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Chancellor's commencement remarks

  • July 11, 2006

To all of the families, friends, faculty, staff, and supporters who are joining us here today - welcome. And to our graduates - congratulations.

I want to honor all of you who help make Cal State East Bay such an outstanding institution; to salute the parents, spouses, siblings, children, mentors, and supporters of our graduates; to commemorate the hard work that all of our students have done to earn their degrees; and to offer some advice that our graduates can carry with them as they leave this university.

I promised President Rees that I would keep these remarks brief. So I thought I would follow one of my favorite models, which is known as the shortest commencement address in history. It was given by Sir Winston Churchill at Notre Dame University in 1946.

On that day, the university president gave a long and enthusiastic introduction of Churchill. Churchill then walked to the podium, looked out at the thousands of people, and said, "Never give up!"

Then he turned around and sat down in his chair on the stage. The president, clearly taken aback, said, "Mr. Prime Minister, would you care to expand on that?" So Churchill walked backed to the podium, and said, "Never, never give up!"

And he was finished.

So, in the same spirit, I just have one very short and simple message to share with you today: You are all leaders. And California needs your leadership.

You are all leaders because you have proven that you can pursue a goal and achieve it. You have succeeded in completing your degree. That puts you among the elite. There are a lot of people in our society who are not as fortunate or as determined to make it this far.

In fact, only 29 percent of the adults in California have a bachelor's degree.

As degree holders, you have a unique ability to make a difference in whatever you do, whether it is teaching, finance, politics, science, health care, computers, theater, the arts, or any other field.

You are leaders because you are role models for your siblings, friends, children, or anyone who looks at you and thinks, "I want to do that too."

California and its communities need leaders like you to contribute to the new knowledge-driven economy. And California needs leaders like you to help solve complex problems like fixing the state budget, improving education, alleviating poverty, and protecting our environment.

So how are you going to exercise your leadership?

I hope you will start by recognizing how much power you have as a graduate of Cal State East Bay. You truly have an ability to make a difference.

I hope that you follow your heart and do something that you love to do. I know that if you are doing what you love, you will excel in whatever career it is that you pursue.

I also hope that you will look for ways to give back to your community. I know this university has helped instill in you a strong sense of giving back to others. Cal State students are among the most committed students in the nation in terms of the work they do for their communities.

I hope that you will share your experiences and wisdom with your children or other students who may look up to you as role models. Many of you have conquered incredible challenges in order to be here today. Young people need to hear your stories so that they know that it can be done.

And I hope that you will continue to support public education - especially this institution, your alma mater. The reality is that students pay only about 21 percent of the true cost of a CSU education. Most of the remaining 79 percent is paid by California's taxpayers.

So when I ask you to support this institution, I'm not just asking you to write a check - although President Rees might think that's a good idea. I am asking you to spread the word about how a public university like Cal State East Bay helped you reach your goals.

Be an advocate for public education.

I'm also asking you to challenge us to continue to provide the best education possible for all of the students who will have a chance to follow you here. I am always interested in hearing your ideas on how we can continue to provide access to our universities and serve California's students.

It is leaders like you who will truly make a difference in California and beyond.

I'd like to take a moment to honor two special leaders in education who are here with us today. First, I want to thank President Rees, who is presiding over her last commencement here.

She has had a wonderful career in higher education that spans from Massachusetts to Wisconsin to California. She is a person who cares deeply about students and believes in the power of education to transform lives. She has worked diligently at Cal State East Bay to ensure access, improve and expand academic programs, and enhance the university's reputation.

Norma, thank you for your many years of service to the California State University and its students, faculty, and staff.

Also I want to recognize former Trustee Stanley Wang, who is being honored today. Stanley is a brilliant businessman whose commitment to excellence is matched only by his generosity. At the CSU, he created the Wang Family Excellence Awards to honor CSU faculty and administrators, and he created the Wang Family Scholarship for faculty and students to study in China.

Stanley, you are a true friend of education, and we are honored to have you as part of the CSU family.

I know our graduates are hearing a lot of advice today, so I want to close with some advice that I always like to give graduates. I call these my "top five" pieces of commencement advice:

Continue to read good books;

Don't try to pay your Visa card with your MasterCard;

Don't pierce anything you can't hide in a job interview;

Always check your bag before you leave the drive-in window;

And never give up.

Congratulations, and best of luck to all of California's newest leaders.

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