Vice President Kamala Harris told the incoming freshmen class at South Carolina State University (SCSU) on Tuesday that America needs their leadership at a time when many rights are being taken for granted.
Under threat, she said, are the freedom of voters to decide elections, the freedom of women to make decisions about their future and what constitutes. It was her second visit to the Orangeburg campus since her presidential run in 2019.
“In moments of great crisis our nation has almost every time turned to our young leaders to help guide us forward,” Harris told nearly 1,700 students, faculty and staff at the university’s Fall Convocation during which the university welcomed 900 newly enrolled freshmen, the largest class in 15 years.
Acknowledging the freshmen, the vice president said, “This is the beginning of a great journey. … You are going to have experiences that will shape the rest of your life. During your time here you will face challenges and through those challenges you will learn that you are strong enough, resilient enough and brave enough to overcome any obstacle.”
Harris recalled her freshman orientation at Howard University, another historically black university in Washington, D.C. When she arrived on the Howard campus, she said she didn’t fully understand the significance of the moment “where you are surrounded by people from different places and backgrounds who are joined by community. … You must feel the possibility of great opportunity. There is no limit to your capacity for greatness. As vice president of the United States, I urge you to seize upon that.”
Harris stepped on the stage at the Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center to cheers and applause. The 2,300-seat multi-purpose building is named in memory of teenagers Henry Smith, a sophomore from Marion, Samuel Hammond, a freshman from Florida, and Delano Middleton, an Orangeburg high school student, all of whom were shot to death in 1968 by S.C. state troopers during what became known as the Orangeburg Massacre.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona traveled with Harris, making his second visit in as many months to S.C. State. He acknowledged today’s visit came on the 10th anniversary of National Voter Registration Day.
Cordona roused the crowd by coaxing them to cheer loud enough so Harris could hear them backstage. He told the students that many civil rights and voting rights “are part of your DNA. Events like the Orangeburg Massacre remind us that we can’t take democracy for granted. Democracy just does not happen. We the people make it happen. It starts with registering to vote and making it easier to register to vote on campuses like this one.”
Before arriving at SCSU, Harris also had a private meeting with student leaders at Claflin University, which is next to the SCSU campus. At Claflin, the vice president also spoke about the importance of registering to vote. She also covered themes that included mental health, entrepreneurship, student loan debt forgiveness and climate change, topics she echoed in her address at SCSU.
At Claflin, the vice president said more than half of 18-24 year olds nationally voted in the 2020 election.
“These young voters at the time told us what they wanted. They put in an order of what they wanted to see in their country. They said they wanted to see college be more affordable, which includes knowing they could graduate from college, that they could leave college not being unduly burdened by student loan debt.”
Sam Watson, S.C. State’s public information officer, said if the growth trend continues the university’s current enrollment of 2,600 students could double in the next six to seven years.
Two Lowcountry college students who attended the Convocation service were inspired by the vice presidents’ remarks.
Tamela James, a 23-year-old S.C. State senior from Harleyvile, said, “She hit on a lot of great points. As vice president of the senior class, it helped me to realize that I am a leader.”
Twenty-year-old Jynesis Lee of Charleston, a senior at Claflin, said, “It is not often you get to be in the room with the first black female vice president of the United States. The message that she gave to everyone here was to be brave and resilient and to know that you are needed.”
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