Kim Guadagno

The Color Pink - May 14, 2011

Kim Guadagno
May 14, 2011— Collegeville, Pennsylvania
Print friendly

(As written)

President Corson, members of the Board of Trustees, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates of the Class of 2011.

The first thing I would like to say is thank you. I came to Ursinus College in 1976. The college took me early and I was just 17. The oak tree was still in the end zone of the football field. Students got demerits up until the year I entered for walking on the grass. There were no coed dorms and there was still the rule of one foot on the floor if a boy came to your room. The school motto I remember to this day: out of the darkness into the light through the blood of Christ. I was so young. I was a day student until I threatened my parents with an acceptance to a college in New York City if I was not allowed to move to the dorm. I moved to the dorm in my junior year where the dean of women still lived at the end of the hall and I spent my senior year as a RA in Todd Hall. We had no cell phones or even laptops. And yes, I pledged a sorority but not until my senior year --- phi psi.

During my senior year, we painted a sign and hung it outside the second floor of Todd Hall to protest the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had taken 44 Americans hostage. The sign was hand-painted on a bed sheet in the basement of Todd and it said ?we are mad as hell and we are not going to take it any more. People simply did not swear out loud, much less at Ursinus and even less outside a girls dorm, back then. To the school‘s credit we did not have to take it down.

Delivering a commencement address to your alma mater 30 years later is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation in this very place 3 decades ago. The commencement speaker is a blur. I believe it was a former Ambassador who was an Ursinus graduate. Reflecting on his speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can‘t remember a single word he said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, medicine or the law in favor of being a sheriff, or worse, entering the blood sport of politics in New Jersey.

You see? If all you remember in years to come is you too can graduate and someday stand here and give the commencement address to your alma mater and talk about me well, I am already ahead of the game. At the very least, I will do you no harm.

Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. There is simply nothing more intimidating than looking out in this room and seeing yourself in eyes 30 years your younger without wrinkles, or husbands, or children or life lessons. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 31 years that have expired between that day and this.

I have come with few answers but on this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the color pink . If you take nothing else away from today remember that I too graduated from Ursinus and that I talked about the color pink. And to make the point, I have brought my own pink cap to go with my gown.

See, as a person who ran just a few years ago to become one of the few women sheriffs in the entire in the country I have come to appreciate the color pink or what it stands for. Here at Ursinus it did not matter what color I wore. All the years as a prosecutor, it did not matter. But in 2007 -- the year you all entered college --when faced with a county wide political race for Sheriff, well I began to appreciate the color pink and what it apparently stood for. It was then that I was told for the very first time that I could not do something because – well, sheriffs don‘t wear pink. I mean really, take a good look. Admit it. Becoming the first Lieutenant Governor New Jersey might be interesting, (heck, how much fun is it to say I am the best Lt. Governor New Jersey has ever had?) but when you heard I was the first sheriff in the history of Monmouth County, New Jersey‘s 75 sheriffs. You did a double take.

Why? Because, you know, Sheriffs don‘t wear pink. Translated: girls cannot be sheriff so you have to look like a man and men don‘t wear pink. When the experts started talking to me about the Sheriff race, it all boiled down to the color pink. Not in so many words, but really, what ?they were saying was I cannot wear pink because people expect their sheriff to wear a gun and a ten gallon hat –not high heels and certainly not pink – not ever. Isn‘t that just another way of saying girls can‘t be sheriffs. And isn‘t that just a step away from saying African Americans can‘t sit in the front of the bus?

So if you walk away from here today remembering anything. Remember the color pink. Do not let others define you by the color you wear, the clothes you wear, your gender, your race, where you were born or how much money you may have – or have not. If you walk away today and remember nothing else, remember I wore a pink cap with my gown. If I had listened to ?the they I would not be doing the thing I love today, for the state I love.

