Sue Ellspermann

WGU Indiana Commencement Address- Jan. 21, 2016

Sue Ellspermann
January 21, 2016— Indianapolis, Indiana
Western Governors University Commencement
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Okay, that was amazing Chancellor Barber, to even go through those titles. I’ve never thought of it that way. But thank you. Thank you to all of you, thank you for the opportunity to be here. I do join one of many of you out here that are cheering all of you on, and congratulating you on your good work. You know, being a non-traditional student is not easy. For many, it was nearly impossible before WGU.

So let me begin by singing my praises of WGU, Indiana. You are the students, the learners, the graduates, the barrier busters, the professionals that we need, for the future of Indiana. So you heard a little bit from chancellor, who you are, but let me tell you a little more that I learned. You’re an average age of 39 years old. We did recognize John as our senior in the group, that’s awesome. Seventy percent of you are female, thirty percent male. Okay guys, you’re going to have to get going, because those women are ahead, and by the way, that’s a trend across higher education, not just at WGU. More women are graduating than their male counterparts.

Twenty four percent of you live in rural Indiana. I could not be more excited about that. You heard Allison say that I am Secretary of Agriculture, and Rural Development. Really, the defining reason I said yes to being Lt. Governor, knowing that it is so important. In fact, I’d like to see those of you who come from rural areas, raise your hands. I just want to see you. Thank you, give them a big round of applause.

You know, I say that because coming from one of those rural areas, my little town of Fernand in Dubois County, the educational opportunities we’re not very good. As I wanted to go further in my career, I ended up driving two hours each way to work on my Master’s and PhD. So I understand what you’re going through there.

Almost half of you are first generation graduates. That is awesome. On average, it’s taken about two years for you to get to your degree completion, or that degree you’re working on. That’s another awesome achievement. So let me tell you why this is so, so important. Here in Indiana, we really have a good news, and a bad news story.

There’s the good news, that here in Indiana we now have more jobs than ever before. More jobs, the most jobs we’ve ever had in our state history. That’s great news. We’re growing the Workforce. Employers can’t even find enough qualified employees. But there in is the bad news. Employers cannot find enough qualified employees, and qualified workers.

So two years ago, the General Assembly tasked the Governor and I to lead the Indiana Career Council, where our challenge was to align the workforce with the opportunities that are here in Indiana and growing in Indiana, focused on creating a more prosperous state. When we studied it, we found that we were woefully behind the educational attainment curve.

We found that 65% of the jobs coming in this next decade were going to require a degree or credentials. Something post- secondary. In past generations, you could have led a middle class lifestyle, with a high school diploma. As many of you have discovered in the room that would be difficult today. Not just in Indiana, but in the United States, and really across the world.

Indiana’s educational attainment for Bachelor’s degrees right now stands at just above 34%. We have set a goal of 60% of our Indiana Workforce having a post-secondary certification or degree by 2025. We’re very pleased that we have the Ivy-techs and the Vincent’s to help us with those two-year degrees and certifications. We have some post-secondary education and all of our post-secondary institutions, universities across our state. But I will tell you, going on the path we’re on, we will get to 41%, by 2025. That is not good enough.

So, here we come to all of you. Did you know that we have three quarters of a million Hoosiers, 750,000 people, with part of a degree? Some movement towards that secondary degree, post-secondary degree. The reality is, WGU has enabled us, each of us, to skill up. That’s exactly what we’re doing here. In areas like, business, health profession, IT and the teaching professions, and you are the folks who have proven that you can do college, but by the way. For many of us life gets in the way. So WGU fills that void.

So I say thank you to Governor Pence, the state of Indiana, your employer, and certainly not least, your family for supporting you, as you’ve gone back. You have the skills to meet the needs of the 21st century workforce. You’re on the forefront of higher education. You have earned your degree in a new way. The online part is not so new, but the competency based part is. You are demonstrating that it is not seat time, the football team, or how much that you pay for your tuition that will determine the value of your degree. It is how much you learn, and how well you put that knowledge and skill to work.

I couldn’t be prouder that to learn that WGU has the best secondary teacher education program in the nation. That’s a big accomplishment, yes. For a university that was birthed in 1995, how amazing. Especially given that we are right here in Indiana as across the nation approaching a Teacher shortage. So let me just say what else I think you are demonstrating. First, going back is not easy. It is tougher the older that you get. Not because you’re not smart enough, but because we often lack confidence.

For some, your first experience in college may not have been stellar. For others, it may have been the financial concerns and work life challenges that makes it difficult. In any case, taking on completion of a degree is a big deal. I know, I’ve completed three of them. My first one was traditional. But my masters and PhD were done under circumstances like many of you. I had my own company, and by then, a child. Just as I was finishing my master’s I found out I was pregnant with my second child. So it took me almost five years to complete that PhD.

I’ll tell you that that dissertation, if you’ve ever done a dissertation, it really is competency based. It’s not done, until it’s done. I could have used one of those WGU counselors to nudge me on the weekly basis, I’m sure I would have gotten done a lot faster.

Few understand the challenges you are making, and the choices that you are making when you give up your weekend to work on a class. Few understand the internal drive that is required to sit down and write a paper, or complete and assignment rather than watch TV or be with your family, or do other entertaining things after dinner.

Your choices have built the character that every employer wants in their employees. Self-motivation, pride in your work, and the ability to get the job done, congratulations.

In closing, let me share a quote that Carly Fiorina has shared from her mother. It goes like this, “what you are is god’s gift to you. What you make of yourself, is your gift to god”. Each of you is making the most of your potential. Each of you has stepped out to do more than was expected, and for some, more than you thought you could possibly accomplish. Now, use this degree as a springboard to an even brighter career. As a role model, and a mentor for others, to make an even bigger difference in your community, and to reach your own highest potential.

Congratulations WGU graduates, you are a big part of what makes Indiana a state that works. Thank you.

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