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

Remarks by Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Los Angeles City College Graduation
June 8, 2010
Los Angeles, CA

Good morning Los Angeles City College 2010 graduates!

Thank you Dr. (Jamillah) Moore for your warm introduction.

It's great to see you again.

Dr. Moore and I have known each other from our days in the California State Assembly.

Dr. Moore's passion for community colleges is evident as her leadership extends to issues at both, the state and federal levels.

And I think that we can all agree that she always puts her students and those in most need at the forefront of everything she does.

I want to acknowledge and thank the faculty and staff that are present.

I also want to welcome your City Controller Wendy Gruel and Assemblyman Warren Furatani for joining us as well.

It's an honor to speak at the 2010 Los Angeles City College graduation ceremony!!!

I think that now is the appropriate time to say... congratulations class of 2010!

You deserve a big round of applause.

I know many family members are here... I want to congratulate all the parents, grandparents, wives, husbands and children.

Today, we also celebrate all of the support you gave these graduates during their time here at Los Angeles City College.

Even if it was just that delicious breakfast your mom made you or that $50.00 your grandfather gave you for your text book.

Or that tender hug you received from your spouse after your exam!

Your family played an important role in your education!

And at this time, I want to extend a special welcome and congratulate the 19 U.S. veterans who are graduating today.

I thank each and everyone one of you for your sacrifice and service to our country!

I must say, from where I'm standing the class of 2010, looks like they are going to conquer the world!

Standing here in front of you reminds me of the moment I was in your place... boy was it challenging... especially to have been the first in the family to go to college.

I understand that 50% of today's graduates are the first in their family to graduate from college.

Graduates, this is a remarkable accomplishment and you are setting a wonderful example for your families and community.

Who would have thought that one day this farm land — once the original campus for UCLA — would become an institution that would prepare generations of professionals?

In September of 1929 Los Angeles City College opened its doors to 1,300 students, with close to 60 teachers on staff.

Fast-track to 2010 and you have more than 17, 000 students enrolled here!

Today 1,600 degrees and certificates will be awarded, which is the most since 1985.

This is a remarkable milestone and Dr. Moore; I congratulate you and your staff!

Great minds and great students do come out of community colleges.

That is why I began my career in public service as a Board Member of the Rio Hondo Community College Board of Trustees.

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

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

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

Yes, some days I'm sure were more difficult than other, but you always found a solution.

You've learned from one another; you've helped each other ... regardless of where you come from, your paths have crossed here at this campus and today we celebrate the finish line for this part of your life.

One day, many of you will be behind this podium telling your story.

With all honesty, I never imagined a moment like this would come in my life.

You want to know why?

Because in high school a counselor told me I was not the type of person that could go to college.

He told me I should settle for a secretarial job.

Apparently, he thought I had a bright future as an office assistant.

I guess he could predict the future because I did become a secretary, the Secretary of Labor.

Students, I tell you, it's easy to give up, especially when we come from a family with financial difficulties and when our parents don't fully understand the educational system in this country.

In my case, my mother migrated from Nicaragua and my father came from Mexico... both worked hard and barely earned the minimum wage.

They worked to provide for us, sacrificing their health along the way to make sure we had a roof over our heads and food on our table.

But that did not matter because we had things more valuable than money; we had love, dignity and respect in our home.

And one thing I will never forget: my father taught me to not be afraid to ask questions.

So I started to ask a lot of questions.

I wanted to know how people obtained Pell Grants, Cal Grants, Financial Aid, work study... all of those things... I asked and I found out.

Soon, I was working at the bookstore and then at the public library; I was earning money while going to school... just like many of you did.

My siblings realized the opportunities too... and today, my twin sisters are engineers and another sister has a PhD in public health.

You still have a road to travel... and it won't be easy, but you are determined to make your dreams a reality.

Just remember that the steps you take after today will be extremely important for your future.

Don't wait around too long to think about what you're going to do next because the clock is ticking.

Go out and take risks... find mentors, network, set goals for yourself, learn about other cultures and issues.

Little did I know that the people I was meeting in high school and college were shaping the person I am today!

My education and involvement with the community made me aware of the social and civic turmoil taking place in my own neighborhood.

