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Mayor Pete Buttigieg Addresses Fels Graduates

Meghan Pierce, MPA '18
May 30, 2017

Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, addressed MPA graduates at the 2017 Fels commencement ceremony on May 14th. Serving as the Mayor of South Bend since 2012, he is currently one of the youngest mayors in the United States. Mr. Buttigieg is a graduate of Harvard University, a Rhodes Scholar, and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

In his commencement address to the Fels MPA class of 2017, Mr. Buttigieg offered words of congratulations and encouragement in a time of great political turmoil, stating “America has a more vital need then ever for the best and the brightest to serve in the public sector.”

He offered a very personal and humble address, describing himself as a “minor American politician slightly older than the average master’s candidate.” Drawing from his time in Afghanistan and his experience as mayor, his speech offered hands-on suggestions for working in the public sector.

He also spoke to the character of public service more generally. He indicated that public sector work matters because it simplifies and enables the lives of everyday people. Citizens cannot achieve their highest potential or live fulfilled lives if basic needs are not met. The role of the public servant, says Mr. Buttigieg, is to ensure that the government works for everyone.  

Mr. Buttigieg also spoke to two shifts that have occured in modern public sector work. The first is the “rise of the local.” Given political gridlock at state and federal levels, cities are tackling public issues more effectively and quickly. They do this simply because they must (the garbage has to be collected and streets have to be plowed) and because local level political compromises are actually possible.

Secondly, Mr. Buttigieg pointed out a decline in the categories and institutions that used to define people and predict behavior, such as political party. Younger generations are less likely to be confined by the ideologies that currently restrict policy makers. As a result, he predicts rises in creativity and individuality to solve some of today’s most pressing issues.

Mr. Buttigieg’s address—much like the Fels curriculum—was practical and inspiring. His words surely galvanized the Fels MPA class of 2017, a new generation of public servants about to begin careers in Philadelphia, the United States, and beyond. 

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Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829

felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu