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Wheaton College Commencement 2014

On May 17, 2014, Mary Anne Marsh was presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by her alma mater, Wheaton College. Her remarks follow.

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Thank you, Diane. Diane Nordin of Nordin Athletic Field fame. Thank you. Diane and I actually played field hockey together for several years. I was the goalie, so I spent several years looking at her back. Whenever I saw her face coming toward me it was never a good sign. Today, to have her next to me—by the way, as goalie, if she was behind me as she is now, that’s really bad. Except today. I couldn’t ask for anyone better and meaningful to be with me and to give me this honor. So thank you, thank you (She was good, too).

It’s wonderful to be here, President Crutcher, Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, Class of 2014, my classmates who are here at the reunion. Alumnae, alumni, family and friends, thank you for this honor.

The only thing more surprising than the Red Sox winning the World Series last fall is the fact that I am getting an honorary degree today. No one was more surprised, and there are so many more that deserve it. The fact is, 25 years ago today I was in a Winnebago parked across the street from the president’s house. We were trying to convince the Board of Trustees, some are here, to vote against the school going co-ed. We handed out hundreds of buttons that said “no men” on it. We had a plane fly overhead with a banner that said “no men.” Had the weather been better today, there would have been a plane involved. Not so much.

After months of flying across the country, town hall meetings and trying really hard, we lost. So you can see why I am surprised why I am here today. In fact, it was during that fight I did my first national TV interview, and it was several years after, just after that, that I started doing political analysis on TV. I always say what I believe no matter with without fear or favor. So why should today be any different?

It’s hard to argue with the success Wheaton has enjoyed since becoming a co-ed school. Rhodes scholars, Fulbright scholars, so much more money for so many more scholarships, better academic and, yes, athletic facilities. The list is long and the accolades are impressive.

But it’s also hard to argue with the lack of progress women have made in the last 25 years as well. Today, women still only make 77 cents to every dollar a man makes. Only 18.5 percent in Congress are women. Four-point-eight percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs are women. And only 16.9 percent sit on the corporate boards. Just this week, Jill Abramson, the first woman editor of the New York Times, who in three years helped lead the Times to eight Pulitzer prizes, found out she has made less than her predecessor. When she raised that matter, she was fired and called pushy and a bully on the way out the door. And, oh yeah, we haven’t elected a woman President of the United States yet, either. But if a certain woman runs and wins in 2016, she will be a graduate of a women’s college.

And the reason I am standing here today is because I’m a graduate of a women’s college, Wheaton College. The place that I loved as a student so many, so many, years ago, honors me today. Wheaton College helped me become who I am today, and there are two people here who were instrumental in that.

I have always loved politics for as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t until Jay Goodman’s 101 class that I knew I could spend my entire life doing politics. Imagine—people would pay me to do campaigns and talk about politics. Who knew? As a result, I’ve witnessed history, and been a small part of it and explained it as an analyst. I’ve worked for some of the greatest politicians, and I still get goose bumps every election night and every time I walk into the White House, and I always will. Jay has been a great friend, mentor, fellow campaign junkie and, yes, a Fox News viewer. Thank you so much, Jay, for everything. I know it wouldn’t have happened without you.

The other was Professor Darlene Boroviak, who turned my hatred of math into a love of statistics when I realized that’s how you win polls. Every crosstab, regression analysis; you name it, I did it in every poll. That’s why I have been so successful in campaigns and so hugely right on TV. It’s clear that what I learned at Wheaton is why I have a chance to talk about politics on TV, and why I get to talk to you today. Now there is nothing better than having a chance to speak your mind and having millions of people watch and listen. Lucky me. It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. There are. Just go through my Twitter feed or Google me. You will be criticized, ridiculed, ignored and marginalized, as much as you are praised, respected, recognized and honored. And it’s worth all of it.

And I think that’s why Wheaton is honoring me today. Not because I’ve changed my mind, but because I’ve spoken my mind, and that says a lot about Wheaton. To honor one of your own who has always been one of your critics is a lesson we should all embrace. We are all better for respecting the opinions of others, and there is too little of that today. But to honor one is exceptional. For that, Wheaton should be honored today as well.

So again, thank you for this honor. Thank you for living by your anthem, and to the Class of 2014, thank you for the chance to share your day with me and me with you. The chance that you have in life, if you have half of what I have, you will have a phenomenal life to lead.

Three final things

First, it’s always better to raise your voice than be silent. Your voice is the most valuable commodity you have. And when you do, say what you mean and mean what you say. Words matter. You can change lives, including your own; you can change minds; and you can change history and change the world. And you should.

Second, on your best day you can always be better. Always. And on your worst day, the next day is always better. And it always is.

Third, and my favorite: It’s always better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission. Always. If you really want to do something, just do it. There is always someone who is going to say no. Don’t wait for anyone to say yes. Just do it. You know what? If it was a mistake, just apologize. It’s that simple.

So those three things have served me very well in life. My four years at Wheaton have served me well, too, creating a life I am so lucky to have and I get to live every day, and the honor of a lifetime today, as well. Thank you very much.