Margaret Spellings

Commencement Speech at Miami Dade College - May 3, 2008

Margaret Spellings
May 30, 2008— Miami, Florida
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Thank you, Jesus Reyes, for introducing me. I’d also like to thank my friend Dr. Eduardo Padron, President of Miami Dade College, and Dr. Greg Gray of Miami Dade’s Kendall Campus for welcoming me here today.

Most importantly, congratulations, Miami Dade College class of 2008! Thank you for inviting me to celebrate with you today.

Look around at all of these people … who grew up in so many different places … speaking so many different languages. This is the largest and most diverse college in the nation—and probably in the world. Como las naciones unidas!

Miami Dade’s students hail from 150 different countries. Every day, you’re laughing and celebrating and learning from one another. This is what education is all about. This campus sets an example the entire world could learn from.

I am so honored and grateful to be here with you. That’s why I plan on wearing my Miami Dade T-shirt with pride.

I know many of you have jobs, and many of you are parents. Many of you are the first in your families to go to college. That’s a tremendous accomplishment.

It’s one thing to do what everyone before you has always done. But breaking new ground—that’s something a lot of people never do. Especially when it comes to challenging themselves, as you have.

For example, even among people whose heart conditions make living healthier a matter of life or death, nine out of ten don’t change.

And when that 10 percent do change, they often do it because someone else inspired them.

I’m sure all of you can think of at least one person who has inspired you. And I know many of them are here with us.

Felicidades y gracias por su trabajo. I want to congratulate all of you parents and husbands and wives and teachers and friends and siblings and sons and daughters on a job well done.

We all know that learning is often a team effort. And today, Evelyn Lao is lucky enough to be graduating along with her son, Matthew. Evelyn’s daughter Amy is also a student here … and her other daughter Sarah is headed to Miami Dade soon. Talk about a family affair! Eduardo, do you give family discounts? Congratulations to all of you.

Jesus Reyes did a great job of introducing me. Thank you, Jesus. I hope you won’t mind if I take a minute to recognize you and your parents.

Jesus Reyes, Sr and Glenda Mendoza left Venezuela seven years ago. They wanted their children to have greater opportunity. And all three of their sons have found that opportunity here at Miami Dade College.

You have a saying here: “Opportunity changes everything.” It’s true. It does. And especially at a time when everybody’s talking about change—it’s an honor to be here with people who are actually creating it.

I went to college at the University of Houston. I commuted from home. And I worked as an office cashier at a grocery store called Handy Andy.

Truthfully, even today, if I find myself with a microphone in front of me … like I do now … I still get the urge to call out, “Clean up on aisle four!”

People who hold jobs when they go to college … or have families … or attend part-time … or don’t go straight out of high school … within the academic community, we are sometimes called “nontraditional.”

Personally, I prefer to think of us as “pioneering.” Or pionero.

Whatever term you prefer, I believe people who do things a little differently are often the ones who drive improvement for everybody else.

Miami Dade College is a great example. In the world of higher education, some judge quality by how many people they keep out. When you see “selectivity” in popular college rankings, that’s what they’re really talking about.

Your college has never accepted this concept. Miami Dade is all about inviting people in. That’s often a pioneering concept in higher education. And it’s all the more important, now that 90 percent of our fastest-growing jobs require education beyond high school.

Everywhere I go … across our nation and around the world … I meet people who are trying to achieve what this college has done and is doing.

Last summer, your president Eduardo Padron joined me on a delegation of university presidents to Latin America. We held up Miami Dade College as a model of how to help more people access a college education. I also talked about your example at a United Nations conference in Paris.

Especially in today’s knowledge economy, people all around the globe are looking for ways to access higher education in affordable and convenient ways. And you’re showing them how it’s done!

You already know that work and school can be mutually reinforcing. I know that from my own experience.

You not only have skills, you know how to apply them in the real world—while getting paid!

You have earned the gift of solving problems.

If you have a goal in mind, you know how to attain it.

I’m sure you also know that sometimes we try and fail before we succeed.

For example, don’t tell anybody, but I lasted a day and a half in my first job out of college. I went to a temp agency—and instead of finding me a job, they hired me as a prospector. Then they showed me to my cubicle, handed me the yellow pages, and told me to start calling.

On day two, I made it about as far as “Aardvark” before deciding I wasn’t cut out for the workforce. I went to lunch and never went back.

I thought I would never find gainful employment of any kind beyond Handy Andy. So I volunteered to work on a political campaign. And I’ve been in politics and government ever since—only now, I get paid!

In the Wall Street Journal this week, Melinda Beck noted that J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was published. Doctor Seuss was rejected twenty-seven times. Michael Jordan didn’t make the varsity basketball team in high school.

My friend Tommy Lasorda asked out his wife ten times before she said yes. On the eleventh time, he told her, “Just go out with me once, and if you don’t like me after that … fine, I won’t bother you any more.” So they finally went to lunch and he said, “You might laugh, but I’m going to marry you.”

Last month, they celebrated their fifty-eighth wedding anniversary.

If you want to be a pioneer, you have to have faith—or if not faith, at least the ability to keep on trying. Thomas Edison needed a thousand practice rounds before inventing the light bulb. He said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention that took 1,000 steps.”

Miami Dade College Class of 2008, no matter how many steps it takes you, never forget that you are pioneers. You’re already leading the way, and I can’t wait to see what you accomplish next.

Thank you, and good luck!

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