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May 10, 2014
As prepared for delivery
Good morning! Thank you Dr. Garcia. Graduates of the University of Texas at Brownsville, Class of 2014, let me first say, Congratulations! You have worked hard. You have persevered. You have excelled. And in just a few minutes, after just a few more speeches, you will be done. No more classes, no more papers, no more tests, no more late night cramming, no more Red Bull.
You have made it!
700 graduates, and a crowd of thousands. What a day of pride for everyone!
Today, in front of your families, in front of your friends, in front of your professors and this community, this Brownsville community, you will walk across this stage and you will receive your well-earned college diploma.
Behind you are the shining faces of your madres y padres, abuelitas y abuelitos, hermanos y hermanas, tias, tios y primos. Of course, your primos. All of us are here today to celebrate this moment in your life – to honor your incredible achievement.
Years ago, I was sitting in an audience just like this. Like many of you, I was the first in my family to graduate from college. And like you, I didn't do it alone. My father got me a really, really big, very old, very ugly, gas guzzling Oldsmobile so I could drive to school. My mother pushed me to do well in my studies because she only had a fifth grade education. My brothers and my sister, they were there for me, just like your family is here for you right now.
Like your parents, my mother and my father knew that education is the key to the American dream. And like them, my mother and my father did all they could to prepare their children for life's journey.
This will be one of the most significant moments in your life. You will remember this moment forever. I suspect you might not remember everything that I say in my speech today.
But if you can remember just a few things, I would offer a few words of advice.
Maybe not today. Because really today is a day for celebrating. Maybe not tomorrow. But maybe next week. When you have some quiet time. On that day, I want you just to sit back for a moment.
Before you begin looking for a job or whatever you will do over the next few months. I want you to think for just a moment about whose shoulders you stood on to get to this point in your life. I want you to think about who was there for you on this journey. Who congratulated you. Who kept you focused. Who laughed with you. Who helped you pay the bills. Who encouraged you. Who reminded you that you needed to study. Who drove you. Who made sacrifices for you. And who inspired you to keep going.
And think about your friends. Think about how you have supported and helped each other. You may be leaving Brownsville as you go on with your lives. But I'll bet you have made lifelong friends here. Cherish those friendships.
So after that moment, after that moment that you take to think about all those who have touched you along this journey.
Maybe one thing you could do is simply to say thank you. And that's because none of us achieves anything alone.
So maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but maybe next week.
You will sit down and think about what's next in your life. Now I know that some of you have already made plans. You are going back to school for a higher degree. You already have a job.
Maybe some of you are still thinking about what you're going to do after the University of Texas at Brownsville. Thinking about what comes next is exciting and frankly, I know it can be overwhelming.
So many questions, so many choices.
Maybe thinking about who's gone before you is a place to start. Think about the deep roots of success right here in this valley, right here in ciudad de Brownsville. You can trace the roots of success in the stories of people from el valle.
My friend and my mentor, someone I care deeply about. Federico Pena, was born right here in Brownsville. He went to school at St. Joseph's Academy. He went on to become a civil rights activist, the Mayor of Denver, and the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and then the U.S. Secretary of Energy. He was the first Mexican-American Mayor of Denver, the first Latino U.S. Secretary of Transportation, and the first Latino U.S. Secretary of Energy. And it all started right here at St. Joseph's in Brownsville.
Yes, the roots of success in the Valley are deep.
Your President, Juliet Garcia, was also born in Brownsville. She and her two brothers were the first generation in her family to go to college. When she was appointed President of Texas Southmost College in 1986, Dr. Garcia became the first Mexican-American woman to be president of a college or university in the United States. She became the first Mexican-American woman to be president of a college or university in these United States.
The roots of success in the Valley are deep.
Domingo Martinez grew up in Brownsville. He graduated from Homer Hanna High School. His first book, The Boy Kings of Texas, a Memoir, was a National Book Award finalist in 2012. It will soon be an HBO series, produced by Salma Hayek.
The roots of success in this Valley are deep.
Jesus Hinojosa is graduating from the University of Texas at Brownsville today! Where are you Jesus? Jesus has already had his first first.
He has launched his first software startup. A physics major, Jesus is researching black holes in space. And he's going on for his doctorate in physics. I see more new companies in his future.
Yes, the roots of success in this Valley are very deep.
So maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But maybe next week. Think about those trailblazers and your mentors. Let their experiences guide you to what's next. Who knows what firsts may be in store for you? Your future will have firsts in it that none of us can imagine. You know, this is a really exciting time for the Latino community. We are voting in record numbers. We are electing more Latinos to city councils, to statehouses, to Congress. Our voices are being heard at the highest levels.
We are a force in communications, in commerce. We are innovators. We are entrepreneurs. Latinos also are starting businesses at rates three times faster than the national average.
That means your opportunities are so great. This community, your families, your teachers, have nurtured you. They have given you the tools to grow and to achieve.
But now it's your time.
So maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But maybe next week. I hope that you will take a moment to think about what you are passionate about.
Think about what lights you up inside. What makes you excited to get up each morning? What you have always wanted to do. I encourage you to find a way to do what you are passionate about. And let your passions help determine your future.
You are starting this next chapter of your life in an America being rebuilt from the Great Recession. You can help make it an America with an immigration system that works, an America that takes care of its most vulnerable, an America that leads the world on climate change.
And I hope as you discover your passions, that you will consider public service, that you will do what others in this Valley have done – help make America a more perfect union.
I never dreamed when I started out as an elementary school teacher that I would become the first Latina political director for a national presidential campaign. Or that I would become the first Latina to head the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. But I did know to follow my passion for public service. I had mentors who helped guide my path. And I had, frankly, a little luck.
I'll bet J.J. Guarjardo never thought that when he taught chess to his Russell Elementary School class to get them to stay in their seats and behave, that he was creating the chess mecca right here in Brownsville. Or that he would become known as the Godfather of Brownsville Chess. Or that just last month, the UTB chess team would clobber the University of Warsaw in an online chess match.
So I guess you have to be open to every possibility. Don't dismiss any idea or any experiment. You never know what will ignite your passions.
You can't expect to have all the answers right away. They're not there. The path to your future won't always be easy. It will, I promise, be rocky. The tasks will not be easy. In fact, some will be very hard.
But you will learn from every experience. You can find dignity in each step. You can find value in each assignment. The nuggets of wisdom that you gather from each will take you to the next step of your journey.
Share your wisdom with others. Yes, find Your mentors. But also Be mentors. Help others who are searching for their passions, their path.
So, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but maybe next week, think about the firsts that may be in store for you.
You have to let your passions, you have to let your instincts help lead you down the path to a future that that none of us here today can imagine.
Dream big. Take risks. Push yourself. Don't take no for an answer. Don't just think about what's possible. Strive for the impossible.