Read U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Dang Murphy’s Orlando 2017 Eleusinia Speech, below.
My name is Stephanie Murphy, and I am the Congresswoman for Florida’s Seventh Congressional District here in central Florida. I am also a proud sister of the Chi Omega Omicron Beta Chapter of The College of William and Mary.
I am thrilled and honored to be here today with all of you. It has been many years since I graduated from college, but I still feel a deep connection to my sisters in the Chi Omega Sorority. From mini reunions, to a far-flung adventure to Thailand, my sisters have been by my side. Their friendship has been a consistent source of strength over the past twenty years.
Looking back at my nineteen-year-old self, a new Chi O sister, I hadn’t planned on running for U.S. Congress. But as I stand here today, thinking about the path that brought me to this point, I want to tell you a little bit about myself, my story, and how I came to be the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to Congress.
I was born in Vietnam in 1978 following a prolonged and destructive war.
When Saigon fell in 1975, many Vietnamese families like mine faced uncertain futures as the Socialist Republic regime began to consolidate power. By mid-1978, hundreds of thousands of people associated with the former government of South Vietnam were being rounded up and sent to “re-education camps” where they endured torture, starvation and disease while being forced to perform hard labor.
As you can imagine, by my birth in September of 1978, my family was concerned about my future and the future of my eight-year-old brother. So, they, along with hundreds of thousands of families, fled Communist-controlled Vietnam – mostly by boat – to escape persecution, seek refuge, and find a better life for their families.
It was a treacherous journey and many didn’t make it. Most fled without proper documents, crammed into tiny, flimsy boats with only limited supplies and little fuel. Some were lost by storms, others robbed, raped, or killed by pirates. And, some, like my family, simply ran out of fuel – dangerously adrift at sea with no means of getting to safety.
However, luckily for us, an event occurred that forever changed my life and put me on a trajectory that led me to where I am today. A U.S. Navy vessel discovered our small boat adrift at sea. Out of the kindness of their hearts – and representing the generosity of America – those sailors refueled and resupplied us, and pointed us to Malaysia, where we eventually made it to the safety of a refugee camp.
Luckily, my family only stayed at that refugee camp for a few months before a Lutheran Church in Virginia sponsored our passage to the United States. Once here, they helped us find housing and helped my parents find jobs – and we eventually became proud American citizens.
Because of my parents’ relentless hard work at multiple jobs here in America, my brother and I were the first in our family to graduate from college through a combination of scholarships, Pell Grants, and student loans.
While in college, the Chi O sorority house was a special place for me, a place where women from different geographic, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds treated each other not only as equals, but as Sisters.
As Sisters we lived by the Chi Omega Symphony: We worked earnestly, we spoke kindly, we acted sincerely. I felt a tremendous sense of loyalty to my Sisters, and, importantly, I felt like my true self around them, which allowed me to become the person I am today.
Following college graduation, another pivotal moment happened in my life. On September 11, 2001, the country I owed everything to – the country that saved my family and had given me so many opportunities to succeed – found itself under attack.
I could no longer ignore my sense of duty to serve and to do my part to help protect this great country. So, after 9/11, I left the private sector to earn a master’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University and eventually became a national security specialist at the U.S. Department of Defense
It was the honor of my life to serve alongside our men and women in uniform to help protect and serve the country that rescued my family so many years before.
After four years at the Pentagon, my husband had the opportunity to start a new small business in central Florida, so we relocated and made Florida our new home.
But that calling to public service never quite left me. So, I sought to serve and give back to my community through charitable work with various nonprofit organizations and becoming an instructor at Rollins College. However, I still felt there was more I could do, but I didn’t know what that was.
Looking at Washington D.C. from here in Florida, I found politics to be troubling on both sides of the aisle.
Thinking of the Chi Omega Symphony, I saw too much snobbery and not enough politicians living up to their word. I saw an emphasis on social obligations and not enough emphasis on scholarship and too much focus on appearances and not enough on character. Exclusivity and popularity were priorities, rather than democracy and lovability. I did not see politicians working earnestly, speaking kindly, or acting sincerely.
Now, I must confess something: Running for office never crossed my mind. But, that all changed last year. The Democratic Party reached out to me to help them find a candidate to challenge the Republican incumbent who had been in office since 1992, far before my Chi Omega years.
As we were searching for candidates, the presidential election was taking a dark and divisive tone. I grew frustrated and became increasingly alarmed by the hate and prejudice I saw bubbling up around the country. I saw too many politicians not living up to the standard that I had been held to as a Chi O sister.
Then, the Pulse Nightclub massacre happened in my community. Forty-nine beautiful, innocent lives were taken from us in the country’s largest mass shooting in history. Like many in our community, I was overcome with emotions. I felt shaken. I felt immense sorrow for the victims and their friends and families. And, I grew concerned about the safety of my own two young children.
I often tell my three- and six-year-old children that if you see a problem, don’t wait on others to fix it for you; it’s important you step up and try to fix it yourself. So, after consulting with family and friends, I decided to run for Congress and do what I could to make a difference.
That brings us to today, where I now stand before you as a refugee, a proud American citizen, a young, Vietnamese-American woman, a Chi Omega Sister, and the Congresswoman from the 7th District Florida.
Since becoming a Chi O Sister, I have tried to live by the ideals of the Symphony. I try my best to bring these characteristics to Congress every day.
The words of the Symphony guided me from my time as a pledge new members and I will continue to use them as a guidepost throughout my service in Congress. In every action I take, I ask myself three questions: Is this good for my country? Is this good for my constituents? And, is this in line with my conscience?
We face an uncertain time during the next few years, and our nation is divided more than we’ve seen in a long time. There’s a lot at stake, particularly for women and girls. This is the time for active citizenship. We simply cannot sit on the sidelines.
For those who can speak up and out, it is our duty to do so – to call out injustice and discrimination wherever we see it. And, most importantly, we must lend a voice to the voiceless among us. In doing so, we build a stronger, more inclusive nation, where every girl and every woman is empowered to choose her own future and seize her own destiny. After all, a woman’s place is in the House . . . and in the Senate, and in the White House!
U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Dang Murphy
Orlando 2017 Eleusinia