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Concord commencement keynote

  • June 2, 2005

It is an honor to be invited to join you today for this historic occasion-the first graduation ceremony here at the Concord Campus of the California State University, East Bay. It is an historic occasion both for each of you graduates and for our community.

It is first and foremost a pivotal milestone for each of you who have worked so diligently to earn your degree and are graduating. It is undoubtedly one of the most important days in your lives-appropriately a joyous celebration for you and your families and your friends. You have opened up a whole new world of opportunity for yourselves and your families. To begin with, you have immediately increased your earning power by at least 40%. And, that's very good for both you and our community and economy. But, more importantly, you have opened up so many more doors to a rewarding career and satisfying life of interesting experiences, meaningful achievement and personal contentment.

I identify so personally with the sense of gratitude and accomplishment you must feel today. I was the first person to graduate from college in my family. Growing up on a small dairy farm in the San Joaquin Valley, my parents always instilled the value of education in me and my brother. They wanted more than anything else for their children to be able to go to college. And, although like you I worked very hard to study and earn good grades to get admitted to college, I was fortunate to have tons of moral support from my family, needed financial aid from scholarships, and lots of encouragement from teachers. Getting a college education changed my live forever, for the better, in so many ways. For example, I could never have imagined that my college education would lead to the varied jobs I've had and that the combination of experiences would result in being granted a few years ago an honorary degree from California State University, Hayward-an honor I will always treasure. (Perhaps I could get the certificate updated to add the words CSU East Bay.) I also want to add that my husband, John, earned his teaching degree from CSU Hayward and continues to make such a valuable contribution to students and their futures by teaching math here in the Mt. Diablo School District.

Looking back over the past 4 decades on my experiences, I want to share just a few thoughts with you.

First, life can go by very fast. Time seems to fly even when you're not having fun. So, remember to take time for yourself and family-have fun. Savor life and all the adventures you can pursue.

Second, don't miss the opportunity to use your education to make the world around you a better place-you'll be able to enjoy life more by doing so.

Third, while we all have to make our own personal journey through life, we never do it alone. We are connected to one another and affect each other. It is our "connectedness" that gives us our humanity and a sense of community. And, that in turn, enhances our enjoyment of life.

To me, having the opportunity to get a good education carries with it an obligation to use it for the betterment of others. Because, remember, we all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. Do not underestimate your ability to make a difference in the world-be it in your daily lives with the people immediately around you-or on a global scale.

One of my personal heroes-besides my parents, and the men and women who serve with such courage and bravery in the military-died this year. I always have found inspiration and strength from Rosa Parks, who on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama stood up for justice and equality by sitting down and refusing to give up her seat on the bus. With quiet determination and conviction-bolstered by a deep faith-Rosa Parks individually propelled the Civil Rights Movement to a heightened level of public awareness and consciousness. To be sure, she was supported and backed up by a very able group of community leaders-most notably Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who came to the fore-but it was Rosa Parks's personal act of courage that energized the movement and changed the course of history. Today, we are all the beneficiaries.

American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead is renowned for observing:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

And therein lies the story behind the second reason today is historic-the first graduation at the Concord Campus of the new CSU East Bay--with 547 students eligible to participate and 168 here to mark the occasion.

Having a CSU campus in Concord and Contra Costa County was a dream of many people-but it was a relatively few (in comparison to the whole population of our county) who made it happen. Most notably, Dean and Margaret Lesher of the Contra Costa Times aggressively advocated for this campus. They recruited many of us to join in testifying before state policy makers. That included State Senator Dan Boatwright, the namesake of Boatwright Field on which we're seated. In fact, when Dan and I ran against each other in 1988 for State Senate, the Leshers took advantage of the competition and got both of us always to show up at the same time and testify. By the way, I lost that election, but I'm still here fighting for what I believe in.

All of you gathered here today are the biggest testament to how historic this event is.

The impressive group of civic leaders on this platform also are a reflection of how important this campus is for the future of Contra Costa County. The elected officials-Assemblyman Canciamilla, Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier, Supervisor Federal Glover, Mayor Susan Bonilla, Councilmember Helen Allen-all know that having our own CSU campus is transforming to our economic potential, quality of life, and cultural amenities. The value of having our own CSU campus is borne out by the diversity of this graduating class-with 70% being residents of Contra Costa County. Clearly, this campus is a major asset in providing access to higher education for our residents. I know the pledge of these elected officials is to continue to support CSU East Bay and the Concord Campus here in Contra Costa County.

