Remarks of Dr. Martha J. Kanter, Under Secretary, at Palo Alto University Commencement

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Remarks of Dr. Martha J. Kanter, Under Secretary, at Palo Alto University Commencement

June 5, 2010

Thank you Mr. Otieno and President Calvin for that generous introduction and for this honorary degree, which I will treasure for the rest of my life. It is an honor to join you this morning to celebrate the success of the Class of 2010. To our graduates, to the faculty, staff, the administration, the University Board of Trustees and to the families and friends who supported each graduate to reach this significant level of achievement, congratulations!

As you cross the stage today to receive your degrees, you will usher in society's next generation of graduates. In doing so, you will become role models for your family, friends, co-workers, and, yes, patients, who will also have the chance to follow the path of education and lifelong learning, essential to our social, economic, environmental and political future.

You have succeeded through numerous challenges and will face many more as your life unfolds. As you look ahead, you will be facing change at many of life's turning points as you have done already.

Since this institution has its roots in the study of psychology, you will understand what I mean when I say that today you are experiencing a "liminal" moment in your life, a time when you stand not on one bank or the other, but in the middle of the river, crossing over to new freedoms and new fears, made possible by the new knowledge you have gained.

In "liminal" space, like at twilight, we are betwixt and between—no longer who we were and not yet who we will become. For many of us, this is a time of vulnerability. But mostly it is a time of opportunity.

In a world moving as quickly as ours, the true inevitable is change. So the challenge becomes not that we change, but how we change. As graduates, moving well into the 21st century, you face personal challenges, the challenges of your community, your country, and the world. Your concerns are your own, but they are also concerns that confront your neighbors, your state, America and our global society, the ones you see in the headlines of the newspaper, in blogs, and on the nightly news.

They are the ones that can seem far away, but as you pay closer attention, you will see that the concerns of others have been the shared responsibility of many, and that is what has made our country great. Perhaps that is why so many of us carry the pennies in our pockets that say "E Pluribus Unum."

Years ago, when I was an undergraduate at Brandeis University, I was the teaching assistant for the renowned psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow. He founded Cumbres, the Center for Human Potential in Dublin, New Hampshire, where he studied behavior and applied theories of personality and humanistic psychology as methods to improve the lives, hopes and dreams of human beings. Maslow, too, believed that there are special times in our lives that optimize our potential for growth as human beings and our ability to accommodate and adapt to change.

I know many of you understand this already. As graduates of Palo Alto University, you have embraced the commitment to serve your community by changing lives for the better. You know that, in doing so, you will help to fulfill humanity's potential for growth and achievement in our country and our world. And you already know that as you enter or advance in your professions and careers, you will be the better for it yourself because you have given to others.

President Obama has said, "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change we seek." He understands the personal responsibility we all must take if we are going to realize our full potential and that of our society.

When you chose Palo Alto University, you already had some understanding that you wanted to change your life and create positive change for others. You have embraced what our Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls "practical idealism," that we can put our ideals into practice so they can transform lives. Psychologists like Dr. Maslow and many others have dedicated their lives to figuring out how to implement the goals of "practical idealism" in society to change not only lives but the history of our country.

Your innovative undergraduate program with its community college partners, De Anza College and Foothill College, has given many pioneering students increased opportunities to complete their Bachelor's degrees by facilitating the transfer process from the community college to Palo Alto University and for students who already have a degree and want to change careers and enter the field of psychology.

The Graduate School of Psychology has long shared a deep commitment to educating future psychologists and others who have dedicated their lives to alleviate suffering, here at home and in the world. The mission is noble, and I congratulate all of you for having the desire, having made the choice and having done the hard work that brought you to this day of graduation.

Over the years, as I've followed the careers of your predecessors who graduated from here, I took heart in enjoying the passion and practical idealism they've brought to the world, and the opportunities they've given to others.

Palo Alto University has done a wonderful job of creating opportunities for them and now for you, and you have embraced them and made them your own.

The University has provided an optimal, welcoming and inclusive environment for hundreds and hundreds of students from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and I want to tell you about the accomplishments of two of your students that have inspired me.

First, Josephine Nnakigozi. Six years ago, she emigrated here from Uganda with the goal of returning to help her community there. In Uganda, Josephine studied at the Uganda Martyrs University and she enrolled in De Anza College after she arrived in California. All the while working full-time in the evenings as an Admissions Representative at the Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center, Josephine took classes at De Anza College in medical assisting and psychology. When she learned about the University's Psychology and Social Action program, from which she will graduate today with her baccalaureate degree, she decided to enter the program. Josephine has seen first hand the ravages that the AIDS epidemic has had on Uganda.

