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Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi receives honorary degree for lasting legacy to public service

Posted 23 April, 2024

Representative and Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi alongside (left) UCD Registrar and Deputy President Professor Colin Scott and Professor Liam Kennedy, Professor of American Studies and Director of the Clinton Institute. Credit: Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography

One of America’s most consequential political figures, Representative and Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi has been awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws by UCD in recognition of her outstanding contribution and commitment to public service.

A long-term advocate in the US on various issues such as LGBT rights, environmental protections, abortion, and during the AIDS Crisis, the Baltimore native has played a pivotal role in shaping major legislative and guiding important policy decisions. 

“[Speaker Emerita Pelosi] has made an indelible impact on American politics, occupying one of its most powerful positions - Speaker of the House of Representatives - during some of the most important moments in recent American political history,” said (opens in a new window)Professor Liam Kennedy, reading her citation. 

“Tenacity, courage, dignity - these are values that distinguish the political character and career of Nancy Pelosi. These are values we warmly admire and share as we make this award.”

Ayman Memon, Auditor of the UCD Literary & Historical Society presented Speaker Emerita Pelosi with the society's James Joyce Award. Credit: Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography

Rep. Pelosi made history by becoming the first woman to serve as the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, a role she has held multiple times across four presidencies. 

And her leadership and skills as a tenacious legislator were crucial role in the passage of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, a landmark healthcare reform law that expanded access to healthcare for tens of millions of Americans - the first major healthcare reform in the US in almost than 50 years.

Another significant legislative accomplishment was helping to steer the congressional response to the Great Recession, which saw the US Congress passing the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act – aimed at addressing financial system regulations in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and regarded as one of the most significant laws enacted during the presidency of Barack Obama - and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Alongside receiving an honorary degree from UCD, Rep. Pelosi was also presented with the James Joyce Award by Ayman Memon, Auditor of the Literary and Historical (L&H) Society for “not only providing a significant contribution to politics but for a long-lasting legacy that will serve as an inspiration for future generations to come”.

As Speaker, she led reforms such as the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, comprehensive energy legislation, and the repeal of the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, which prohibited gays and lesbians from serving openly in the US military. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she worked with Republican leadership to approve more than $3 trillion (€2.8tn) in government aid.

During her visit to UCD, Speaker Emerita Pelosi viewed a curated selection from the UCD archives. Credit: Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography

During her fourth and final term as Speaker, Rep. Pelosi was able to steer much of President Biden’s legislative agenda through the House despite very thin margins, including a Covid relief bill, an infrastructure spending package, a multi-trillion-dollar environment and social spending programme, and legislation protecting gay marriage. 

“Rep. Pelosi should be considered one of the most skilled and accomplished legislators in the history of the United States,” said Professor Kennedy. 

“She has made outstanding contributions to American politics for nearly 40 years, providing a model of liberal democratic leadership that has been deeply influential in the US and admired globally. Such principled leadership and commitment to liberal governance is especially important to recognise at this time in light of the challenges to democracy in the US and beyond.

“It should be noted that Rep. Pelosi has long been a friend of the Irish caucus in Washington, lending her powerful support to matters of Irish interest. During the post-Brexit tensions between the US and the UK she repeatedly voiced the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement, and led a congressional visit to Ireland and the UK in 2020 to underline that support.”

Speaker Emerita Pelosi pictured with Laura Cotter and Aaron Empey, PhD students in the UCD Space Science Group that developed EIRSAT-1, Ireland's Ireland's first-ever satellite. Credit: Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography

Professor Kennedy further added that Rep. Pelosi’s leadership skills have influenced a generation of female politicians – that when she took office in Congress in 1987, only 28 women served in the US’s lower house. 

“Today, 151 women serve there, 25 are senators, and 126 are House of Representatives members,” he said. “Rep. Pelosi has played a key part in that dramatic sea change, due both to her position as a role model and her commitment to diverse representation in government.”

In recognition of her important role as a female political icon, Rep. Pelosi was inducted into National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2013 at a ceremony in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the American women’s rights movement.

She also received in 2019 the Profiles in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library for her leadership and work in health care, renewable energy, access to education.

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations

To contact the UCD News & Content Team, email: newsdesk@ucd.ie