2010 Graduate Commencement Address By State Education Leader Jack O'Connell

The following are the prepared remarks of Jack O'Connell, State Superintendent of Public Instruction for California. O'Connell delivered the commencement address for Saint Mary's graduate students at the College's undergraduate commencement ceremony.

Good afternoon. I am pleased to be here today to have the opportunity to share in such a special day in all of your lives. The end of college or university generally marks the end of one phase of your life and initiates a new one. During your time here at Saint Mary's you have no doubt been challenged numerous times…challenged both inside and outside the classroom, and it is your drive to succeed and your perseverance that has undoubtedly earned you a seat at this ceremony.

Over the course of my career, I have spoken at a number of commencements throughout California, and without doubt, it never gets old. It never gets old to look at the faces – your faces – and see in them a spirit and desire to succeed in the future. Each and every one of you here today represents California's future…you will all play some role in the functioning of our great state. And no matter how small or large that role, it is an important role, because California survives and thrives thanks the efforts of not only one or group of citizens, but thanks to the efforts of all of her citizens.

And if you are looking for an example of this, you need look any further than your up and coming basketball program, which saw your St. Mary's Gaels make an inspired run to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament a couple of months ago. Their successful showing came down to a passionate commitment by the coaches, staff, and players that they were all in this together. They would either succeed as a team or fail as a team. And even though their run ended before the Final, their commitment to each other never wavered and that is why they achieved so much at this year's tournament.

And this is the mentality that we all must adopt as Californians…we are all in this together…we all have a stake in the future…and we will all either succeed or fail together. Now as your prepare to take the next step in your lives, I am sure it is not news to you that things could be better here in our state – there is no sugar-coating this unfortunate reality.

California is mired in a severe fiscal crisis and billions in dollars in state budget cuts have been proposed to help close a gaping $20 billion budget deficit. K-12 public education has borne a significant burden of cuts over the last two years to the tune of roughly $17 billion. And just last week, we received word that the Governor's latest budget proposal calls for a $1.45 billion cut to state-funded childcare. This cut represents yet another severe blow to poor- and middle-class working families who are struggling to provide for their loved ones.

The bottom line is that times are tough. But that does not mean we simply fold without a fight. You will find in your careers that sometimes it may seem easier or less of a hassle to simply walk way…to not fight…to not speak up – I know I've been there myself.
This will be a major test of your character and of what your learning experience at St. Mary's has impressed upon you…and as I look out at all of you, I am confident that you will make the right decision and stand up to any challenges…fight for what is right…speak up for those who don't have a voice. I am confident that you will do right by yourselves…your families…and California.

You represent our best and our brightest…you are the future. And having spent most of my career either teaching or in education more generally, its important for you to know that you, too, can be teachers – and I hope some of you will make it into our classrooms – no matter what field you pursue.

Whether its as a classroom teacher, parent, mentor, or big brother or big sister, you can and should play a role in educating those young people who come after you. Its always important to consider ways that we can give back to our communities and imparting knowledge to the next generation is one of the best ways of doing this.

I hope my words to you today will serve as an inspiration and as a motivation to work hard and to do well in your lives…but in case they haven't, let me share with you a handful of the most inspirational, and without question, the shortest commencement speeches ever…

Woody Allen: "We have given you a perfect world. Please don't screw it up;"

Albert Einstein: "I do not have any particular thoughts to express today, so I wish you all success in the future;"

Winston Churchill: "Never give up. Never give up. Never give up;"

Former Wyoming Governor Nels Smith: "You done good;" and finally

Bob Hope: "As you prepare to leave these hallowed halls of learning, these bastions of knowledge, these citadels of scholarship, I have just two words of advice: don't go."

Short and sweet to say the least, but these few words say volumes…they say congratulations for your hard work and all that you have achieved until now…and they say grab the bull that is the future by the horns enjoy the ride ahead. You all have the potential, the work ethic, and the drive to do great things…whether you achieve greatness, though, is up to you. But I have feeling that I'll be hearing good things about this group. Congratulations. I wish you all the best. Thank you.