Greetings, class of 2015; friends and families; President Galizio; faculty and staff. I am honored to be here today in celebration of this important milestone in your lives.
I also want to take a moment to offer my congratulations to President Galizio, who is departing Clatsop Community College to take a position with the California Association of Community Colleges.
President Galizio, you have transformed this campus from a condemned high school to a place of excellence in teaching and learning. You leave a lasting legacy of high-quality programs and inspiring learning spaces.
Please join me in recognizing the President’s leadership and dedication.
So, graduates of the class of 2015. This is what the finish line looks like.
I want you to take a two-second pause and be here in this moment with me. Just breathe, and consider that you may never again have more energy or enthusiasm – or hair, or brain cells – than you have right now.
I learned some interesting facts about this graduating class: 125 of the 168 grads are from Clatsop County. The oldest is 61; the youngest is 17. Today, a husband and wife are graduating together, and a father and son are graduating together. And one of the graduates is a Clatsop Community College employee.
And one of you was described by her instructor as “…a badass girl who wears Carhartt overalls to class and plans to open her own welding shop.” Sarah Morgan, I totally want to meet you!
No matter where you’re from or how old you are, it is fairly common for many graduating students to have a little anxiety mixed in with their excitement about finishing college and heading out into the uncharted territory of what is commonly called “the real world.”
But the truth is, many of you are on very good terms with the real world already.
For example, your classmate, Mary Byes.
Mary came from a family with alcoholic parents, where education was not considered important. Because she spent a great deal of time taking care of four little brothers and a sister, she ended up missing so much school that she was suspended. Ultimately, she ended up dropping out of high school.
As a young married woman, her attempts to further her education were actively discouraged by her then-husband, who told her she was not good enough or smart enough. He also said they didn’t have enough money for school.
But Mary persevered. She graduated from cosmetology school and co-opened a salon. Unfortunately, a serious health diagnosis required her to sell her interest in the salon for far less than its actual value.
Following the divorce from her first husband, she realized that she couldn't get the kind of job she hoped to have without a college degree, so she enrolled in the Lives in Transition program here at Clatsop.
Despite her health challenges, Mary has excelled academically. She also has been very involved with campus life, especially in the art department, excelling in her coursework and assisting with exhibitions and events. She has an incredibly positive attitude that staff describe as “totally contagious.”
She will be transferring to PSU to pursue her studies. Thank you, Mary, for giving me permission to share your amazing story, and congratulations on all you have accomplished over your 54 years.
Now, it never seems fair to focus on one incredible student’s story when many of you have had major obstacles to overcome.
Some of you struggled continually to make ends meet, caring for your families, working one or more jobs while you went to school. Others faced other significant challenges, such as returning to school after the stress of active military duty, or undertaking major career changes due to the economic downturn.
You are all so amazing and impressive. I am very proud of each and every one of you for the sacrifices you have made and the challenges you have overcome – every dark moment along the way, when you weren’t sure if you were going to make it; when the babysitter canceled, or you had to work an extra shift, or your car broke down. Again.
I am very proud to extend my congratulations for achieving your goal of a college degree. Your education is the most important investment you can make in yourself and your future.
It also occurs to me that there may be a few of you out there who, after today, don’t necessarily have firm plans for what comes next – or, have no plans at all. You are no doubt using this time during my remarks to brainstorm innovative and creative answers to the inevitable “now what” question.
You know what I mean. Tonight, at your graduation barbecue, your Uncle Fred is lying in wait. He’s looking for just the right moment to sidle up to you and say, “Okay, so you graduated, congratulations. Now what?”
So to you, I say, fear not. Consider the following notable individuals whose paths may have wandered a bit before they made their respective marks on history:
Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish the first book in the “Little House” series until she was in her sixties.
Theodore Geisel [“GUY-sel”], better known as Dr. Seuss, published his first children’s book at age 34.
And Stan Lee didn’t even start drawing Spiderman until he was 43.
In short, greatness cannot be rushed.
So, to those of you feeling uneasy because you don’t have an answer to the “now what” question, please remember: There is no one, right, way to live your life. If you already know what you want, go for it. If you don’t, that simply means you have more options.
In the pursuit of your education at Clatsop Community College, you have discovered new passions, new aptitudes and affinities – in short, you discovered yourself.
You have mastered the fundamentals you will need to be an engaged citizen, and to thrive in a variety of careers and fields. What’s more, you have much to contribute to the well-being of others.
You have all the tools and skills necessary to have a positive impact on the lives of those around you. If you think you’re too small to make an impact, well, you’ve obviously never shared a tent with a mosquito.
Let me share the story of one Oregonian whose idea – a small but important one – changed our landscape forever.
Richard Chambers loved wild Oregon. He would get on his motorcycle and travel all over the state. Even in very remote locations, he would frequently encounter garbage, and he would go berserk. Litter made him so upset that on family trips to the coast, he would take a sack for bottles and cans he collected on Oregon beaches. He was constantly looking for a solution to this problem. He wanted desperately to preserve this wild and beautiful place we call home.
One morning in 1969, the Chambers family was staying at the coast. Richard came across a newspaper article about a new system in Great Britain for collecting bottles and cans. It was a simple, yet brilliant solution. Richard decided right then and there it would work in Oregon. He immediately called his state senator and said, this is what we are going to do.
It took two legislative sessions before Richard Chambers got the solution he wanted. Oregon became the first state in the nation to require deposits on cans and bottles.
Because of him, an astounding 90% of containers are returned for re-use, which means less litter, helping Oregon remain a clean, green place to live.
There is no question that one person, one dedicated person with good ideas, can change the world.
That person is you.
The world is your home: commit yourself to home improvement.
There is no shortage of projects – pick one: a child, an elderly person, a cause, a candidate. Reduce hunger, ignorance, poverty, despair.
Build community. Foster hope, progress and innovation. Shine your light into dark places.
In the words of author Marianne Williamson, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? ...Your playing small does not serve the world. We are all meant to shine.”
Looking out at your faces, the pride, hope and yes, relief I see expressed there, I am reminded of Oregon’s motto, “She flies with her own wings.”
Today, you stand on the edge of the nest, wings outstretched, sun on your face. The winds are in your favor. You are strong. You are ready to leap into the blue.
So, fly. Soar. Be the brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous person you were meant to be.
Class of 2015, shine on.