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  • When I was in high school at the age of 17 --

  • I graduated from high school in Decatur, Georgia,

  • as valedictorian of my high school --

  • I was very proud of myself.

  • I was from a low-income community, I had grown up in Mississippi,

  • we'd moved from Mississippi to Georgia

  • so my parents could pursue their degrees as United Methodist ministers.

  • We were poor, but they didn't think we were poor enough,

  • so they were going for permanent poverty.

  • (Laughter)

  • And so, while they studied at Emory,

  • I studied at Avondale, and I became valedictorian.

  • Well, one of the joys of being valedictorian in the state of Georgia

  • is that you get invited to meet the governor of Georgia.

  • I was mildly interested in meeting him.

  • It was kind of cool.

  • I was more intrigued by the fact that he lived in a mansion,

  • because I watched a lot of "General Hospital" and "Dynasty"

  • as a child.

  • (Laughter)

  • And so I got up that morning, ready to go to visit the governor.

  • My mom and my dad, who were also invited, got up,

  • and we went outside.

  • But we didn't get in our car.

  • And in the south, a car is a necessary thing.

  • We don't have a lot of public transit, there aren't a lot of options.

  • But if you're lucky enough to live in a community

  • where you don't have a car,

  • the only option is public transit.

  • And that's what we had to take.

  • And so we got on the bus.

  • And we took the bus from Decatur all the way to Buckhead,

  • where the Governor's Mansion sat on this really beautiful acreage of land,

  • with these long black gates that ran the length of the property.

  • We get to the Governor's Mansion,

  • we pull the little lever that lets them know this is our stop,

  • we get off the bus,

  • my mom, my dad and I, we walk across the street.

  • We walk up the driveway, because there are cars coming up,

  • cars bringing in students from all across the state of Georgia.

  • So we're walking along the side.

  • And as we walk single file along the side,

  • my mom and dad sandwiching me to make sure I don't get hit by one of the cars

  • bringing in the other valedictorians,

  • we approach the guard gate.

  • When we get to the guard gate, the guard comes out.

  • He looks at me, and he looks at my parents,

  • and he says, "You don't belong here, this is a private event."

  • My dad says, "No, this is my daughter, Stacey. She's one of the valedictorians."

  • But the guard doesn't look at the checklist that's in his hands.

  • He doesn't ask my mom for the invitation

  • that's at the bottom of her very voluminous purse.

  • Instead, he looks over our shoulder at the bus,

  • because in his mind, the bus is telling him a story about who should be there.

  • And the fact that we were too poor to have our own car --

  • that was a story he told himself.

  • And he may have seen something in my skin color,

  • he may have seen something in my attire;

  • I don't know what went through his mind.

  • But his conclusion was to look at me again,

  • and with a look of disdain, say,

  • "I told you, this is a private event. You don't belong here."

  • Now, my parents were studying to become United Methodist ministers,

  • but they were not pastors yet.

  • (Laughter)

  • And so they proceeded to engage this gentleman

  • in a very robust discussion of his decision-making skills.

  • (Laughter)

  • My father may have mentioned

  • that he was going to spend eternity in a very fiery place

  • if he didn't find my name on that checklist.

  • And indeed, the man checks the checklist eventually,

  • and he found my name, and he let us inside.

  • But I don't remember meeting the governor of Georgia.

  • I don't recall meeting my fellow valedictorians

  • from 180 school districts.

  • The only clear memory I have of that day

  • was a man standing in front of the most powerful place in Georgia,

  • looking at me and telling me I don't belong.

  • And so I decided, 20-some-odd years later,

  • to be the person who got to open the gates.

  • (Cheers)

  • (Applause)

  • Unfortunately, you may have read the rest of the story.

  • It didn't quite work out that way.

  • And now I'm tasked with figuring out: How do I move forward?

  • Because, you see, I didn't just want to open the gates for young black women

  • who had been underestimated and told they don't belong.

  • I wanted to open those gates for Latinas and for Asian Americans.

  • I wanted to open those gates for the undocumented and the documented.

  • I wanted to open those gates as an ally of the LGBTQ community.

  • I wanted to open those gates

  • for the families that have to call themselves the victims of gun violence.

  • I wanted to open those gates wide for everyone in Georgia,

  • because that is our state, and this is our nation,

  • and we all belong here.

  • (Cheers)

  • (Applause)

  • But what I recognized is that the first try wasn't enough.

  • And my question became: How do I move forward?

  • How do I get beyond the bitterness and the sadness and the lethargy

  • and watching an inordinate amount of television as I eat ice cream?

  • (Laughter)

  • What do I do next?

  • And I'm going to do what I've always done.

  • I'm going to move forward, because going backwards isn't an option

  • and standing still is not enough.

  • (Applause)

  • You see, I began my race for governor

  • by analyzing who I was and what I wanted to be.

  • And there are three questions I ask myself about everything I do,

  • whether it's running for office or starting a business;

  • when I decided to start the New Georgia Project

  • to register people to vote;

  • or when I started the latest action, Fair Fight Georgia.

