PROVIDENCE — In unprepared remarks to thousands who first knew her as governor, US Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo encouraged the newest class of Brown University graduates to “stick around” for the betterment of Rhode Island.
“If you’re going to start a business . . . you want to be an entrepreneur? Do it in Providence. You want to be a doctor? Practice in our amazing hospitals,” said Raimondo shortly after receiving an honorary degree from Brown during its commencement ceremony on Sunday. “You want to run for office? We could use a few good politicians.
“I hope you’ve come to love this fabulous, edgy, culturally diverse city called Providence,” continued Raimondo. “You know, you can’t all go to New York or San Francisco. Some of you ought to stick around. Stay here, contribute to Rhode Island. And if you do, it’ll be a better place.”
Raimondo served as the governor of Rhode Island starting in 2015 and through the COVID-19 pandemic, where she was often credited for her leadership in reopening the economy, keeping schools open, and implementing public health measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
“I think the students graduating today may remember you most as our governor during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Brown president Christina H. Paxson after she presented Raimondo with an honorary degree. “We tuned into your press conferences daily for the best data-driven guidance on what we should be doing, and I think many people here will remember you most best for never being afraid tell us to just ‘knock it off.”
On cue, Dr. Megan Ranney, deputy dean of Brown’s School of Public Health, opened her robes to unveil the iconic “Knock it Off” t-shirt created by the artists at the Frog & Toad shop.
Paxson said Raimondo was given an honorary degree on Sunday for her “commitment to the American people,” “impact on the state of Rhode Island,” and her “exemplary leadership.”
The first woman to be elected governor in Rhode Island, Raimondo has “blazed a path for women in politics, leading with the bipartisanship and vision that inspired positive change,” said Paxson.
In early 2021, Raimondo was tapped to become commerce secretary by President Biden in 2021 where she has been focused on job growth, advocating for entrepreneurs to innovate, and ensuring the passage of the Chips and Sciences Act that is said to create jobs and strengthen America’s supply chain.
One of Biden’s most trusted and influential Cabinet officials, Raimondo challenged the Brown graduates to think about going into public service at some point during their careers.
“You could run for office — it’s not for the faint of heart,” said Raimondo. “You could serve in state government, serve in the federal government, serve in the military, you could run for city council, you could work in city hall or town hall. Or heck, get involved in your neighborhood school committee.”
“We have a lot of issues that we, together, have to deal with: income inequality; in many ways, a deeply challenged health care system; threats to our democracy, threats to our way of life,” she said. “They can all be solved . . . if you guys get in the game.”
While leading Rhode Island through the pandemic, Raimondo spent a lot of time with Rhode Island National Guard Major General Christopher P. Callahan, who she said would often use the common military phrase: “No one else is coming behind us. It’s up to us.”
“That’s the deal, guys,” Raimondo told graduates. “Think about public service because you have the talent, the ambition, the ideas to make our democracy stronger, to make our country better. And to realize the equality that this country should promise to all.”
“I have always thought that Rhode Island — this tiny but mighty state — was so lucky to have Brown University. In our small state, we have this amazing institution,” said Raimondo. “What would make us even luckier, is if a few of you stuck around in Rhode Island.”