Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks by Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor
California State University, Los Angeles Commencement
California State University, Los Angeles
Friday, June 10, 2011
Good Evening and Buenas Tardes,
Cal State L.A.!
And thank you, President Rosser for that kind introduction. It's great to see you!
You know, President Rosser and I go way back. Cal State LA was part of my Senate District when I was in the CA Legislature.
He and I worked closely together...
But that was a short time ago. You look great!
To President Rosser, the vice presidents, deans, faculty, parents, families, and friends. (padres, familia y amistades) And most of all, to the Class of 2011...
The work has been hard! The wait has been long! The path, even uncertain at times...
But today on this beautiful sunny day you are just a few speeches and a short walk away from holding that degree.
Did you think this day would ever come?
Of course you did!
I have to say, even though I don't miss the traffic, it's great to be back home in California, and it's great to be back in my old district!
I'm so honored and privileged to be a part of this commencement. Thank you for inviting me.
This is no ordinary place, and this is no ordinary graduating class.
Los Angeles has always been a place where people come to make their dreams come true.
For generations people have come here in search of opportunity and a better life.
And in being here, with all of you, I'm reminded of where I started... of my dreams... really of why I chose to work in public service.
Like many of you, I was the first one in my family to graduate from college.
Many of you earned your degree while working full-time, going to school full-time, and being full-time caregivers for your children or for your abuelitos.
And when it didn't seem like there were enough hours in the day, you found them.
When it didn't seem like you had the strength to get out of bed in the morning after only a few hours of sleep you summoned it.
When it felt like the earth was moving under your feet and the pressures were too great, you steadied yourself. You took a deep breath, and you carried on.
But, you didn't do it alone.
You see, while today is about the achievement of your dreams, this day also represents the fulfillment of your family's dreams when you were born.
This is their day, too. Familias y amistades, este día es de ustedes también.
So let's give it up for your proud mothers (mamas) and fathers (papas)...
To your supportive brothers (hermanos) and sisters (hermanas)...
Tia's and Tio's and especially a todos los abuelitos!
To your relieved husbands (esposos) and wives (espasas)...
I even see some of your sons (hijos) and daughters (hijas) out there, smiling, sharing in the celebration.
Cal State LA is a special place.
This is a school that has since its founding has provided access and opportunity to a community of people that need it the most...
It's a school that for decades has prided itself in bringing education down from this hilltop and into the community...
And you don't have to look a certain way or be rich to come here...
You just have to work hard and try you need ganas! As we say in Spanish...
It's that sheer force of will... that same idea that this country was founded on and that defines the American Dream...
The radical yet simple idea that America is a place where anyone who dreams can make it if they just try!
That's what this University and your accomplishment today represent. I am very proud of you.
You are all fortunate to graduate from a school located in one of the most thriving cities in our state...
This school pumps millions of dollars into the economy and sustains thousands of jobs in Los Angeles and across the state...
As a whole, the CSU System graduates over 90 thousand students into the California workforce... CSU grads make-up nearly half of all engineers...
You represent half of all teachers.
And you represent the majority of all social workers and criminal justice professionals in this state...
It's no wonder they say that California is made in the CSU... it's true!
Some of you may not realize it, but you mean so much to this state's prosperity and to our nation's leadership in the world.
As students here, you often walked past the sculpture of Cal State L.A.'s Golden Eagle in front of the bookstore.
It represents this school's competitive spirit.
It was your daily reminder that you're stepping out into a vast and changing world.
And you'll need that competitive spirit because you are graduating into a very competitive global economy... I know that for many of you it's a scary time to be marching out into the world...
A time when things seem so unsettled and when the future may seem unclear...
But as you make your way out into this world, you should take comfort in knowing, that as a country we've been here before.
And that with education, faith and great perseverance with ganas we made it through...
And we became better and stronger as a country because of it.
But you should also take comfort and great pride in the fact that this university has given you a world-class education.
One that is able to compete in this ever-changing world, but also one that's perfectly suited to give back in this community and to this state.
Your engineering program has been rated among the nations best for more than a decade...
Your nursing program is one of the top programs in California and the highest ranking in the CSU System...
Your professors have been picked to research all over the globe Iceland, the Middle East, and Asia...
You're the leader in educating teachers, and ranked as one of California's top public universities when it comes to awarding teaching credentials...
You are home to our nation's first Chicano Studies Department...
And today you are a top source of bachelor's and master's degrees for Latinos in California! Congratulations!
I'm so very proud of what you all have done here.
This state this city has meant so much to my life.
I grew up here. In fact, right off the 60 freeway.
Anyone here from La Puente? How about my San Gabriel Valley folks? Where you at?
My mother immigrated to this country decades ago 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 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 in the City of Industry...
Like the many families here, my parents 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. And 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 a good education. Without their love, their moral and spiritual support, I know I couldn't be standing in front of you today. See, back then, La Puente was a little bit different than it is today.
