On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings delivered the commencement address at Middle Tennessee State University graduation ceremonies. Secretary Spellings congratulated the 2006 graduates on their hard work and accomplishments and the value of their higher education as they embark on their new journeys. She encouraged the graduates to make the most of their education and find ways to give back to others. Following are her prepared remarks:
Thank you Dr. McPhee. It's a tremendous honor to be here with all of you to celebrate one of life's most important accomplishments.
And to be perfectly honest, it's also nice to get out of Washington, D.C. and enjoy some good old-fashioned Southern hospitality!
Tennessee has a lot of what I miss about my native Texas.
Saying y'all doesn't get you funny looks, good country music isn't hard to find, and of course, good barbecue. I was sad to hear I missed 99 cent sandwich day at the Slick Pig!
To the faculty and Middle Tennessee family, I want to thank you for the warm welcome. And I recognize the critical role you've had in helping these students achieve their degree.
To all the parents, family, and friends — job well done. Graduates, look to the stands. They're the ones who stood by you and helped see you through. They deserve a round of applause.
But today, graduates, we're here for you — to recognize the hard work, sacrifice, and determination that got you to this day.
Earning a college degree isn't easy. All of you logged countless hours at the library, pulled your fair share of all-nighters, and probably consumed more caffeine than you'd care to remember!
In addition, to these typical challenges, many of you also faced other hurdles. Pursuing your degree while working full-time or balancing the demands of college with raising a family.
In the process, you've turned what some might perceive as obstacles into opportunity and had the perseverance to remain committed to your goal.
My own college experience was much the same way. While going to school at the University of Houston, I worked at a local grocery store — Handy Andy. I found that work and education go hand-in-hand. And what some might see as a hardship, actually proved to be a great asset. I learned things in school I could apply to work and I learned things at Handy Andy that helped me in school and still help me today.
At Handy Andy, I was an office cashier, which meant balancing each checker's till, cashing personal checks. But the job also had some real perks. I got to stand on an elevated platform with my microphone and make important announcements like — Clean up on Aisle 4 or Carry Out on Aisle 2. I learned I was destined for management!
Middle Tennessee is what higher education today is all about — a quarter of the student body are first-generation college students, more than 85 percent are commuters. You are the future of higher education — a university that meets the needs of traditional and non-traditional students, makes college accessible 24-7, and provides high quality academic study. You are helping make the dream of a college degree a reality at a time when it has never been more critical to have one.
Many of you are the first in your family to graduate. You understand a college education is a stepping stone to a world of much greater possibility and opportunity. And because you made this choice to pursue your education — your future will be so much richer. Not just for you, but for your family, your community, and our country.
Now, as you go forth and prosper, I'd like to provide a few parting words of wisdom.
In thinking on what I wanted to say — I tried to keep in mind what I've been told makes for a great commencement — Be Brief!
I also thought about what advice I'd like to share, and it occurred to me some of the best advice comes straight out of nearby Nashville.
As the songs say: Life ain't always beautiful, but it's a beautiful ride.
You were born to fly. And, my wish for you is that life becomes all that you want it to. Your dreams stay big and your worries stay small — no shoes, no shirt, no problems!
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean, find wide open spaces, get a little mud on the tires and always know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away and know when to run.
Country music is full of great advice. But in my own life the voice I hear most often in my head isn't Kenny Rogers … it's the advice of my mother, Peg. Many of you can probably think of words of wisdom your mom says all the time. And trust me one day you'll say something, stop in horror and realize — "I sound just like my mother!"
Being a mom has been my most important job and the greatest joy of my life. My oldest daughter Mary, is in her second year of college. I find it hard to imagine that very soon she'll be sitting where you are. God willing! Because as I told her and her sister, Grace you can't be the child left behind!
My girls have gotten me through tough times, taught me more than I'd like to admit, and keep me grounded and focused on what counts. To them I'm not the Secretary of Education — I'm their goofy mom who makes them clean up their rooms, gets a little too into American Idol, and loves watching Food Network … I think I'm missing Barefoot Contessa right now for all of y'all!
Through the years, I've found myself repeating the advice my mother gave me and coming up with some of my own a long the way. Most often I find myself encouraging them to do their personal best. As I say: "stand and deliver."
That's because one of the greatest obstacles in life isn't failure; it's fear. Fear keeps you on the sidelines playing it safe — convincing yourself risks are for daredevils and greatness reserved for others. Yet, the reality is when you play it safe the only guarantee you get is that you'll live with regret.
When I first got to the White House I felt completely out of my element — in a town of Washington insiders and Ivy Leaguers. But, I stood and delivered. I did my best.
And before long I was flying around on Air Force One, and helping the President perfect his pronunciations. We're still working on "nucular!"
So, don't let anyone else take the measure of your worth and capabilities. Stand and deliver. Believe in who you are; take risks; live your life with passion and conviction.
In other words, Be Loud, Be Proud, Be Blue!
Because life's an adventure, an incredible journey, a gift of endless possibility to be seized fully and pursued with everything you have.
So, live like you were dying. Walk the line. Sail your vessel until the river runs dry.
And along the way, take time to invest in the people and community around you.
The other day, I saw an ad for the Christmas movie The Polar Express. One of the lines in the commercial struck me. It said: "The most real things in the world are the things we can't see." These days compassion, kindness, humor are in just as much demand as Play Station 3; you just don't see people fighting over them!
More than ever before, young Americans are answering the call to serve. And it's never been more important or more rewarding. No matter what you do in life I want to encourage all of you to find a way to give back. The impact of that choice will not only improve the lives of others it will enlarge and enrich yours as well.
So, go forward. Have fun. Enjoy your holidays and what I hope will be a big win in the Motor City Bowl.
There are great things in store for all of you. And if you need any advice along the way — hopefully a good country music station is just the push of a button away!
Thank you and congratulations!
Contact: Stephanie Babyak
or Jane Glickman