Congresswoman Janice Hahn
Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science
Class of 2014 Commencement Address
May 31, 2014

Thank you, President Carlisle for that wonderful welcome.

Being in DC for much of my time, I have endured many cold, rainy and snowy days. This last winter, it seemed like the cold would never end, but as promised spring arrived in DC and the beautiful cherry blossoms, tulips and daffodils bloomed.
The seeds planted months ago, nourished by rain and sun, are, today, blooming for the whole world to see.

When I look out at all of you here today, I see a field full of flowers in bloom.

How did it happen?

Because, a little while ago, those who love you – or you on your own – decided to plant yourself here. And a nourishing rain – of ideas, of discussion, of questions and answers – came down.

The sustaining warmth of your professors, of your classmates, of your family and friends shined upon you.

And you grew and blossomed into the Charles R. Drew University graduates that you are today.
Congratulations to you all.

This school is the latest chapter of a great American story of renewal and growth. And your accomplishment is personal to me.

See, my father’s family moved to Los Angeles 95 years ago, in 1919. My dad – Kenny Hahn – grew up on South Flower Street, went to public schools, served our country during World War II, then returned to L.A. and started teaching.

He believed in people, in community, and in creating opportunity for others.

Soon after, my father saw that he could better serve his community and his neighbors through public service. He ran for the L.A. City Council, and at the time was the youngest person ever to win.

He later ran for L.A. County Supervisor and served this community for 40 years.

My dad was among many who helped nurture the robust growth of what we now know as greater L.A. County. This, too, was like the blossoms bursting forth from seeds planted and carefully tended. Even from sometimes-rocky soil.

As you all know, life isn’t easy.

For too many, the 1950’s and ’60’s were difficult. And this community faced some of the hardest challenges.
You know the history.

But spring follows winter. Peaks rise from valleys. And from anger and turbulence – years before you were even born – came change. And hope.

People decided that we had to come together, learn from mistakes, rededicate ourselves to our communities and respect and care for our neighbors.

Following the 1965 Watts rebellion that wreaked havoc on this community, the McCone commission offered recommendations for "emergency" literacy and preschool programs, improved police-community ties, increased low-income housing, and access to critical health-care services that were not available to local families.

In 1966, Charles Drew University sprang from these hopes with a promise of a better tomorrow for local families.

I’m proud to say that my father helped break ground on both the Martin Luther King Jr., General Hospital (now the new MLK Community Hospital) and the W. Montague Cobb Medical Education Building on the CDU campus; a few feet from where we are today. And he worked with the Board of Trustees and administration for years to define the CDU mission for patient care, education and research.

This story and your success have a lot in common. First: knowledge.
Second: values. Third: community. And Fourth: service to others.

Your CDU education was built on these four pillars. And my message to you today is very simple: these pillars have exact parallels in the world after CDU.

First: knowledge.

After spending years in study here,  you might not like hearing this, but none of us are truly living unless we continue to learn, to seek out knowledge.

This might not be easy, but it is simple. Be open-minded. Listen to others, and agree -- or agree to disagree.
In Congress, I work hard to reach across the aisle to the colleagues that I don’t always see eye to with.

One thing I’ve learned in Congress is how to become a better listener. And by doing so, I’ve learned a lot from what my colleagues have to say or offer.
Always be learning. It makes you a better person. It makes you more complete. It opens doors. It opens minds.

At work, as in life, being open-minded is key.

The second pillar: values.

You are the rising community leaders of tomorrow. But I have some news: the American people don’t hold a lot of American leaders in very high esteem today.  When I look at the approval ratings for Congress, which is somewhere around 9%, it looks like our support is down to friends and family.

We need to work harder to honor the values that make our country successful and a leading example to the world.

What are values? For some of you, it’s the time you spend tutoring kids less fortunate than you. For others, it’s the reason why you came here: you believed in CDU’s mission to seek social justice, promote wellness, and provide care with excellence and compassion. And you wanted to help carry that mission forward.

These core American values helped form the backbone of the Affordable Care Act – legislation designed to ensure that, no matter your affiliation, race or gender, you have a right to quality healthcare that you can afford.

Sound familiar?

It’s the same reason CDU was chartered almost 50 years ago!

For too long, this community lacked access to quality healthcare, and the MLK hospital and CDU was the answer. And so a community was renewed.

Renewal in America isn’t a new idea. From the people who landed at Plymouth Rock to today’s immigrants, people came here to use their freedom to build a better future than they could anywhere else.

You will play a big role in ensuring this American idea carries on.

The third and fourth pillars: community and service to others

These two are fundamental pillars in my life.

Some years ago, I made a decision to dedicate myself to public service – just like my father. I cared about our community too much to stand on the sidelines.

21 years ago, like my dad, I ran for a seat on the L.A. City Council. Unlike my dad, I lost. But I never gave up. My commitment to public service and community wouldn’t allow me to stand still. So I kept running for office, losing some and winning some.

And now here I am, a proud Member of the U.S. Congress, standing before you.

Success isn’t for the easily discouraged. But if you are truly invested in your community – in the people around you – your fight will be rewarded.

I know it wasn’t easy to make it to graduation today. But you did it.

And with your degree, you will be in a position where people look to you.

Dr. Martin Luther King reminds us that, “life's most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” As you walk off this campus, you have your answer. And this CDU degree will empower you to improve and sometimes save the lives of others.

And the nation is watching. After all, the size and demographics of the County make it a crucial laboratory for determining how to deliver life-saving services to people in the rest of the country.

Last week, we lost a great poet and a national treasure, Dr. Maya Angelou.
One of her famous quotes that resonates with me today is:
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
The simple take away from her words of wisdom: Be kind to one another.

Fifty years ago, a group of people – my dad included – gave their all to ensure that the people of Watts finally had the healthcare that they deserved.

I know you’re ready to give it your all. That you came to CDU proves it.

Let me close with this.
I believe the Class of 2014 can change this world for the better.

The new spirit of American leadership is here today. You are the agents of change for a better tomorrow.

The second thing I want to leave you with is that even if you feel that you got here on your own. I have a feeling that before today, someone, somewhere, supported you. Maybe it was a relative. A friend. Maybe it was a teacher from your childhood, or someone wise from the neighborhood.

Be sure to tell that person: “thank you.”

And thank the professors and administrators and everyone who makes up the Charles R. Drew community. They have been outstanding stewards of this wonderful institution. 

Fifty years ago, on this location, there was little but smoldering disillusion and shattered dreams. But it’s now spring here at CDU. And I see a field full of flowers in bloom.

You have a great future ahead of you. Because what you give is never in doubt. Because your character is steeped in seeking knowledge… in living with strong values… in giving of yourselves to your community and in service to others.

In you, the promise of Charles Drew University becomes real. What was once a dream now has a name and a face. Your name and your face.

To see your faces – your names – my father would be so proud.
I know that I am.

Congratulations to the Charles Drew University Class of 2014.
Now Go Change the World!
Thank you.



About Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science
CDU is a private, nonprofit, nonsectarian, minority-serving medical and health sciences institution. Located in the Watts-Willowbrook area of South Los Angeles, CDU has graduated more than 550 medical doctors, 2,500 post-graduate physicians, more than 2,000 physician assistants and hundreds of other health professionals. The only dually designated Historically Black Graduate Institution and Hispanic Serving Health Professions School in the U.S., CDU is recognized as a leader in translational and health inequities research, specifically with respect to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, mental health, and HIV/AIDS. Recently, the CDU/UCLA medical program was named the best performaer in the University of California System with respect to producing outstanding underrepresented minority physicians by the Greenlining Institute. For more information, visit


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