And, the value of education also is well recognized by the State of California. Governor Schwarzenegger's proposed budget puts more money into education-K-12 and higher education-than ever before in the State's history-including an additional $38 million for replacing a student services building at CSU East Bay. And, as we work out of the state budget deficit this Administration inherited 2 years ago and as we continue to grow the state's economy, more dollars will be invested in education-because we know there is always a return on that investment in education for taxpayers and citizens. Just look at the President of the Concord Chapter of the CSU East Bay Alumni Association, Krista Kohlberg, who with her degree in hand is returning even greater value to this institution. Education is the most potent instrument of democracy to achieve equality and improve quality of life.

Dean Peter Wilson has recruited an impressive group of civic leaders to serve on the Concord Campus Board of Counselors-all individuals who are making a huge contribution to the betterment of this institution and the community-and thereby making the world a better place. Don Blubaugh, Jack Acosta, Helen Allen, Tim Butterini, Marvin Remmich, Roger Haughton, Angie Coffee are outstanding examples of civic leaders making a difference. I am especially impressed by the dedication of one of the advisors, Michael Chavez, who, along with his wife Vikki, is a very business small business person and a very involved parent of Austin and Dallas, but who also is volunteering his time and expertise to make this university world-class. And, Tim Silva, an Executive of Wells Fargo Bank, raises funds for many good causes, but also has found time to serve as Chair of the Education Foundation.

These are the individuals within our community who are an inspiration and role models for you. They are shining examples of how to make a difference in the lives of others.

So, as you celebrate today, take just a few moments to think about and reflect on what you want to accomplish with the rest of your life and how you will make your community better. As you lift your glass to toast your graduation, say aloud to family and friends just 3 things you will do-I assure you that will be enough to shape your life's course to "say thank you" to society for the benefit of your education and to give you more fulfillment in life. And, just like those who fought for this Concord Campus of CSU East Bay, never give up on your dreams. In fact, pursue your dreams with all the energy and enthusiasm you can summon.

One of the local civic leaders who worked hard to secure for this campus is Former Concord Mayor Dan Helix, who years ago shared a quote from Geothe to encourage me to run for office in 1978, when it seemed like a very long shot and the odds were against me. He wrote it to me in a letter which I have to this day and review periodically to remind me not to give up on my dreams:

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."

By the way, I won that election, and I'm still here fighting for what I believe in.

So, never give up on your dreams. And, believe in your ability to make a difference in the world.
Recognition of President Norma Rees

No one is a better example of the difference one person can make, individually and leading others, than President Norma Rees.

Dr. Rees has been President of CSU Hayward / CSU East Bay for 16 years, since July 1990. She has taken the heritage of CSU Hayward, founded in 1958, and with her vision and skilled leadership, evolved it into California State University, East Bay.

Before coming to California, she held executive leadership positions in education in the Massachusetts, Wisconsin and New York. Her education is in speech pathology and audiology, with a doctorate in speech. An eloquent speaker, Dr. Rees seems to embody the understanding of why God gave us all two ears, but only one mouth-so we all could listen more to others than talk. And, indeed, Norma does that in spades, working with and empowering students, faculty, community leaders, civic organizations. She always listens patiently and thoughtfully, and then, when she speaks, she always has something profound to say. I am continuously amazed and impressed by how involved Norm is in community activities and civic organizations-and she is respected across the board by all and valued as a wise leader. These organizations include the Contra Costa Council, Hayward Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Alliance for Business, Bay Area World Trade Center, Hayward Rotary and Bay Area Council.

It is no surprise that Dr. Rees is listed in Who's Who in America, Who' Who of American Women, Who's Who in American Education, and Who's Who in the West.

But, you may not know how much of a renaissance woman and adventurer she is. Norma loves old movies, musicals, and her early wish was to pursue opera singing. She loves the music from "Carousel" particularly because she used to sing it with her late husband Ray. And, she and Ray used to have a small sailboat and went out most weekends on Long Island Sound when they lived in New York.

And, when it comes to the California State University system, President Rees is an outstanding leader among leaders-she is the dean of Presidents and has pioneered in so many areas of higher education. She has led, nurtured and transformed CSU Hayward, establishing California State University East Bay as apremier educational institution that will be one of the most important cornerstones of economic prosperity and community achievement for our region going forward. Her legacy is everyone gathered here today, all the graduates over the last 16 years, and all who will benefit in the future from her many contributions to CSU East Bay.

Thus, it is indeed a distinct honor and privilege for me to present to Dr. Norma Rees this commendation from the Governor of the State of California:
Commendation from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

I am pleased to convey my heartfelt appreciation for your sixteen years of dedicated service as the California State University East Bay President.

California's public education system is the envy of the world, nurturing talented students and providing resources for them to become great leaders and innovators.

Your commitment to excellence is an inspiration to all those who serve in public education. Our state owes much to people like you who believe in the potential of every student.

Your contributions to public education have made California a better place to live and learn, and I commend you for your accomplished career.

Please accept my best wishes for every future success and happiness.

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