Thank you Dr. McCurdy, Board of Trustees, Honorary Society members, faculty, staff, and distinguished alumni.
To members of the class of 2010, your families, and friends, congratulations on this important day in your lives, the lives of your nation, and the life of this institution.
Your diploma reflects a level of knowledge that will give you the chance to make the most of the rapidly unfolding 21st century. It gives your country a better chance to lead the world toward a better place. I know that at times it hasn’t been easy to meet the demands of going to college and completing your education, but I know you will see that it was all worth it.
Your class graduation marks the 40th commencement of Rhodes State College. While some of you here today weren’t alive in the 1970s, those of us who were, remember what life was like back then, and it was certainly different. One thing I found out is that 1970 was the year that the floppy disk was introduced to hold information for large mainframe computers. The cell phones you have in your pockets probably have more storage than one of those floppy disks. It certainly has more functions than the mainframe computers of the 1970s. If you think ahead 40 years from now – when many of you will be getting ready to retire, it’s hard to imagine how technology will change your lives and the work you do in your career.
When Rhodes was founded, the demand for more higher education options fueled the national growth of public community colleges. Today there are almost 1200 community colleges in the country educating almost half of the nation’s graduates. Community colleges are the hidden treasures in our higher education system. I know that Rhodes is one of those treasures.
In today’s world, we all know that there is an enormous value placed on education. The many graduates who stay to work in the region will contribute millions of dollars to the economy of west-central Ohio. Students with Rhodes degrees are much more likely to hold jobs that pay well. Area employers will benefit from increased worker productivity and the public will receive the benefits from an expanded economic base. Compared to someone with only a high school diploma, Rhodes Associate Degree graduates like you will earn almost $400,000 extra over the course of a career. To sum it up, if history is any indication, as Rhodes graduates you will earn more and contribute more, and you will be afforded more opportunities.
You will also join the 40% of Americans who are college graduates. That’s right. Only 40% have attained the same accomplishment as you. So let me congratulate you and let me challenge you to accomplish even more than you have already!
Last April, a few months after President Obama moved into the White House, he started telling Americans some of the facts about America. One of them is that in the coming years, jobs requiring at least an associate’s degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience. “We will not fill those jobs - or keep those jobs on our shores - without the training offered by community colleges," the President said. So you can see the value he places on your community college education!
He is one of the biggest champions that community colleges have ever had. When he signed the new Education Affordability Act in March, it was an historic occasion and a substantial victory for community colleges.
Through savings in the federal student loan program, the President and Congress approved $68 billion dollars to ensure that students who thought they could not afford college will have Pell grants and loans available to them for the next decade. It will put money in the pockets of millions of community college students. They will benefit from the passage of this legislation which also provides $2 billion dollars for America’s community colleges to expand the very programs and services that will enable millions more students who have lost their jobs to come to college and prepare for new careers.
The President is making that investment in community colleges because he has set an ambitious goal for America -- it’s his vision for the future.
President Obama said that by 2020, the United States must become, once again, “the best educated, most competitive workforce in the world.” He said this because he understands that education is the key to our country’s economic and social prosperity. And he recently proclaimed that “our leadership in the world relies upon citizens who are not only well-educated, but also driven by their humanity and civic virtue.”
In considering the development of Rhodes State College and the accomplishments of its students, I am reminded of a great Ohioan who grew up just 15 miles from here. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, and he exemplifies the virtues extolled by the President. As a boy he became an Eagle Scout, he was an aviator for the Navy during the Korean war, and he graduated as only the second person in his family to attend college. Armstrong pursued a career as a test pilot before becoming an astronaut—and like President Obama, he dared to dream big and set goals that once seemed to be impossible. He said, “I think we're going to the moon because it's in the nature of the human being to face challenges. It's …the nature of his deep, inner soul.”
