on CNN’s election coverage. She also served as a contributing writer for Ms. Magazine and a columnist for Roll Call.
Brazile also is the author of Cooking with Grease – Stirring the Pots in American Politics, her memoir of her life and work in politics. She noted that her parents put eight of their nine children through college, and their achievement was significant.
“Generations of men and women have struggled just to see this day, that you appear on this stage with your diploma. We are proud of you.”