I grew up in La Puente, about 30 minutes from here.

You want to know who and what inspired me to pursue the field that I am in today?

It was the people around me... my community!

The more I learned about the issues affecting my immediate environment, the more reasons I had to stand up on behalf of a united voice.

It broke my heart to learn that people were being mistreated at the workplace.

Some were facing discrimination, some were not getting paid for their work, and many were exposed to toxic chemicals and landfills.

I wanted to do something about it.

That was my calling... a calling for me to take action and help to be a voice and champion for my community's most vulnerable citizens!

My first task as a public servant would be to help community colleges increase the diversity among minorities and women.

Following that, I worked to improve community colleges' vocational job training programs.

When I became a legislator, I tackled other important issues like health care, domestic violence... and veterans needed a voice too... I saw the need for representation in different places.

Also, during the late 90's I noticed that polluting projects were operating here in Los Angeles... and primarily in minority and low-income neighborhoods!

The 90210 zip code was not touched or polluted that's for sure, but the poor were breathing harmful air.

I went against the businesses that were profiting from this tragedy and other politicians refused to stand with me.

I always think that "fighting for what is just is not always popular but it is necessary."

And that's exactly what I did.

As a result, in 1999 Governor Gray Davis signed into law Senate Bill 115, the first of its kind.

This law was defined as "the fair treatment of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws."

I would soon be surprised with a prestigious award for my environmental work.

I was the first woman to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award- for my courage to stand and fight on behalf of disadvantaged communities.

But, my work did not stop in the California State Senate and Legislature!

During my 8 years in Congress I worked to help ease the burden of working families:

  • I fought to allow immigrant students attend state colleges at in-state tuition rates;
  • I have proudly supported the Dream Act.
  • I pressed for legislation to help reduce teen pregnancy within Latinas and African Americans; and
  • I helped pass legislation to fund domestic violence programs.

Now, as your Secretary of Labor, it is my obligation to help American workers and all of you prepare for jobs in the 21st century economy.

An education can fortify you against the uncertainties of a 21st century economy.

And your education is even more important now that you're entering a tough job market.

You're accepting your degrees as international competition increases, and with an economy that's still rebounding.

In the words of President Obama -- "let there be no doubt — the future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens."

With your degree and certificates in hand, you're in a stronger position to outcompete workers around the globe.

Workers with more technical expertise and critical thinking capacity will be best positioned to secure the higher wage jobs of the future.

Today, the reality is that African-Americans and Latinos are not entering fields related to science, technology, engineering, and math!

STEM jobs as they call it.

Even less woman are bound to go in those careers.

And along that field of work will be "green jobs."

Green jobs are more than a job; they are the future careers of the 21st Century economy.

The President and I strongly believe that green jobs will be a key driver behind America's economic recovery.

These clean energy jobs are available to anyone willing to upgrade their skills.

However, the bigger question is... who will lead the world in making the fuel-efficient vehicles, wind turbines, solar panels and other technologies of tomorrow?

Let me tell you who will... American workers will and many of you here today.

This Administration's number one priority in confronting the economic crisis is to put Americans back to work.

Therefore, the Labor Department is making the necessary investments for workers as of now... we are:

  • Investing $720 million in job training programs that focus on careers in allied health, clean and renewable energy and information technology.
  • Enforcing our labor laws, so that you are paid fairly and have a safe workplace; and
  • Protecting vulnerable workers, because no one should be subject to workplace discrimination.

In essence, we are preparing the next generation of the U.S. labor force and I want to make sure you're part of it.

Class of 2010, the opportunities for a better life and a better tomorrow are all in your hands.

Let this be "only" the beginning of the great things you have yet to accomplish.

Ask yourself...what will I do after today?

Will you take the easy path from here?

Or, will you be ready for the next challenge?

"Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation."

Those were the words of President John F. Kennedy.

Starting today, your dreams and aspirations will continue to fuel the next generation of scholars.

Your education will benefit your families, communities and ultimately our country because you are the future of our nation.

So, class of 2010, many great opportunities await you... it's up to you to go after them!

It was an honor to be here with you on this very important day.

Congratulations...you deserve to celebrate!

Felicidades y si se puede!