I think that’s true. The drive to push farther, dream bigger, and accomplish more, is a basic human value. It’s a basic American value. My boss, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has compared our country’s drive for education reform today to our nation’s space race. He’s called the goal of transforming American education, and leaving a legacy of improvements that will last for years to come, our generation’s “moon shot.”
I want you to consider what makes great leaders like Neil Armstrong. They have a defined sense of mission. They set big goals and work hard towards meeting them. They give back to their community and serve their country. They’re committed to helping others.
Another man who made it his mission to give back is your remarkable distinguished alumnus, Mr. Kaplanow, who you just heard about. It’s amazing that when Mr. Kaplanow came to Ohio he didn’t speak a word of English, and seven years later, he was receiving his Rhodes’ associate’s degree. Now he’s starting a business here even though he’s running a successful company in Germany. He understands that life is more than just pursuing an individual path; it’s helping others.
Many of you who are graduating today understand this, too. You have succeeded through numerous challenges and will face many more as your life unfolds.
In the process of going to school here, you have been a part of unique projects that have not only benefitted you, but also have contributed to your community.
There are students like ones in the IT Networking program who assisted several area high schools with their networking installation and maintenance needs. They saved the high schools thousands of dollars while they received valuable real world experience. And the students from the Environmental Health and Safety program who conducted safety audits and reviews for local environmental and manufacturing companies. And finally, there are the civil engineering students who teamed with the Early Childhood Education program and renovated an overgrown and un-used area at the Lima YMCA/Rhodes State College Daycare play area. The children there can now play and learn near the beautiful pergola and multi-colored concrete stepping stones that the Rhodes students built and installed.
And these are just small examples of the hard work, commitment and contributions of students who are graduating today. Rhodes has done a wonderful job of creating opportunities for you, and you have embraced them and made them your own. You all inspire me! I know we can count on you to take the knowledge you gained here and go out and apply it in your careers and community service to lift society as a whole.
Your individual achievements at the University that we celebrate today will give you more freedom—freedom to make better informed choices because of what you have learned and done here, freedom to chart your own path to a life with greater meaning and fulfillment, and freedom to help others improve their lives.
Before I finish, I have two more points I want to make. First, let me praise one other group of Rhodes’ graduates. There are 14 Rhodes State students who are the first graduates from the Northwest Ohio Allied Health Education Consortium. These students, from the Northwest quarter of Ohio, obtained degrees in respiratory care and radiology at Rhodes State College via long-distance education. The consortium was funded by a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, our sister agency, through the “President’s Community-Based Job Training Grants Initiative.”
The consortium made it possible for these students to pursue a degree without making a long commute. Graduates completed their program courses via live videoconferencing broadcasts in a classroom at Marion Tech, Northwest State CC and Urbana University, and their clinical requirements were completed at their local hospitals and healthcare facilities. They are now ready to put the skills and training they received from Rhodes into practice in their local communities where there is a demand for talented professionals in allied health. They are a wonderful example of what we can accomplish when we work together and find ways to be innovative and flexible that will ultimately move America forward.
Second, let me ask you to strengthen your connection with someone who can benefit from a college education. Reach out to a family member, a friend, or a colleague and encourage him or her to do the hard work that it takes to enter and complete college. Your connection will be an inspiration and role model. It will not only make a difference in someone else’s life, but you will also be helping your country by helping to meet President Obama’s 2020 goal to bring millions of students into and through higher education.
You can do it one person at a time. You can help us build a democracy that serves the top 100% of Americans with an education that prepares them to compete in the global economy.
You can also get involved in your local schools, mentor a child, or read to someone less fortunate. I am not asking you be first to walk on the moon, be the answer to the tragic oil spill in the Gulf, or save the world. I’m asking you to connect with one person – and form the bond that will encourage someone else to get an education.
And so, class of 2010, follow your dreams – even though at first they seem impossible, they will eventually become inevitable. You have a whole world waiting for you, and I know you have the passion and determination to leave it a better place.
Congratulations, and thank you for letting me be a part of your wonderful celebration.