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

Remarks for Secretary Hilda L. Solis
USC Latino Alumni Association Scholarship Gala
Los Angeles, California
March 2, 2012

Buenas noches. Good evening, my fellow Trojans. Thank you, Ruben, for that kind introduction. I also want to acknowledge Ed Roske and Frank Cruz for all they are doing to support our Latino youth. And I have to thank Dolores Huerta for being a guiding light and a role model to me and so many Latinas in this country. She's my mentor and a true luchadora for Latinos everywhere.

Finally, to my dear friend Richard Zapanta: I don't know where you find the hours in the day to do so much good: healing bodies, inspiring our youth, funding scholarship after scholarship, making life-saving cancer treatment available for Latinos unable to afford it, sponsoring med students for summer work and keeping our community's artistic and cultural heritage alive.

As a fellow East Los Angeles native, I'm so proud to call you a dear friend. You never forgot where you came from. And you and Rebecca have dedicated your lives to lowering that ladder and pulling up your hermanos y hermanas behind you. You are a giant. And your legacy casts a shadow longer than Webb Tower across the USC campus.

Finally, I have to say thank you — 14 million "thank yous" — to the USC Latino Alumni Association for what you're doing. I'm absolutely thrilled to learn that this organization has raised $14 million to help Latino youth pursue their education. What an incredible accomplishment. The work you are doing has never been more important.

Some of you are familiar with my story. Maybe you've heard me introduced as the daughter of immigrants and the first in my family to go to college. What you may not know is that one of my high school career counselors told me I wasn't college material. He told me I was best suited for office work and suggested that I become a secretary. As it turns out, he was half right. I was suited to be a Secretary.

The United States Secretary of Labor.

It's caring folks like you who made my story possible. It's caring folks like you who made me believe I was good enough. I went to college because of the Educational Opportunity Program in California. I was a Pell Grant student and a work-study student. I took out student loans to make ends meet.

One of my very first jobs after obtaining my master's degree here at USC was as the Director of the California Student Opportunity and Access Program. Those programs changed the lives of so many students from low-income and under-represented backgrounds. They are the reason I chose a career in public service and why I stand before you today as the first Latina to be U.S. Secretary of Labor.

I almost didn't come to USC to study public administration. I was considering law school toward the end of my undergraduate days at Cal-Poly, but I had this awful constitutional law professor with a reputation for being tough on students of color. He was unrelenting on me, and I started thinking the law wasn't for me. In retrospect, I should've never given him the satisfaction.

But I'm so glad my journey took me here, because as I learned, you don't have to be a lawyer to write laws or to enforce them as a member of the cabinet. A few weeks ago in his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out his vision for our country's future. In that vision, the President sees a central role for Latinos in our economic recovery.

The President called on Congress to double down on the number of work-study jobs available, extend tuition tax breaks and prevent student loan interest rates from doubling. He's promoting Latino advancement in high-growth industries — in IT, health care, advanced manufacturing and renewable energy.

And in the State of the Union, the President again called on Congress to fix our broken immigration system — once and for all. We all know this has been a difficult uphill battle. But I'm not giving up, and neither is President Obama.

As he said in his State of the Union address, the opponents of action are out of excuses. It's frustratingly clear that election-year politics may prevent a breakthrough on immigration reform in 2012. So in his State of the Union, the President said that the least Congress can do is stop expelling young Latinos who want to staff our research labs, defend our country and grow our economy.

We know that tens of thousands of highly-qualified, highly motivated young people would enlist in the military if the DREAM Act becomes law. One local study here in Los Angeles concluded that Dream Act participants could contribute up to 3 1/2 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy during their lives.

The DREAM Act is the right thing to do for our economic security and our national security, and the President and I are going to keep pushing.

It's clear to me that that all of our strength, endurance, and courage will be needed to achieve this vision, because what's at stake here is the very survival of the basic American promise. It's the promise that if you work hard, you can get ahead and secure a better future for you and your family. My parents, like so many of yours, acted on that promise. It's because of their hard work that their daughter became this nation's first Latina Secretary of Labor. Now, we have an obligation not only to keep that American promise alive, but to pass it on to our children and grandchildren.

This is a make or break moment for our community. Latinos in the middle class — and all those trying to get into the middle class — need our help more than ever. So I hope you will join me in meeting this moment for Latino families. Thank you all for helping USC train our next generation of Latino young people to achieve incredible things.

Good evening. Muchismas gracias.