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I had the great privilege today of giving the commencement address at Miami Dade College for the Class of 2015. These students worked hard to make it across that stage. Many of them held down jobs while they pursued their degrees; some of them were raising families as they carved out time for studying and homework -- all the while keeping alive their hopes for a better life than perhaps their parents have had.
As I shared my own experiences with these impressive graduates, I also thought about the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative this week. It encourages students to continue on to higher education, and I was reminded that the inspiring scene I witnessed in Florida today is still out of reach for so many.
I was once discouraged from attending college myself, by a high school guidance counselor who could not see past my ethnicity and my family’s modest circumstances to envision the future that my good grades and work ethic made possible for me. I didn’t know when I was just starting out as a young student in Colorado that someday I would be part of the President’s leadership team. But, I told the Miami Dade College graduates, I did know that I had more in me than what those who discouraged me to aim high believed.
I also urged them to be passionate about what they do and to let their passions guide them. I have had many jobs -- teacher, school administrator, chief of staff to a big-city mayor and to Cabinet secretaries, and now the human resources leader for the largest employer in the country. And in each and every one of these positions, I have followed my deep commitment to strengthening the role of women and of people of color in public service. That passion has been my true north, and I encouraged the graduates to find the passion that will guide them.
I reminded them that character matters. Throughout my life, I have chosen not to dwell on the people or circumstances that could hold me back. I chose to celebrate the school administrator who saw my potential, the Denver leaders who recognized my commitment to public service and social justice, and the President who sought out my leadership skills. It is those individuals whose character I wished to emulate. I shared with the graduates my own discovery that character is shaped not just by what you do, but by whom you stand with and how you treat others.
And finally, I told them that if they are strong of character, committed to their own success, and determined to face and overcome their fears, they will be on a path that leads to all they’ve dreamed of.
From Japan to India to Samoa, and from Indonesia to Hawaii, Asian American and Pacific Islanders represent the diversity and traditions that enrich our collective cultural and political heritage. May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and this year’s theme is APA Everywhere.
This year, the President is taking the unprecedented step of hosting a White House Summit on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on May 12. Attendees from across the country, including many Federal employees, will participate in a full day of programs on health, education, civil rights, immigration, and the arts. I share the President’s deep commitment to make sure we value the contributions of all our communities and that we build a Federal workforce that draws on the rich diversity of our great country.
The President demonstrates his commitment to inclusion by continuing to bring talented and innovative Asian-American leaders into the administration. Jane Chu is the new Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. And Michelle Lee is the new Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In addition to heading agencies, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are serving at all levels within the Federal workforce.
All of us in the Federal Government have a responsibility to recruit Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who can make important contributions to the essential work we do to keep America running. That’s why OPM is participating with the Federal Asian Pacific American Council in a Student Pathway Seminar and Career Fair on May 6. I want to make sure that we only not only have as many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders serving our country as possible, but that they have a seat at every decision-making table.
That’s what inclusion is all about. We launched the REDI Roadmap this year so that we could develop an even more diverse and engaged workforce. REDI stands for Recruitment, Engagement, Diversity, and Inclusion. Through REDI, we are determined to help applicants from every community in this great country successfully navigate the hiring process.
During the month of May, I encourage you to learn all you can about AAPI history. At OPM, our Asian American and Pacific Islander American Employee Resource Group and other organizations across the Federal Government will be holding presentations, discussions, and other events during this month.
As America’s workforce continues to become more diverse and more inclusive, this diversity of experience, perspectives, and talent will help us even more successfully serve the American people.
Child adoptions. Free mammograms. Disaster relief. Food donations.
These are just a few of the many efforts that are supported by the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) program because of the generosity of Federal employees. I am pleased and proud to announce that in 2014, Federal employees donated $193.2 million to charities around the world. The average gift from individuals also increased in size from $322 in 2013 to $340 in 2014.
