Katherine “Kate” Brown

Oregon Institute of Technology Commencement Address - June 16, 2018

Katherine “Kate” Brown
June 16, 2018
Print friendly

Good morning, everyone. And thank you, Dr. Nagi for that very generous introduction.

I am truly honored to be with here with you this morning. Congratulations, Class of 2018 – well done! [applause]

Like Commissioner Minty Morris, I want you to take a two-second pause and be here in this moment with me, and consider that you may never again have as much energy or enthusiasm — or hair, or brain cells — than you have right now.

I've learned some very interesting facts about this graduating class: 70 percent of you are from Oregon. The oldest is 60; the youngest is 20. The Dental Hygiene students provided nearly $20,000 in dental care during their studies. Way to keep those smiles coming! [applause] Amid coursework deadlines and projects, some of you even found a way to launch your own businesses—I can’t wait to stop by Brevada Brewhouse. [applause]

No matter where you’re from or how old you are, it’s fairly common to have a little anxiety mixed in with your excitement about finishing college. As you head out into uncharted territory, adrift in a wide sea of possibility and uncertainty.

I certainly struggled with that myself. I went to law school because I wanted the tools to change the world.

Following a few years of practicing law, I realized my path was giving voice to the voiceless.

So, I sought a career in public service.

I became an advocate for a women’s organization. I had the incredible opportunity to lobby the Legislature on policies to improve the health and wellness of Oregon women.

This included improving domestic violence laws, stepping up child [support] enforcement, and advocating for the passage of family medical leave.

My work as an advocate led to my appointment to a vacant seat in the House of Representatives, a position I would need to get elected to in order to keep.

But then, my predecessor, the state representative who stepped down, changed her mind. She decided to run against me, hoping to get her House seat back.

Well, I was doomed – everyone said so. She was well-known; I was not. That made it all but impossible to raise money for my campaign.

But I had two things going for me: guts and determination. If I couldn’t out-fundraise my opponent, I would outwork her.

I became the human embodiment of what it means to run for office.

I ran, sprinting from dawn until dark every single day – knocking on as many doors and talking to as many voters as I could.

And yes, in the end, I won – by seven votes.

Seven. Votes.

I share this story with you today because I believe each and every one of you has the power to change the world.

But you have to be willing to put in the work.

Just like Emma did.

After starting as an English major at another school, Emma got lost—she was wasn’t comfortable and wasn’t challenged. She left a volleyball scholarship and her high school best friend when she moved home, feeling like she derailed her college career.

Her mother – those brilliant moms – suggested that she attend classes at Oregon Tech just to keep the rhythm of school going while she figured out what to do next.

In an intro to C++ programming, alongside classmates who knew what they were doing, Emma was still uncertain. She was scared to try something new and scared to be wrong. Her teacher remembers her crying in class.

What kept Emma going was her teachers’ support. And she is most proud of what she built alongside her classmates.

The fact that she knows she can call her professors on the weekend is a testament not just to your faculty’s dedication, but to hers.

Emma’s graduating today with a degree in computer science. Yes. [applause] She’s starting an internship later this month at Intel. And she hopes to pursue a masters in communications, using her continued love of language to translate her technical field for the rest of us mere mortals.

Emma knows graduation is not a finish line.

It’s a launch pad.

Taking on something big — starting something new — at the end of a long and tiring journey is the epitome of the Oregon Way.

A historian once described the Oregon Trail as a “defining ordeal” that winnowed out those who didn't have sufficient courage, creativity and common sense. Of the half a million people who took the Oregon Trail, more than 10 percent didn’t make it.

One of those who did left an indelible mark on the great state of Oregon.

JW Chambers was a maverick, living a wild life after leaving home at the ripe old age of 15. His family decided to leave Tennessee for Oregon when he was 27, back in 1844. JW wanted to lead the family’s wagon train across the Oregon Trail, but his father wanted him to show leadership. So he challenged JW to demonstrate his maturity by marrying a recently widowed mother of five children.

He took the challenge.

With JW in the lead, the Chambers clan arrived safely in The Dalles seven months after they departed. They settled in the Willamette Valley, but guess what — 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, and their spirit is imprinted onto the DNA of our state. It lives on in the independence and resolve that you brought with you today.

In Oregon, we’re mavericks. We’re one of the first states in the nation to give women the right to vote.

We’re the first state in the nation to make registering to vote automatic when you get your driver’s license.

We’re the first state in the nation to bring an end to coal-generated electricity.

We are also stubbornly persistent. We won’t pump our own gas. We don’t use umbrellas.

That persistence is the common denominator in each of you in the Class of 2018. Because each of you have taken different paths to reach this stage.

You never gave up.

You never gave in. I did not plant that. [laughter]

You will all set out on different roads the moment you leave here today.

And that is what makes our state such a rich and interesting place to live.

We need all different skills and talents. Just like those mavericks on the Oregon Trail, coming together to make the Oregon we know and love.

Now, it’s your turn to come together to make the Oregon of our future.

Earlier this year, I launched Future Ready Oregon, a skill- and job-training initiative. I want to close the gap between the skills Oregon workers have and the skills our growing businesses need to fuel the economy of Oregon’s future.

The hands-on learning opportunities that are the hallmark of Oregon Tech make it the embodiment of Future Ready Oregon. The practical training that's been the focus of your education will help you hit the ground running in the career of your choice.

And within the next six months, 97 percent of you will be doing so in your first jobs after graduation or in graduate school. That's truly extraordinary. [applause]

Every student in Oregon deserves these experiences, and the chance to cross a graduation stage with marketable skills, and the tools to compete in a global economy.

All of you have spent the last four years – some of you five, a few of you six – learning about the world, and hopefully seeing the possibilities that lie in front of you.

Guess what, graduates? The ball is now in your court. We want to see what you do with it.

As a great example, one of JW Chambers’ great grandsons grew up to be 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. Unfortunately, the waffle iron was destroyed, but his work was critical to founding a little company you may have heard of.


And that great-grandson and running coach? Bill Bowerman.

Today is the day to celebrate your incredible accomplishments so far, but don’t stop here. Make your mark. Follow your passion.

Just like JW paved a path for future generations, starting today, you have the chance to set your future — and the future of your families — in the direction of your dreams. To define success for yourself, and to model it for everyone who follows you.

Because there is no question that one person—or in the case of my first legislative race, seven—can change the world.

I believe that person is you.

You are at home in this community, this state, this world: 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.

Build community. Foster hope, progress, and innovation. Shine your light into the world.

And look around you. You aren’t alone. You are part of a generation that is poised to change the world.

You will put Oregon on a path toward prosperity.

And you will put us on a path toward a better world.

Congratulations. I am so proud of each and every one of you. Thank you.

Brown, Kate. 2018. "OIT Commencement 2018." Office of the Oregon Governor Kate Brown. https://www.oregon.gov/gov/speeches/pages/OIT-Commencement-2018.aspx.

Oregon Institute of Technology. "Oregon Institute of Technology 2018 Commencement Ceremony." June 16, 2018. YouTube video, 2:44:59. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeK274k4z7k.