Ten years ago, Josephine and a partner created a training center to teach young people computer skills. They then expanded this training model to include teaching skills, such as sewing, tailoring, bakery and crafts to young men and women who had dropped out of school with the goal of empowering these young people to start their own businesses. They also started an educational fund for Ugandan orphans whose parents had died from AIDS, to assist them with their primary, secondary and university educations. And finally, she assisted a group of 20 women to create businesses in their own homes, providing them with a sense of purpose and control of their own destiny through entrepreneurship.

Josephine has found her calling in psychology and social action, and after a short break to catch her breath, she intends to pursue a Master's degree in Social Work. Through the power of her education here at Palo Alto University and her own commitment to helping others, I'm confident she'll accomplish more than she already has in her career and in her life.

I'd also like to tell you about Kay Sato, who is being awarded her Ph.D. today. She's the daughter of Japanese immigrants who struggled to make ends meet while giving Kay as many opportunities as they could. By the time she was a teenager, events that shaped her life convinced her that she wanted to support those in need of help, especially those suffering from mental illness. After graduating nine years ago from UC Santa Barbara, she went abroad, visiting over 20 countries. She lived in Finland for five years because she fell in love with the people and culture. During this time she studied at a local program and worked at an international school, while completing the Pacific Graduate School's psychology program via distance learning.

Four years ago, Kay moved back to Palo Alto to pursue her Ph.D. She held externships at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, UCLA's Medical Center, and the San Francisco Veteran's Administration Medical Center. During her fourth year, she flew back and forth between Los Angeles and San Francisco to participate in 2 one-year externships at the same time. And she just completed an internship at the VA Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona.

Her dissertation on the study of suicide will ultimately help others who struggle profoundly with some of life's difficulties. She does not know where her journey will take her next, but she hopes to move back to Finland in the future to work there as a psychologist.

In these stories, and in the stories of each of you who are graduating today that are just as poignant and promising as these, all of you have shown us that you understand the responsibility you have to serve others. You didn't enroll at Palo Alto University only to learn. Like Josephine and Kay, you came here to gather knowledge and apply it in the real world to help others and 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.

Your achievements also mark the assumption of new obligations. The value of the education we now celebrate is gauged by how well it equips and inspires you to improve your piece of the world.

As you cross the stage here today, l am confident that you will leave here to pursue a vision and purpose greater than yourself because you know that there are people out there who need your leadership, your expertise and your help. This is the message that President Obama gave students in his open letter to 2010 graduates that appeared in Parade magazine.

He said that "no matter what you choose to do, know that you have the ability—each one of you—to write the next chapter in America's story."

At the federal level, a milestone of that next chapter ahead of all of us is the goal that President Obama has set for the United States: that "America, once again, will lead the world in the proportion of college graduates by the end of the decade." By receiving your degrees today, you have done your part in helping us move from 10th place to first in the world by the year 2020. Colleges and universities across the country are galvanizing together to meet this goal, even in such a challenging time as now as we move from these dire economic conditions into better times ahead.

But your graduation—and even the hundreds of commencements that are happening all over the country today, this month, and next year, will not be enough to meet the President's goal.

To reach the President's goal, we will have to increase from 40 to 60% the number of Americans with college and university degrees by 2020, bringing more than 8 million students into American higher education over the next decade beyond the proportion that will graduate due to population growth.

As you leave here today on the threshold of a new beginning, I ask you for two things:

First, choose to meet the changing tides of our times by serving others in the best ways that you can. This is not a small challenge, it's a great one. It's one worthy of your education here at Palo Alto University and of your passion for your beliefs and goal to make a significant contribution to people, and, in turn, our democratic society.

And, second, encourage someone else to seek a college education. If you encourage a friend, a family member, a neighbor, or even a patient to move to the next level in his or her education, if you encourage him or her to do the hard work that it takes to finish high school for those of you who will work with youth and to enter and complete college for those of you who will work with the adult population, you will be an inspiration and role model for them. You will not only make a difference in someone else's life, but you will also be helping your country. Your accomplishments today are our inspiration, hope and expectation for tomorrow.

Congratulations and God Bless each of you!