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University of Texas at San Antonio College of Education and Human Development Commencement

San Antonio, TX
May 6, 2011

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, President Romo. Good evening, everyone. And congratulations, Class of 2011!

I’m not going to make them all stand up again, but I want to join President Romo in acknowledging all the moms, dads, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, godparents, husbands, wives, children, and friends who are here tonight.

I have a good friend who often says that “we all drink from wells we didn’t dig, and are warmed by fires we didn’t build.” Tonight, graduates, you stand on the shoulders of those who have helped you get to this special day. It would not be possible without their sacrifice, support, encouragement, and love.

I know many of you have waited a long time for tonight. And my promise to all of you, especially the graduates, is that I won’t make you wait much longer. I’m authorizing the mariachi band to cut me off if I go over 12 minutes.

It’s an honor to be here tonight at UTSA, one of our country’s fastest-growing research universities, an engine of the local economy, and the home of a microscope that I understand is so powerful that it could blow this basketball court up to the size of the state of Maryland.

And I’m especially glad to be here at the graduation ceremony for the College of Education and Human Development. In the coming years, no one will do more to shape the future of our country than those who shape the future of our children – our teachers, school administrators, guidance counselors, and coaches, and health professionals. In other words: all of you.

Now, I have to admit: I’m biased. I come from a family of teachers. Both my parents were teachers. Both my grandfathers were too.

No one my age can remember our favorite accountant or lawyer – or even HHS Secretary – but we can all remember a favorite teacher or coach because they touched our lives.

And ALL of you will have that rare opportunity to leave a lasting mark on the lives of others.

Now, I know that when I talk about the importance of education to this audience, I’m preaching to the choir. You wouldn’t be here tonight if you didn’t believe in the power of education to transform lives and open the doors to opportunity.

The parents and family members here believe in education. That’s why so many of you worked longer hours or extra shifts or a second job so that your children could have the opportunities that you missed.

And I know the graduates believe in the power of education. You could have studied anything in college, but you chose this. And I don’t think you did it to get rich.

But tonight, one point I hope you take with you is that the impact of your work extends far beyond even the lives of your individual students.

The world is changing. The number of jobs that require more than a high school degree is rising steadily. At the same time, more and more companies have the ability to set up shop anywhere they have a laptop or an internet connection.

For these companies, the only question that matters is where are the best people? Where is the best talent? It’s why internet start-ups move to Silicon Valley. It’s why UTSA is so important to the future of San Antonio.

But we’re not the only country that’s figured this out. Around the world, other nations are investing in education, hoping to attract the industries of the future and the jobs that come with them.

The result is that America is losing its greatest competitive edge. A generation ago, we led the world in the share of young adults with a college degree. Now, we’re ninth.

As President Obama has said, we will be able to out-compete the rest of the world in the future ONLY if we also out-educate the rest of the world.

That means your work has never been more important than it is today. Our most precious natural resource – our children – are in your hands.

That may sound like a lot of pressure, but I know that your families and UTSA have prepared you well. And as you head out to begin your careers, I want to give you one piece of practical advice.

When we talk about the development of our young people, we often focus on academics. We talk about reading and writing, math and science. And these skills are all incredibly important. You can’t succeed without them.

But the more we study what makes young people successful, the more we realize that academic skills are just one piece of the puzzle. Young people also need to build self-esteem and learn how to get along with others. They need to be physically safe, get good nutrition and exercise, and get the right health care. And nothing’s more important than having a loving and engaged family, or even just one caring adult who’s a mentor.

For young people to succeed, they need all the pieces of the puzzle. You understand this here at UTSA. That’s why this is the College of Education and Human Development.

But I encourage all of you, no matter what career you go into, to see your job not as teaching one skill or subject or sport, but as doing your part to help young people develop as happy, healthy, and whole human beings. That’s how you’ll make the biggest difference.

Graduations are days when we look backwards and forward. You look back to the journeys you took to get here and at the people who helped you along the way. And you look forward at all the possibilities ahead of you.

As you move on to the next stage in your own journeys, I hope you will remember how you feel today. Because someday in the future, there will be some young man or woman sitting where you are today, thinking back to that people who helped them get there. And they will be thinking about YOU.

And on those hard days, when you’re wondering if it’s all worth it – and you will have those days; we all do – I hope you will remember the young men or women whose lives you’ve influenced, and realize how incredibly valuable you are. There’s no work that’s more important – for your students, for your community, or for your country.

Congratulations, Class of 2011! It’s time to graduate!