Dr. Dale, honored guests, colleagues, graduates and all who have gathered here to celebrate—thank you for this opportunity to speak to you tonight.
When I accepted my award for U.S. Professor of the Year last November at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. to an audience of educators representing colleges and universities across our country, I was thrilled.
I was—and am—proud to represent our college, our district and our state as well as the community college as a national institution. It was—is—an honor to “tell the story of us.”
Graduates, in this suspended moment, you are, no doubt, noticing that electric feeling which comes from alternating between relief and celebration, liberation and excitement.
But sometime during this evening I ask you to reflect—not on what you have learned during your time at this college—
for surely, your diplomas and certificates testify to the knowledge you have mastered—
and your robes and mortarboards signify your accomplishments. Your transcripts stand witness to your efforts—
Graduates, I am here to ask you this last question—a kind of final test:
What kind of person will you be in this world which is at once harsh and beautiful, vulgar and elegant, cynical and optimistic, threatening and brave?
Tonight I invite you to consider the person you have become—your values, beliefs, choices and commitments—who you are now and who you hope to be.
Moreover, I ask you to reflect on this thought—you are here tonight because you have imagined yourselves here—you have imagined possibilities for your life and your place in the world. And you have acted on the promises you made to yourselves born of those imaginings.
For some, during your time at our college, you pictured yourselves sitting here at this great gathering, even as you took a full load of classes and worked full-time—in or outside the home—
for others, you saw your name on a college diploma or certificate, framed handsomely on your wall.
And you saw this image even as the printer ran out of ink, your car had a flat tire just before you headed out for class;
you saw this image in your mind’s eye even when a family member or friend or work colleague needed your full attention as you prepared to study for a major test.
You saw all this even when your finances ran dangerously low or, in some cases, completely out—
There are graduates sitting here tonight—you who took classes, wrote papers, gave presentations, joined programs and assumed leadership positions that challenged or exhilarated and perhaps even scared you a little—or a lot—
you who believed in this day, the time when you would be welcomed into the community of scholars.
There are as many stories of hard work and persistence as there are graduates tonight.
Whatever your specific story, you all are here tonight because you did not give up.
Your imagination led you to choices, your choices created actions, your actions brought you here.
The dreams you had for yourself and your life when you first came to us may have changed. Perhaps they have grown larger. Perhaps they have multiplied. But these dreams were—and are—of consequence.
You are here because you believed in a future for yourself in which—despite obstacles
big and small—your intelligence, energy, discipline, curiosity and seriousness of purpose would bring you to this very place many call “successful.”
But I am here to tell you that your faculty and staff also imagined this night.
Those on our campus who—in and outside of the classroom—taught, mentored, cajoled, pushed and challenged you.
The dreams your faculty and staff had for you were realized in the courses we teach, the programs we run, the buildings we help build, the debates we engage in, the lives we touch.
We dream the dream of those educators who came before us and those who will come after us. Those who believe that only citizens of an educated culture can grow into their best selves.
And we, like our graduates, acted on those hopes.
Yet, there is another force operating in and on the imagination of what education can and should be.
Graduates, your community members, family and friends had—and have—visions for and of you. Their dreams may be strictly personal or they may be more eclectic—but they, too, are backed by action.
And, as importantly, these dreams are firmly rooted in the democratic ideal which says that where fairness and access meet determination and persistence, a “more perfect union” is formed.
So tonight—Graduates, Faculty, Staff, Community Members—here we sit—the living manifestations of hope—
for together we have imagined our future.