Speech

You are here

University of Guam Commencement

Secretary Ray LaHood

University of Guam Commencement

Mangilao, Guam

Sunday May 27, 2012

  • Hafa Adai (HAFA DAY)!
  • It’s a pleasure to celebrate this momentous day with all of you.
  • A lot you might be asking yourselves, “Why would the U.S. Secretary of Transportation travel 18 and a half hours to Guam for a commencement speech?” 
  • Well, there are a few reasons.
  • First, I knew President Underwood when he served in Congress, and I have always admired his work.
  • When he invited me to speak, I had to say yes.
  • Also, Guam is an important part of our country,
  • And all of you matter in how you will contribute to this island or wherever you end up.
  • And of course, I really wanted to see the Outrigger Resort.
  • Earning your college degree is an important milestone.
  • You have taken your last exams.
  • You wrote your final papers.
  • And you’re done with the late night study sessions.
  • Congratulations Class of 2012—you did it! (Applause)
  • You own this education for life.
  • No one can take that away from you. Savor this moment.
  • Your education is a public investment.
  • It’s a down-payment on your future contributions to society—both your local community and the global public.
  • I want you to remember this: You are here because someone—probably a lot of people—believe in you.
  • Please join me in thanking the people who made possible this transformative journey:
  • President Robert A. Underwood
  • The University Board of Regents (SEATED ON STAGE)
  • The UOG faculty who guided you to the finish line.
  • Your parents, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives.
  • Your coaches, tutors, church leaders, neighbors—all of them helped you become the person you are today.
  • Please, let them know how much you care about them.
  • I also want to acknowledge a few people who are in the audience:
  • Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (BORDAYO),
  • Governor Calvo,
  • And Speaker Judi Won Pat (POT).
  • Thank you for supporting the class of 2012.
  • I remember much about my own graduation day in December, 1971. 
  • I remember how proud my parents were. 
  • I remember the joy, gratitude, and exhaustion. 
  • I also remember the anxiety and fear over the unknown.
  • Don’t worry; you are going to be fine.
  • For me, my degree became a key that unlocked countless doors,
  • Many of them unexpected, as a teacher, as a public servant, as an elected official,
  • And as a member of President Obama’s cabinet. 
  • And I guarantee you, in December, 1971, not one person – including myself – would have ever dreamed that I’d be a cabinet secretary. 
  • Trust me, your potential is limitless. 
  • You are part of a long tradition of excellence and big thinking.
  • This year, the University of Guam celebrated its 60th anniversary.
  • Indeed, much has happened in that 60 years.
  • Standing here with all of you, I am reminded of America’s “greatest generation” and the challenges they faced.
  • Through World War II, that generation came together in the face of unthinkable atrocities.
  • The people living in Guam were not spared these sorrows.
  • Many of you know better than I, the scars of war inflicted upon this island.
  • But, the people of Guam did not wallow.
  • They did not give up their vision for the future.
  • When the Territorial College of Guam was established, your forbearers made a promise.
  • They promised to think big and to do big things.
  • Of course, they took small steps at first. 
  • They built elephant Quonset huts on a high school campus and enrolled 200 students.
  • At first, it was a modest teacher training school,
  • But with each year, the vision grew
  • Today, the University of Guam offers 34 undergraduate degrees, 15 graduate degrees and one 2-year nursing program.
  • UOG has given out over 13,000 diplomas.
  • And it is the largest education institutional in Micronesia.
  • Government leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators got their start right here.
  • That’s a big thing.
  • Today, you will leave this campus and embark on a new adventure.
  • Some of you are joining the workforce for the first time.
  • And some of you are starting a second or third or even fourth career.
  • Some of you live with your parents. And some of you have families of your own.
  • No matter where you fit—I have a challenge for you.
  • You can think of it as a call to action.
  • Each of you has the potential to be a leader and have an impact on this world.
  • You are the foundation, the backbone, of everything that happens in Guam and much of this region.
  • I want each of you to tap into the spirit of this island and think big.
  • Create a vision for the future—a vision for your community.
  • And work hard to realize that vision.
  • But how do you think big?
  • How do you give back to your community?
  • Well, I have some advice for you.
  • You can’t do anything alone.
  • Teamwork and collaboration is key to accomplishing your goals.
  • And civility—respecting your peers—will ensure you have friends to lend you a hand along the way
  • You are all about to climb a ladder.
  • As you do, you’ll realize that it’s the people who climb with you—not the top of the ladder—that will mean the most to you.
  • Surround yourself with people who inspire you and learn from them.
  • Talk to people who disagree with you and allow them to challenge you.
  • Be flexible and learn to compromise.
  • I would like to think that I came into this world knowing all of these things.
  • The truth is—I learned these lessons over many years as a public servant in Washington.  
  • A lot of you know what’s going in Washington right now.
  • You know about the partisan arguing and the gridlock.
  • I’ll be honest. Politics has never been for the faint of heart. 
  • And serious debate – a vigorous back and forth – is what makes our democracy work.
