Good morning, and congratulations to the class of 2016. It’s truly an honor to be here. Each of you should be proud of your incredible accomplishments.
Graduation reminds me of Oregon’s motto, “She flies with her own wings.”
That motto means different things to different people.
For some, it reflects Oregon’s independence, a legacy of the determined pioneers who journeyed across the treacherous Oregon Trail.
And for those of you in the know, I’m NOT talking about the computer game. I’m talking about the actual Oregon Trail.
We in Oregon, we’re mavericks. We like direct democracy. We’re one of the first states in the nation to give women the right to vote.
We are also stubbornly persistent. We won’t pump our own gas. And we don’t want a sales tax. At least not yet.
These characteristics all fit into what we call the Oregon Way. They are the attributes that were critical to the pioneers who arrived here in wagon trains more than 150 years ago.
They are attributes that each of you has demonstrated by standing here today. Adversity stood between you and your diploma. You faced it and you overcame it.
I’d like to tell you the story about an Oregon pioneer named JW Chambers. He was 27 years old when his father decided to leave Tennessee in 1844. JW wanted to lead the family’s wagon train across the Oregon Trail, but his father said no. JW was a maverick, living a wild life after leaving home at the age of 15. His father challenged him to demonstrate his maturity by marrying a recently windowed mother of 5 children.
JW took the challenge.
A historian once described the Oregon Trail as a “defining ordeal” that winnowed out those who did not have sufficient courage, endurance, creativity and common sense. Of the half a million people who took the Oregon Trail, more than 10 percent didn’t make it.
With JW in the lead, the Chambers clan arrived safely in The Dalles 7 months after they departed. They settled in the Willamette Valley, but JW never abandoned his maverick ways. Several years later, he once again left everything behind — including his wife, who refused to leave the Willamette Valley — and moved 200 miles east and founded what is now known as the town of Fossil. These are the kind of people who settled Oregon. Many Oregonians still exhibit that independence and resolve. You graduates here today embody those same characteristics, as well as others I value greatly:
For example, I admire the courage of Kathryn Burke.
Kathryn is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. She is a non-traditional student; and mother of three, who lost her eldest son to a regressive disease in 2003.
“It has been an inspiration and a driving force within me to complete my degree at Eastern Oregon University, so that [my family] can see resiliency, hard work and strength can overcome life challenges, and to never give up,” she said.
“It is very important to me to respect and honor the past and the traditions of my family and the values that we hold for one another. Serving my tribe and our community is very important for the future of our young people today to thrive and the opportunity to give back,” she said. “Integrity is a value we hold up and honor. Educational opportunity provides a foundation for a well-developed generation of giving. I have done my best to share what I have learned.”
And I admire the creativity of Minerva DeLoera.
Growing up in a Spanish-speaking home in Morrow County, she learned English by attending school and quickly became the family translator.
Eventually, she graduated and was hired as an English as a Second Language assistant at Riverside High School in Morrow County.
Working with high school students, she soon realized that education led to better opportunities. She thought she had found her calling, making a difference in the lives of children. She wished her students had more Hispanic teachers and role models. So Minerva set out to become a teacher. She faced many barriers – financial hardship, child care challenges, divorce, and other obstacles that delayed her goal more than once.
But during this past year, Minerva put everything into her studies, making the Dean’s List. And this spring she not only completes her degree, she will achieve her dream:
This fall, Minerva DeLoera will be teaching 3rd grade at A.C. Houghton Primary School in Irrigon, Oregon.
And persistence. Persistence looks like Sidronio [“Sid”] Rangel, EOU student body president.
He said, “In my family of five, nobody has ever gone to college. That alone has driven me to become the first in my family to receive a college education. All my life, Spanish was spoken in my household, making it really difficult to accomplish my homework assignments up until high school. My parents couldn’t help me, they only knew Spanish.
“I would stay up until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. trying to finish these assignments. All I can remember before I started writing research papers were the stories my dad would tell us about why they worked long hours in the agricultural fields. Stories about why they decided to move to the United States. Stories that they had to suffer just to provide a roof over our heads and particularly, our education.
“That is why I value my education because it means a lot and I don’t take it for granted. It is an honor to be able to attend college.
“I recall the days when I would get dropped off at the babysitter’s at four in the morning, half asleep,” he said. “It was extremely difficult for my parents to spend time with us because they would always work cleaning agricultural fields, picking apples from the trees, cleaning cement ditches, irrigating, and many more seasonal agricultural jobs.
“Looking back at these difficult times, it only has encouraged and motivated me to pursue a higher education.
He said, “Not only do I want to make my parents proud, but I want to pursue a higher education for myself. I want to achieve, conquer, and create positive change wherever I decide to go after my educational career.” [brief pause]
Now, I know there are lots more of you in the class of 2016 who have Kathryn’s courage, Minerva’s creativity, and Sid’s persistence.
You have demonstrated with firm resolve that you want to take advantage of the opportunities that an education offers.
And what you’ve accomplished is definitely worth celebrating. By completing this chapter of your education, you have not only made a very important investment in your future. You are also setting an example for future generations of your families and friends.
And in the case of JW Chambers, the Oregon pioneer, his maverick ways paved the path for future generations – like his great-children.
One of JW Chambers’ great grandsons grew up to become a legendary track coach, inspiring generations of runners and blazing his own trail for future generations to follow.
That great-grandson developed a new kind of running shoe by experimenting with his wife’s waffle iron in the garage. The waffle iron was destroyed, but his work was critical to founding a little company you may have heard of.
And the great-grandson and running coach? Bill Bowerman.
Today is the day to celebrate your incredible accomplishments, but don’t stop here. Make your mark. Set an example for the next generation so that they too will work hard and make a positive impact on our incredible state.
As I said before, our state motto, “She flies with her own wings,” means different things to different people.
Class of 2016, 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.
Congratulations. I am so proud of each and every one of you.