  • No matter what I do, I ask myself three questions:

  • What do I want?

  • Why do I want it?

  • And how do I get it?

  • And in this case, I know what I want.

  • I want change.

  • That is what I want.

  • But the question is:

  • What change do I want to see?

  • And I know that the questions I have to ask myself are:

  • One, am I honest about the scope of my ambition?

  • Because it's easy to figure out that once you didn't get what you wanted,

  • then maybe you should have set your sights a little lower,

  • but I'm here to tell you to be aggressive about your ambition.

  • Do not allow setbacks to set you back.

  • (Applause)

  • Number two, let yourself understand your mistakes.

  • But also understand their mistakes,

  • because, as women in particular,

  • we're taught that if something doesn't work out,

  • it's probably our fault.

  • And usually, there is something we could do better,

  • but we've been told not to investigate too much

  • what the other side could have done.

  • And this isn't partisan -- it's people.

  • We're too often told that our mistakes are ours alone,

  • but victory is a shared benefit.

  • And so what I tell you to do is understand your mistakes,

  • but understand the mistakes of others.

  • And be clearheaded about it.

  • And be honest with yourself and honest with those who support you.

  • But once you know what you want,

  • understand why you want it.

  • And even though it feels good, revenge is not a good reason.

  • (Laughter)

  • Instead, make sure you want it

  • because there's something not that you should do,

  • but something you must do.

  • It has to be something that doesn't allow you to sleep at night

  • unless you're dreaming about it;

  • something that wakes you up in the morning and gets you excited about it;

  • or something that makes you so angry,

  • you know you have to do something about it.

  • But know why you're doing it.

  • And know why it must be done.

  • You've listened to women from across this world

  • talk about why things have to happen.

  • But figure out what the "why" is for you,

  • because jumping from the "what" to the "do"

  • is meaningless if you don't know why.

  • Because when it gets hard, when it gets tough,

  • when your friends walk away from you,

  • when your supporters forget you,

  • when you don't win your first race --

  • if you don't know why, you can't try again.

  • So, first know what you want.

  • Second, know why you want it,

  • but third, know how you're going to get it done.

  • I faced a few obstacles in this race.

  • (Laughter)

  • Just a few.

  • But in the pursuit,

  • I became the first black woman to ever become the nominee for governor

  • in the history of the United States of America for a major party.

  • (Cheers)

  • (Applause)

  • But more importantly, in this process,

  • we turned out 1.2 million African American voters in Georgia.

  • That is more voters

  • than voted on the Democratic side of the ticket in 2014.

  • (Applause)

  • Our campaign tripled the number of Latinos

  • who believed their voices mattered in the state of Georgia.

  • We tripled the number of Asian Americans

  • who stood up and said, "This is our state, too."

  • Those are successes that tell me how I can get it done.

  • But they also let me understand the obstacles aren't insurmountable.

  • They're just a little high.

  • But I also understand

  • that there are three things that always hold us hostage.

  • The first is finances.

  • Now, you may have heard, I'm in a little bit of debt.

  • If you didn't hear about it, you did not go outside.

  • (Laughter)

  • And finances are something that holds us back so often,

  • our dreams are bounded by how much we have in resources.

  • But we hear again and again

  • the stories of those who overcome those resource challenges.

  • But you can't overcome something you don't talk about.

  • And that's why I didn't allow them to debt-shame me in my campaign.

  • I didn't allow anyone to tell me that my lack of opportunity

  • was a reason to disqualify me from running.

  • And believe me, people tried to tell me I shouldn't run.

  • Friends told me not to run.

  • Allies told me not to run.

  • "USA Today" mentioned maybe I shouldn't run.

  • (Laughter)

  • But no matter who it was,

  • I understood that finances are often a reason we don't let ourselves dream.

  • I can't say that you will always overcome those obstacles,

  • but I will tell you, you will be damned if you do not try.

  • (Applause)

  • The second is fear.

  • And fear is real.

  • It is paralyzing.

  • It is terrifying.

  • But it can also be energizing,

  • because once you know what you're afraid of,

  • you can figure out how to get around it.

  • And the third is fatigue.

  • Sometimes you just get tired of trying.

  • You get tired of reading about processes and politics

  • and the things that stop you from getting where you want to be.

  • Sometimes, fatigue means that we accept position instead of power.

  • We let someone give us a title as a consolation prize,

  • rather than realizing we know what we want and we're going to get it,

  • even if we're tired.

  • That's why God created naps.

  • (Laughter)

  • But we also learn in those moments

  • that fatigue is an opportunity to evaluate how much we want it.

  • Because if you are beaten down,

  • if you have worked as hard as you can,

  • if you have done everything you said you should,

  • and it still doesn't work out,

  • fatigue can sap you of your energy.

  • But that's why you go back to the "why" of it.

  • Because I know we have to have women who speak for the voiceless.

  • I know we have to have people of good conscience

  • who stand up against oppression.

  • I know we have to have people

  • who understand that social justice belongs to us all.

  • And that wakes me up every morning,