Kamala Harris addressed students about voter registration and more at the 2022 Fall Convocation at Smith Hammond Memorial Center.
ORANGEBURG, S.C. – U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday called on South Carolina State University students to register to vote and have their voices heard in the American democracy.
“To all the students here today I’m saying, there is no limit to your capacity for greatness,” Harris said. “There is no obstacle that you cannot overcome, and believe me, there is no barrier that you cannot break.
“And so as vice president of the United States, I urge you to seize on that, because in this moment, our nation needs your leadership,” she said.
Harris was the keynote speaker for SC State’s Fall Convocation, an annual event organized to officially welcome freshmen and transfer students to the university. At about 1,100 strong, this year’s class of incoming students is SC State’s largest in 15 years.
The vice president was greeted with rousing numbers from the SC State Marching 101 Band and enthusiastic students throughout Smith Hammond Middleton Memorial Center.
In her remarks, Harris described “uncertain times” in the U.S., saying such long-established ideals as free elections, women’s abilities to make decisions about their own futures, and what constitutes the truth all hang in the balance.
“In moments of great crisis, our nation has almost every time turned to our young leaders to help guide us forward,” she said.
The vice president pointed to examples of young leadership including the late civil rights icon and lawmaker John Lewis, who was 23 when he spoke during the March on Washington; Diane Nash, who was 21 when she led the Nashville sit-ins to protest racial segregation; and SC State’s own alumnus, U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn, who was in his early 20s when he was jailed for protesting for civil rights.
“We turn to you once again. Your nation turns to you, because to move America forward, we need you,” Harris said. “We need your passion, your purpose and your excellence.
“We need your leadership for so many reasons and on so many issues,” she said.
The vice president said that leadership is needed to help grow the U.S. economy, to protect the planet, to drive innovation and to fight for equity and justice. Regarding climate change in particular, she said the country needs more engineers to design more efficient solar panels, architects to design sustainable houses and communities, and more climate scientists to model the impact of rising seas and warming temperatures.
Harris noted the Biden administration’s commitment to helping students through college by increasing Pell Grant funding, investing nearly $6 billion in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), including SC State, and cancelling student debt.
“But we’ve got to do more,” Harris said. “As an HBCU graduate, I am fully aware that 75% of HBCU students rely on Pell Grants. We need your advocacy to continue push forward on very substantial issues like that, because it makes a difference and the details matter,” she said.
Harris pointed to needs for increased access to higher education and health care and the need to curb gun violence. She also called on students to support the administration’s legislative agenda.
“We need to pass a law to protect a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body without government interference,” she said. “We need to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to protect voting rights in every state.”
Noting that Tuesday was National Voter Registration Day, Harris concluded her remarks by encouraging students to register to vote and to vote in the Nov. 8 general election.
“Because there is an important election in 49 days, and so much of what we discussed here is on the line,” Harris said. “Your vote is your voice, and we need you to lead America forward, and President Biden and I will be with you every step of the way.”
Tuesday was Harris’s second visit to SC State, having stopped at the campus on the campaign trail in 2019. She was accompanied by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who also visited the campus last month. Cardona also addressed Tuesday’s crowd and touted the successes of HBCUs.
For more information about voter registration in South Carolina, visit sc.votes.sc.gov.