A World Without Silos: Commencement remarks of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at Morgan State University

Thank you, Bears, for that welcome! I am so glad to join you here because today we get to do something which should happen more often in education. Today, we get to celebrate success.

It’s been a year of many triumphs for Morgan’s students. For the second year in a row, Morgan State’s team won the HBCU Honda academic quiz challenge, besting teams from 48 HBCUs. The brilliant captain of the Honda All Stars, Craig Cornish, is heading to Princeton on a full-ride to get a Ph.D in History.

The acrobatic, gravity-defying Cheer Bears won the MEAC cheer title for the third year row—and even managed to come in third nationally.

Senior Christian Kameni became the 131st MSU student or faculty member to become a Fullbright Scholar. That cements MSU’s leadership as the university that has produced more Fullbright Scholars than any HBCU in the nation.

And Professor Yacob Astatke, an MSU alum, became the first African-American and the first faculty member from an HBCU to win the National Outstanding Teacher Medal from the America Society for Engineering.

Those are just a few of the headline-grabbing triumphs of the past year. But to every one of the more than 1,200 graduates who are earning their baccalaureate, masters, or Ph.D degree today, congratulations on your triumph and personal journey to reach this day.

No one is born with a college degree in their hand. You have to earn it, and you have to work for it. Now that you have it, it can never, ever be taken away from you.

So congratulations go to each and every one of you on this moment of passage and accomplishment. You have reached this day because of your resilience, tenacity, and talent. You have reached this day by overcoming challenges and adversity.

It’s doubly impressive when young people are the first in their family to earn a college degree.

Can every graduate who is the first in their family to get a bachelor’s degree or graduate degree, please put your hand up? And please, keep your hands up.

Now, could every graduate who either worked while they earned a degree, or came back to MSU to complete their degree after taking a break from their education—could you also put up your hands?

I see a lot of students’ hands in the air. Please give them all a round of applause.

The parents and relatives, partners, spouses, children and friends of the graduates were among the few who didn’t have their hands up a moment ago. But it is so important to recognize their contribution.

As much as anyone, the friends, the family members—your support system—helped our graduates realize the American Dream. They have helped you demonstrate that, in America, education is still the great equalizer for so many people.

I was thrilled to hear that a mother and her daughter are both earning their bachelors’ degrees today.

Ms. Beulah Lewis is getting a BA in Child Care and Consumer Science, and her daughter, Tiye, will be getting her degree in physical therapy. Because they will receive their degrees with their fellow majors, mom will still have the treat of seeing her daughter receive her degree—and vice-versa. When families learn together, good things can happen!

So, to all our graduates, know that your family and the MSU family—faculty, counselors, coaches, and support staff—are immensely proud of you today.

Like the Lewis mother-daughter team, all of you reached this day, not alone, but together. We may fall by ourselves, but we always rise together.

I would urge our graduates to sometime today, please turn to your parents, your relatives, your spouse, your favorite professor, coach, or friend who supported you.

Take their hands. Thank them for encouraging you to realize your dreams. Thank them for helping you reach for a life that will positively impact your family forever—not just today and tomorrow, but literally for generations to come.

Now, if commencements are a time of celebration, they are also a time to take stock of the future. It is a time to ask, what is the next stage of my journey? And now that I have my degree, what do I want to do with my life?

As I thought about how to answer those questions today, I had some humbling recollections of my own graduation.

Two things stand out. To be honest, I can’t remember a word of what our distinguished commencement speaker said … But more important, looking back I realize I really had very little idea of the twists and turns my life would take.

In the midst of that uncertainty, I did learn two valuable lessons in thinking about the future from my teachers, my family, and my mentors.

First, I learned the importance of following your passion—and that your ability to adapt and be creative, to skillfully manage the inevitable uncertainty that would come—would in large measure determine one’s success in a knowledge-based, global economy.

After college, I went on to fail many times, sometimes in small ways, sometimes spectacularly. But I discovered in the process that failure can be a great teacher if you use it to grow and learn—and not as an excuse to fail again, to feel sorry for yourself, or to quit trying.

As President Obama says, you have to persevere in life. You need mental toughness, you need grit, you need determination.

The President says, and I quote, that “whether you start a business, or run for office, or devote yourself to alleviating poverty or hunger, nothing worth doing happens overnight … We remember Michael Jordan’s six championships; we don’t remember his nearly 15,000 missed shots … if you are living your life to the fullest, you will fail, you will stumble … [But that's no reason] to grow cynical if there are twists and turns on your journey.”

Read the full text here: http://1.usa.gov/10Sg9Fv

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