Now as I think about pink, I must relate one additional point that almost goes without saying. If you are going to wear pink – if you are going to do what "they" say you can NOT do, then you better write your life plans in pencil, because you‘ll use the eraser far more than you think you will. I'd encourage you to plan, but make sure those plans are in pencil because plans will change, and sometimes often. I was born in Iowa. If my mom had written a plan when I was born, I doubt very much it would have included the Organized Crime and Racketeering Strike Force in Brooklyn or sheriff or Lt. Governor of New Jersey.

As I mention parents, I must make one quick comment to Parents – maybe this is what commencements are all about – not the graduates but the parents [or loved ones] who, like me, have earned their grey hair and. wrinkles by watching you grow up; by living your successes, and failures, as if they were our own. Who have such high hopes and great fears about you graduates; about whether they have done the right thing in leading you here to Ursinus. Rest easy parents __ as I said Organized Crime prosecutions were not exactly what my dad had in mind when he attended my graduation here years ago.

I can assure you Sheriff was not in the plan. Parents, Ursinus has served me well and it will serve your children well. It has provided the basis for risk taking – I knew that no matter what decision I made, I would always find a job if things did not work out because I had a great education to fall back on. Parents sleep well, knowing you have done well. These graduates now have a great education to succeed and the safety net to fall back on, if they do not.

So graduates – always use a pencil – and parents, always support your son or daughters plan no matter how often it may change.

My plan was always to be a prosecutor. In 2001 when my third son came to us at 14 months, I took out the eraser. At age 41, I erased the plan and wrote another - a stay at home mom, with three boys with a little teaching at night. And well today as is obvious, I had a few more rewrites since then because– ten years later – at 52,I stand here as Lt. Governor. Always write in pencil and know that with the good solid education you have to fall back on, you will always land on your feet. Always know that with your great Ursinus degree- a degree which is in Latin and is hanging on my wall in Trenton, it is the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see at night—you CAN be first.

I am nearly finished. I have additional note for you, which is something that I already had at 21. Look to each side of you. Someone in this room may be a Lieutenant Governor, or doctor or lawyer or governor or president. They are your friends. Keep in touch with them.

A woman I met here at Ursinus, Marion Hoffman, has been my friend for over 32 years. I was at her wedding. She would have been at mine had she not followed her heart to the air force and been on active duty for dessert storm in 1991 on the day I was married. I kept up with her and her husband as they served their country in the Air Force all over the world; she-- retiring as a Lt. Col. and her husband-- earning his third star as an Air Force General this year. She became my friend here on this campus, in these classrooms, in Todd Hall. She have so influenced my life and the life of my family that my first born son will the entering the USAFA next month.

Likewise, the people in these chairs will be at your weddings, they will be your children‘s godparents, they will be the people to whom you will turn and rely on in times of trouble. At Ursinus, Marion and I became tied by a common experience as will you. Here you have shared experiences with the people in this room at a time that will never come again.

[I am of course enormously relieved as an elected public official that I went to school at a time when there were no cameras in cell phones or facebook but these friends in this room will no doubt download, dump and delete those records and stand by your side as you each rise in your chosen careers.]

One last point, because these are your lifetime friends, remember it is a very small world and that our Ursinus family is everywhere. Friendships can be rekindled at the oddest times. And this point was brought home to me all too recently as I walked into the state house in Trenton after being sworn in on January 19, 2010 – 30 years – 3 decades after leaving Ursinus. On that day, or a day pretty close to it, I shook the hand of Dave Rebuck. He had just been hired by the Governor‘s Office as a policy advisor. What you need to think about is that a much younger Dave Rebuck, with a full head black hair was the Dean of Students the year I graduated from this college. It is indeed a small world and our Ursinus family is everywhere.

So today, I wish you nothing better than similar friendships and connections. You have had a tremendous experience here. You will miss it and come to cherish it. More importantly, it will give you strength as the years go by to be bold and to never be defined by the color of your skin, your gender, your socio-economic background. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember that I wore a pink cap at your graduation and that I too graduated from Ursinus College.

Thank you very much.