We lived 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 the Chicano Blowouts that happened right here in L.A.
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 half 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.
I actually went to Cal Poly Pomona just down the street and it changed my life!
My time at Poly gave me the tools to navigate the world.
Before I got there I didn't really know much about community service, politics or public life.
It was a great experience and it gave this Latina from La Puente the confidence to stand tall, to keep going, and to never give up.
And over the years, even when it's gotten tough, I still lean on that experience and the advice of 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!)
An education changes everything.
And I share my story with you today because your country this community needs you.
You don't have to run for office to make change happen.
You just need to take a good look around.
You can change your country by being an active citizen, and you can make it the work of your lifetime.
Take Fredreecka Brown for example. Fredreecka where are you, girlfriend?!
Fredricka was raised in Compton and is a proud product of Compton Public Schools.
And she was lucky.
Her mom was a teacher and was able to provide the support that inner-city kids need to get ahead.
She went on to CSU Long Beach for her bachelor's and then on to CSU Dominguez Hills for Masters never forgetting where she came from.
She is now a Principal in the Compton Unified School District where she has been giving back to students and parents for the last 20 years.
Today, she receives her third degree from a Cal State L.A. to become doctor Fredreecka Brown.
Talk about being made in the CSU!
Congratulations, Doctor Brown!
Fredreecka is just one example, however.
All of you now have the tools to make your mark in this community.
And we need you.
It's no secret that today we find ourselves under challenging circumstances.
We are at a critical juncture in our nation's history once again.
We are recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
The national unemployment rate hovers at 9 percent. And for Latino and African-American communities, it is even higher than that.
The rate for Latinos is 11.8%. For African Americans, it is 16.1%. For teenagers, it's a whopping 25%.
But as you face these challenges, keep this in mind: Our nation has been defined by our courage in the face of unexpected challenges.
From the Great Depression to 9/11, Americans know how to pull ourselves together and lift each other up during tough times. This time will be no different.
We must face these economic challenges with the same can-do (Si, Se Puede) spirit that has characterized our past. I have great faith we can overcome this challenge.
The fact that I am here as the Labor Secretary is a testament that anything is possible in this great country!
You give me faith.
In this crowd we have future nurses that are going to provide millions of Americans with quality healthcare...
We have future forensic scientists, police officers, and firefighters that will keep our cities safe..
And we have future scientists and engineers that are going help President Obama out-innovate our global competitors.
Let's not forget that this school is home to the NASA University Research Center.
And was the first University west of the Mississippi river to achieve successful flight powered by fuel cells!
Cal State LA is producing the leaders that will drive our 21st Century economy.
President Obama has a vision for that economy where everyone makes sacrifices but no one bears all of the burden.
It's a vision where we provide security and a safety net for all of our citizens including the most vulnerable and opportunities for the next generation.
It starts in California, by helping this state bounce back.
Twenty three years ago, Eddie Olmos a Cal State LA Alumnus gave the commencement speech here.
And he delivered a message that I think still applies today...
He said, "The way to solve our problems is through education... The hardest thing for students to do is NOT to chase after money... Students should follow their values truth, love, generosity and the money will follow."
It's true that some have walked across this stage during easier times... times of economic prosperity and peace... times when jobs were easier to come by and would provide a steady paycheck.
During moments of challenge and change, like the one we're living through now, the debate gets sharper. That's a good thing.
But no matter what we argue or where we stand, we've always held certain beliefs as Americans.
We believe that in order to preserve our own freedoms and pursue our own happiness, we can't just think about ourselves.
We have to think about the country that made those liberties possible.
We have to think about our fellow citizens with whom we share a community.
And we have to think about what's required to preserve the American Dream for future generations.
But we need to think about everyone including the hard-working students that have come here through no fault of their own.
We need to pass the DREAM Act!
We need the talent of our young immigrant leaders.
We can't afford to let our best and brightest fall through the cracks.
The American labor force has a critical shortage in the areas of science, technology, and math.
Immigrants who want to serve in the military or serve humanity by making breakthroughs and building businesses should get the chance to become citizens.
It's time to bring 11 million immigrants out of the shadows in America!
You've got a big stake in this fight.
We need your voices in this immigration debate.
I know the struggle to fix our broken system has been long and hard, but everything worth fighting for always is.
You know that.
You've fought hard to make it here today. So you tell me, was it worth it??
So, as the 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:
Nothing can stop you. Keep pushing.
Keep striving. Never lose heart.
If you get knocked down, get back up, and you dust yourself off!
Because this is your time.
I have faith in you, graduates. You've come this far, but your journey is just getting started.
You are constrained only by the limits of your imagination.
You are capable of anything you set your mind to...
Class of 2011, you are the ones you've been waiting for. And your future is now.
So congratulations. You did it! And we are all so very proud.
Thank you for letting me share in this day. God bless you, Cal State LA!
God bless your families. (Felicidades a ustedes y su familia.)
And God bless the United States of America.