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

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Miami Dade College Commencement
Miami, Florida
Saturday, May 2, 2009

Good evening.

Thank you Dr. (Rolando) Montoya for that warm and kind introduction.

I want to congratulate you on your leadership and dedication to higher education.

Good evening faculty and staff, students and family members.

First, let me just say how honored I am to be here.

When I think of the people who have been here at this podium before me, I am truly humbled and honored.

As I look around, I am filled with a sense of pride and excitement for this graduating class.

Not only because Miami Dade College graduates more minority students than any other institution, but because your student body resembles the United Nations.

Students here hail from 182 countries and speak 93 languages. This is the largest and most diverse college in the nation. What a wonderful thing to be a part of!

We are here to celebrate your achievements and your hard work.

You've put in your time, and it's paid off.

The long days of studying in the library or with your study group are now a thing of the past. You no longer have to rush out of the office to get to your class on time or make arrangements with your counselor to go over your schedule.

So, take a moment to relax... You've earned it. Let it sink in. You are a college graduate!

But don't get too comfortable because you're not done just yet.

You thought you were off the hook, but your faculty granted me the honor of being able to give you one last lesson.

I thought about what lesson I could lecture on this evening.

Being a former elected official and now a Cabinet Secretary, naturally I'm sure you thought I would talk about politics and how this experience has shaped my life. But rather than lecture you, I thought I'd leave you with some advice that has helped me over the years.

First and most importantly, you must love what you do and be the best at it.

College is something you complete, but life is something you experience. Now that you've completed this phase in your life, you have many new and exciting choices to make.

When you're in college it's very clear what you need to do to succeed. You know the number of credits you need to graduate and which classes you need to complete your major.

But the truly exciting part of life is that there is no core curriculum, it is all an elective... The path is infinite.

So you won't have to worry about grades and homework from now on because success is defined in numerous ways.

Whether it's landing that big promotion you wanted. Or starting your own business. Or starting a family or continuing to raise one.

You all find success because it will come from your own internal sense of ambition.

Now, I'd like to tell you a bit about my personal story, and how I got to where I am today.

I am the third child of seven and the oldest daughter of first-generation immigrant parents. My mother immigrated to this country from Nicaragua to escape poverty. She stayed home for many years to raise my brothers and sisters and me. She later went to work in a toy factory to help make ends meet.

My father was from Mexico and worked as a farm worker, railroad worker, and as a Teamsters shop steward in a battery recycling plant.

Like many families, my parents made many sacrifices so my siblings and I could live up to 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.

Their love and work ethic is something that I will always take with me wherever I go. This work ethic and my father's advice — "Question everything, don't just accept other people's opinions" is what helped me early in my life.

And am I glad I listened to his words.

In high school I was a good student, but I didn't really have any ambition to attend college. I was told by my career counselor that I was best suited for an office job, something like a secretary.

Well, I guess he wasn't wrong after all. I was suited to be a Secretary... The Labor Secretary.

I wonder what would have happened if I had listened to him and not my father?

Luckily, I didn't, and I knew that I could do better.

I am proud to have been the first in my family to graduate from college. It would have been impossible without the support of my family and someone whom I met while I was a student in high school.

Because of Mr. Roberto Sanchez, I was able to attend college. He was a high school counselor and he encouraged me to go to college. Thanks to him I was accepted into a government-sponsored program college program and was able to fulfill my goals beyond anything I dreamed was possible.

My parents were wary of the idea of me going off to college in the beginning. They were very proud that I was accepted into the university, but it was difficult for them to let their mijita go off to live on a college campus, even though the school was only 20 minutes away.

But after a very thorough inspection, my parents approved, and off to college I went.

Once I stepped on campus, my world had expanded. I met students from other parts of California and not just my little barrio. I made friends with students from all over the country and the world.

The diversity here at Miami Dade is an asset, not an obstacle, and in many ways reminds me of my university experience.

Like many of you, I worked throughout college to make ends meet. And I tried several fields of study and finally decided on political science.

I grew up in a time in America's history when race relations were strained. I am a product of the civil rights movement, the labor movement, the women's movement, and affirmative action.

Armed with my degree in political science, I was determined to make a difference in my community, but I wasn't sure how.

I'm sure that many of you are thinking the same way. How am I going to make a difference?

For me, my passion is in public service.

And as I mentioned earlier, you have to love what you do.

I got my first opportunity in public service as an intern at the White House Office of Hispanic Affairs in the Carter Administration. From that experience I learned that if you believe and want something bad enough, you can truly make it happen.

So, in 1985, I decided to run for the Board of Trustees of the Rio Hondo Community College. I wanted to increase the opportunities for vocational training and increase the number of minority and women tenured professors.

A few years later I ran for the California State Assembly. I went knocking on every door in my district, and my mom helped out by making burritos for all of our volunteers!

I believe that I won that race because I was the best candidate, but I think the burritos may have sealed the deal!

And in 1994, I became the first Latina in California to become a State Senator.

I was proud to serve the people of California, representing a working-class district in east Los Angeles for 8 years.

And I was humbled last December when President Obama asked me to join his Cabinet as the nation's 25th Secretary of Labor.

I have traveled an extraordinary journey to get where I am today, but my path could not have been forged without a good education or the proper mentorship.

The fact that I am here as your Labor Secretary is proof that anything is possible in this great nation.

Anything is possible through hard work, a nourishing and loving family, and the support of robust government policies.

I know the magnitude of our economy's problems might be daunting to some of you. And in times of need, it is incumbent upon all of us to help our neighbor.

President Obama and I believe that civic engagement and service should be a lifelong commitment whether at school, community, city, state, or national level.

I have always been a strong supporter of empowering ordinary people to do extraordinary things by improving their local communities through service.

As a public servant, I know that fighting for what is just is not always popular but it is necessary. That is the real challenge that public servants face and it is where courage counts the most. Without courage, our actions or inaction, results in suffering of the few and injustice for all.

I have found your generation to be innovative, savvy, creative and willing to give back to your community.

You are as strong and tenacious as any people or generation before you.

You are doing your part, and I promise we are doing ours. We are working to turn this economy around by making real investments in worker training and workforce development. By providing the training that will prepare our workers and all of you here today, to compete and prosper in the 21st century global economy.

I am excited for you and this journey you are about to embark on.

I know all of you will do great things and make your families proud.

Congratulations again!

Thank you/Muchas gracias. Y Si se Puede!

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