One of the highlights of this year’s campaign was the introduction of universal giving. Employees were able to donate not just to the causes listed on their local CFC Charity Lists but to any of the 24,000 CFC organizations. The idea behind universal giving is to allow employees to donate to causes in their hometowns and other places they care about. After all, charitable giving is a very personal decision that comes from the heart, and the options for giving should reflect that. Universal giving especially helps military service members and civilian employees whose jobs take them overseas or to various posts around the country.
There are more exciting changes to the CFC on the way. For the 2016 campaign, there will be a simplified e-giving option for all Federal employees and an online application system for charities. OPM is also streamlining the pledge processing system to reduce administrative costs. We are also introducing educational programs that will allow employees to interact with charities and their beneficiaries to find out about how CFC contributions can make a real impact in people’s lives.
Federal employees have a passion for service, and not just on the job. Whether it’s giving money through the CFC or the time they devote to service projects, Federal employees are always there, serving their communities.
Thank you for continuing to make the CFC the world’s largest and most successful annual workplace giving campaign. You continue to make a real and meaningful difference. And your generous participation in the CFC is one of the many reasons that I am proud to be a leader of a public service workforce that is second to none.
Be prepared. That may sound like an overused slogan. But as OPM Director, it is my job to make sure that our Federal workforce is fully prepared to continue to serve the American people even during an emergency, whether it’s a man-made or a natural disaster.
That’s why I’m excited that OPM is once again a partner in America’s PrepareAthon National Day of Action. This campaign is designed to increase awareness among Americans about the need to be prepared for all emergencies.
On April 30, communities, organizations, families, and individuals were encouraged to take steps to prepare for potential disasters. Some examples were conducting a drill, updating supplies, facilitating a group discussion, and holding a group exercise. Awareness, conversation, and planning are the vital first steps in creating environments that can respond quickly and effectively to emergencies.
One of the reasons we have the Day of Action is to recognize that risks are not the same in all locations. Some areas are prone to earthquakes, while others are more likely to experience a tornado. Knowing what hazards are most likely – and more importantly, how to prepare for them – is at the heart of the PrepareAthon. I encourage you to consider the emergencies that you might face in your own communities.
OPM participated in the PrepareAthon by holding a shelter-in-place drill. During this drill, OPM employees practiced getting away from windows and other areas that would be unsafe in the event of a tornado, high winds, or extreme rain or snow. We want our workers to know the best ways to deal with these extreme situations. As for me, I met with my senior leadership and OPM’s preparedness team to review and discuss the actions we would need to take during an emergency to make sure our employees stayed safe and to ensure the agency would continue to function as needed.
I encourage everyone to review the resources on the PrepareAthon website. Ask your employer about the emergency plan for your agency. Talk to your families about your personal plans, too. We can face emergency situations with quick action and calm if we plan ahead. I believe it is important to take every step we can to make sure that we keep our employees and their families safe.
I celebrated Earth Day last week by talking about my love for our national parks. Here at OPM, we know how vital it is to protect our environment each and every day. So I am proud to share that the Environmental Protection Agency has chosen the Office of Personnel Management as a recipient of a Federal Green Challenge Award for our dramatic reduction of water consumption at OPM headquarters in Washington, D.C.
In just one year, we reduced our water consumption by 38 percent at the Theodore Roosevelt Building. Many thanks to our mindful occupants and facilities staff for overseeing the installation of efficient water fixtures, replacing indoor plants with ones that do not require watering, working with our water utility company to ensure accurate meter readings, and establishing Best Management Practices for Water Efficiencies.
Government-wide, more than 400 facilities, representing 1.3 million employees, participated in the Federal Green Challenge in 2014. Together, we diverted waste from landfills, cut back on our use of natural gas, and recycled electronics. We decreased our use of fossil fuels and saved millions of miles in transportation emissions. In 2013, Federal employees not only took steps to preserve our natural resources, they collectively saved U.S. taxpayers more than $24 million.
The President has a strong commitment to protecting the environment, which includes his global leadership on climate change and clean energy initiatives. This award reminds me that the Federal workforce can have a real impact in supporting the administration in celebrating and caring for the environment.
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