  • Although it sometimes seems impossible for people with legitimate but reconcilable differences to hash things out, it isn’t always that way.
  • I’ve been a Republican all my life: when I served in the Illinois legislature, when I worked for members of Congress, and when I served in Congress.
  • And I understand that we find ourselves in an age of acrimony. 
  • People sometimes ask me, “Why would you -- a life-long Republican -- sign up to be part of a Democratic administration?”
  • Well, I’ll tell you why:
  • Because I’m an American.  I believe in America. 
  • And I believe the opportunity to serve in this administration can help serve the American people. 
  • Pure and simple.  Not Republican people or Democratic people. 
  • But the American people. 
  • That’s why.
  • I accepted President Obama’s invitation to serve our country in spite of whatever differences he and I might have had on specific issues. 
  • President Obama and I share the conviction that the common good is more important than political gain.
  • We share commitments to listening and learning, to treating people fairly and respectfully. 
  • We share a capacity to cross party lines without surrendering our principles.
  • We recognize that others might have valid, understandable points of view that simply are based on different experiences.   
  • After all, everyone’s entitled to his or her own opinion.
  • The way I see it, President Obama didn’t ask me to switch from one side to the other. 
  • He asked me to help solve problems. 
  • He asked me to join a team that’s saying “enough.” 
  • Enough of politics as a zero-sum game, in which nobody can find room to negotiate, and in which I win only if you lose. 
  • Enough of disagreement yielding distrust rather than dialogue. 
  • Enough of all the shouting that drowns out the real objective:
  • Serving the people who sent us to Washington in the first place.
  • I say all this not because it makes President Obama or me all that exceptional. 
  • I say it to remind you of something you already know.
  • Public service—giving back to our community—is something that all of us can do.
  • And public service is the key to accomplishing big things.
  • In my job, as the Secretary of Transportation, I run a department that builds bridges between the people who need jobs and the jobs that need to be done.
  • Sometimes, that means literally building a bridge—or a highway or a bike path.  
  • Each of these projects has a big impact on the communities surrounding them.
  • And the sum of all of the projects is even bigger.
  • You can’t accomplish big ideas without reaching out to your neighbor.
  • Civility and teamwork is truly the easiest—frankly, the only—path to success.
  • In reflecting on your experience here at the University of Guam, I think you’ll draw the same conclusions.
  • I think you’ll see that because you studied together,
  • Because you volunteered together,
  • And because you mourned the loss of your peer, A.J. Morales, together–
  • You came to know each other beyond the differences.
  • You’ve also learned the importance of giving back.
  • Whether it is the marketing class who established a new computer lab at a local school,
  • The theater students who raised funds for local women and children,
  • Or the Americorps members who tutored your peers,
  • You are already practicing a life of service.
  • You also know how to make an impact.
  • I am very impressed by UOG’s Center for Island Sustainability and the “UOG Green” initiatives taking place here on campus.
  • When I see the solar panels and the recycling bins,
  • I see a generation of people who care about the world around them.  
  • When you organize the clean-up of a local park or educate middle school students on sustainability,
  • You are creating a powerful effect.
  • Your actions ripple through the community and produce long-lasting improvements.
  • As you move forward from UOG, I want you to continue to give back.
  • At my job, I focus my energy on investing in projects that will make a real-life difference for Americans.
  • Ultimately, transportation is about giving Americans choices.
  • We will always need to maintain our highways and roads for cars and trucks to drive on.
  • But, we also need a tool box of transportation options that help Americans save gas and commuting time.
  • In a word, we need “liveablility.”
  • And that’s why we are working to make communities walkable, bikeable, safe and sustainable.
  • In fact, the Obama Administration has invested $2.6 billion in 172 projects around the country to accomplish this goal.
  • But, we need innovative ideas to make liveability a reality.
  • We need young minds to come up with the bold ideas of the future—
  • The big ideas that solve problems.
  • We need innovators devoted to serving their community.
  • During your years at UOG, you gained the skills necessary to think big and to accomplish big things.
  • You have the tools. Now you need to create the vision. (Pause)
  • I’ll be honest—I don’t remember my college commencement speaker.
  • And four decades from now, you may not remember me either. That’s fine.
  • But don’t forget this message:  “Let each of you regard one another as more important than himself (Philippians 2:3).”
  • Our differences matter. 
  • But our ability to find common ground—
  • Our ability to negotiate with civility and respect – matters more. 
  • It’s how we get the big things done.
  • Our country’s future depends on it.
  • And graduates, looking out at you,
  • I’m more confident about that future than ever –
  • Precisely because it is in your hands.
  • University of Guam Class of 2012, I have one final thing to say to you:
  • BIBA (BEEBA) U-O-G! (Pump fist or raise hand in the sky. Students will respond with Biba and applause.)
  • Congratulations and God Speed.
Updated: Monday, November 19, 2012