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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks by Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor
Bridgeport High School Commencement
Bridgeport, Washington
Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Thank you, Bridgeport High School! Muchisimas gracias gente!

Congratulations to the class of 2011!!

I'm fired up! Are you guys fired up?!!

You better be! You deserve to be!

We've got some wonderful guests who are here, and I just want to make mention of them very quickly.

First of all, the Governor of Washington, Chris Gregoire is here. Chris, thank you for that wonderful introduction and thank you for making this state, not just ANY state, but the GREAT state of Washington!

Two members of the Washington State congressional delegation, both of whom care deeply about education are here today — Senator Linda Evans Parlette, and Congressman Jay Enslee. Let's give them a big round of applause.

Graduates, let me begin by saying that I am so proud of each and every one of you.

You made it!

Go Mustangs (boys)! Go Phillies (girls)!

But there are a lot of people here who helped you make it through.

People like your principal, Tamra Jackson who I'm told is not only your principal, but your event planner, your press contact, your security guard and even your town fire fighter!

Talk about hard work! Tamra, we have a lot of work to do in Washington, are you sure you don't come back with me?!

I also want to acknowledge the devoted teachers and the incredible staff here at Bridgeport who believed in you, who kept pushing you to do more, and to be better.

I understand you're a pretty opinionated bunch, so it probably wasn't easy at times! They deserve applause.

And last but not least, I want to congratulate all of your families here today. . .

The moms (madres) and dads (padres), the brothers (hermanos) and sisters (hermanas), all the tios and abuelitos, the friends and neighbors here today...

This is their day, too!

Felicidades a todas las familias presentes! Este dia es de ustedes tambien!

Bridgeport High, what you have accomplished here is nothing short of amazing.

I know that for many of you, getting to this moment hasn't been easy.

At times on your journey, you may have felt like you wanted to give up — like all the odds were stacked against you.

There are family challenges. Money challenges. There's peer pressure and societal challenges.

Society and the media often write off the talent and the potential of small towns like this one.

Some people say that immigrant communities — communities of hard-working people — have little to offer.

They say that in the face of great adversity, young people like you will never go anywhere, that you have little chance of making it.

I understand that some of them actually protested your success with Race to the Top.

So, class of 2011, today you should stand tall. Because today, you've proven all of that to be wrong!

You ARE going places! And you HAVE made it!

Your hard work has made it to the White House... you've made national headlines... you're even celebrities on you tube! That's right, I saw that application video!

Most of you will be the first in your families to go to college — some of you are the first in your families to even graduate from high school!

You've created a "college in the high school" program to get a head start.

You've made it possible for kids to take AP classes and earn college credits.

You've stuck to a rigorous five-year plan and require more credits to graduate than any other high school in the area.

Some of you serve as city council representatives, school board representatives and six of you even serve as volunteer fire fighters.

You've won the Washington State achievement award.

Your girl's soccer team went to state and members of the track team went to state, too!

In so many wonderful ways you've beaten the odds.

But there's something more...

You've created a new culture -- a culture that rewards hard work and discipline; a culture that shows every student here that they matter, and that their teachers believe in them.

As Principal Jackson says, "There are no excuses at Bridgeport. You get in, you work hard, and you do your very best.

That's why I'm here today.

Because of that incredible work ethic, I stand proudly in front of 37 brilliant graduates.

Each and every one of you has applied to college, and each and every one of you has been accepted!

But today isn't only about the success of Bridgeport High School. It's also about the success of Bridgeport, the community.

It's clear that this is a community that values education and hard work.

Perseverance is nothing new to this town. Your strong work ethic is something that has been passed down from one generation of hard-working people onto the next.

And it began as far back as the late 1800's with Chinese immigrants. They came here as miners to extract gold from along the banks of the Columbia River.

Many years later, with great uncertainty and fear, people that look like me and many of you, migrated north to this place to work on farms and pick fruit in orchards, with hope for a better life.

They worked hard, they were successful, and they stayed.

And today, that beautiful tradition — that unwavering spirit of perseverance — lives on in each and every one of you.

It has carried you to this uniquely American moment.

A moment that proves that America is still a place where anyone — regardless of where they come from or what they look like — can make it if they just try!

An education changes everything. In today's world, it's necessary to get ahead.

President Obama has said, "Education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success, it is a prerequisite."

And as someone who's only here because of the chances my education gave me, I couldn't agree more.

That's why this administration has been working hard to make sure that we build on the progress that's taking place in schools like yours.

Real change that's led not by politicians, not by Washington, D.C., but by teachers and principals and parents, and entire communities; by ordinary people standing up and demanding a better future for their children.

My mother immigrated to this country to escape poverty in Nicaragua.

I like to say that she worked two jobs. She cooked, cleaned and tended to my siblings and me during the day. Then she would go work the late shift at a toy factory at night.

My father came here from Mexico and worked as a farm worker, railroad worker and as a union shop steward in a battery recycling plant.

Like the many families here, my parents made worked hard and made many sacrifices so me and brothers and sisters — there are seven of us — could fulfill our potential and achieve whatever our talents would allow.

Though our family could not afford much, we always had each other. My parents knew that the only way for their children to have a better life was to get an education.

Without their love, their moral and spiritual support, I know I couldn't be standing in front of you today.

They raised us in a town called La Puente — a small suburb on the outskirts of Los Angeles, where the houses and the people look a lot like they do here.

We lived in unjust conditions — in the midst of terrible pollution from dirty landfills and toxic dumps. My parents and our neighbors had to work in the thick of it.

But I was also seeing injustice take place across the world... The Vietnam War... The Civil rights movement.

And in high school I started to read about history, about our constitution, about our ideals.

Then I would go home, look around, and think: "this just isn't right."

And as I learned more, I realized how angry it made me.

One of my high school counselors, Mr. Sanchez, told me that I could help change it if I went to college.

But college wasn't something we thought about where I grew up. No one in my family ever had.

But a different counselor told me I wasn't college material. He told me I was best suited for office work and suggested that I become a secretary.

Well, as it turns out, he was right.

I was suited to be a Secretary.

The United States Secretary of Labor!

So because of my parents and my community, and with help from Mr. Sanchez, I went to college and it changed my life.

And over the years, even when it's gotten tough, I still lean on the advice of the people who got me here.

I think about my father who told me, "Hold your head up high. And remember to respect yourself and others. Be proud of your Latino heritage."

I think about my high school counselor, Mr. Sanchez, who put a college application in my hand told me to take my anger and energy — and channel it to help others like me.

And I think about one of my greatest heroes — a proud farm worker — Cesar Chavez who inspired a movement with three little words: "SI SE PUEDE." (YES WE CAN)

For me, this advice led to a lifelong career in public service. And I share it with you today because your country needs you.

You see, class of 2011, you and your generation are now responsible for our future.

You're role models now. And you'll be leaders for years to come.

You're going to have to make a choice about whether we'll say we can't afford to educate people like you and send them to college, or whether we continue to make this country competitive in the 21st century.

Your siblings, your friends, and people you don't even know are counting on you.

But I have confidence that what you've learned here will steer you in the right direction.

I understand that many of you already have plans to come back to Bridgeport after college, to help people here and make this community an even better place. And I think that's beautiful.

But like your journey here, your next one isn't always going to be easy.

Because life isn't always easy. .

When you go out into the world, you won't just be competing with people from Seattle, Washington or Portland.

You'll be competing against people from China and India.

They're going to put up a pretty good fight and you all need to be prepared for it.

Some of you will go on to big colleges and universities in big cities, or go into the military to protect this country in places across the globe. . .

And you'll do it while this country — and this world — continues to change so fast.

And that kind of change can be scary, it can be intimidating.

And there will be times when you feel like you have felt some days here. Like the underdog, like you want to give up — like all the odds are stacked against you.

And when that moment comes, you'll think about Bridgeport.

Like me, you'll think about your families, about your teachers, and about this beautiful community.

But you'll get through it.

You'll lean on everything you've learned from this place, and I have no doubt that you'll persevere, just like the generations of hard-working people who have come before you!

As this country's first Latina Labor Secretary — as someone who was told by others to aim low and think small — I have a message for you today:

Keep going. Don't let anyone or anything stand in your way.

Ask questions. Argue responsibly. And let your voice be heard.

Shake things up. Have fun.

Don't only challenge yourselves, but get better at challenging others — your friends, your professors, your elected officials.

Our future as a people depends so much on what you will do.

But this is no ordinary class. And I know you will go on to do extraordinary things.

The test will be how far you're willing to go — not only for yourselves, but for others, too.

And you don't have to run for elected office or be famous; you just have to keep doing what you've done here, and get better at it. And you have to make you mother and father proud — which you already have.

So when you leave this school today, diplomas in hand, with the love and support of your families and of this community, and with all of the hopes and dreams in the world. . .

Remember that you've inspired a nation to follow in your footsteps...

Remember that with this moment comes great responsibility to help others do the same. . .

And remember that the destiny of this great country belongs to each and every one of you.

Get out there, and go shape it!

Congratulations, Class of 2011! Felicidades! God Bless You and Godspeed!