Res Non Verba--Deeds, Not Words

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Res Non Verba--Deeds, Not Words

Prepared remarks of U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller at the Fayetteville State University commencement

May 7, 2011

Thank you, Jermaine--and my thanks to the Student Government Association and to all of the class of 2011 for having me here today.

First things first--let me just say how disappointed Secretary Duncan was that he couldn't make the trip today. But he asked me to convey his praise and pride for the hard work that brought you to this graduation day and earning your degree.

To the esteemed 18 representatives from Fayetteville State's five partner universities in China here today, I am glad you are joining this celebration. Having visited with my counterparts in China, Brazil, India, Australia, and New Zealand, I can personally attest to the commitment countries across the globe are placing on education.

So this is a day to celebrate. In fact, I hear there hasn't been a celebration on campus like this since Fayetteville State beat Winston Salem State in the CIAA tournament!

The truth is I'm delighted to have the opportunity to speak here. I myself am a product of HBCUs—my parents met at Virginia State University and got married there my dad's senior year.

And yes, I saw that before Fayetteville State knocked Winston Salem out of the CIAA tournament, the Broncos whupped Virginia State in the first round ...

I look forward to speaking at commencements for a reason: They provide an opportunity to do something that we do too little of in the field of education—and that is to celebrate success.

Congratulations to each and every one of you on this moment of passage and great accomplishment. Can every graduate who is the first in their family to graduate from college put their hands up? How about a round of applause for their great achievement?

I want to extend my congratulations to your parents, friends, spouses, and children, and the faculty and staff who not only share in your success but helped bring you to this day. Can we have a round of applause for them, too?

As I thought about what to say today, my mind flashed back to my own graduation. Looking back, two things stand out. First of all, I can't remember a word of what our distinguished commencement speaker said ... And second, if you had told me on graduation day that I would live in London and Tokyo, and learn Japanese, or that I would end up as the Deputy Secretary of Education, I would have thought you were crazy.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, could have been further from my imagination. But Class of 2011, let me tell you. I had a far more exciting plan when I was in college: I was going to be an industrial engineer.

It didn't take me long to figure out that I didn't really want to be an engineer. I preferred working in technology on the marketing side of the business. So I went to work after graduation at GM-Hughes in their automotive technology branch. I hoped, one day, to be the CEO of GM-Hughes.

After six years I realized I could get to the CEO suite faster by working with CEOs, instead of working my way up the corporate ladder. I went back to school, got an MBA, and went to work as a management consultant. But that wasn't my final path either. I wanted to run something—or even better, own a company. And so I shifted into being a partner at a private equity firm.

Looking back on graduation day now, I take away a couple of lessons. I tell the story of my career, not because it is unique but rather because the lessons I learned are in many respects universal in the information age.

Most of you will explore multiple jobs and careers after you graduate. And the course of your life is almost sure to take a few unexpected twists and turns—even if you don't end up learning Japanese.

In the global economy, the days of the Organization Man or Organization Woman are over. You will no longer get your degree and then go on to work for just one employer or even in one career.

In the 21st century, it is not just knowledge and subject mastery that are going to count, as important as they are. You ability to adapt, to be creative, and pursue your passion are, in large measure, going to determine how you fare in the job market and in life.

Employers today are looking not just for strong academic skills but for the ability to analyze and solve problems, write succinctly, and communicate. They are looking for employees who work well in teams and know how to surround themselves with talented colleagues.

All of those traits of critical thinking, entrepreneurship, cross-cultural competence, and team-building are hallmarks of a Fayetteville State education and the re-imagined HBCUs of the 21st century.

In his installation speech as Chancellor, Dr. Anderson's theme was "Future is Our Focus." Pair that with Fayetteville State's official motto, Res Non Verba—which means "Deeds, Not Words"—and you have a potent combination. As you graduate, you will be thinking about the future. And ultimately it is your deeds, not your words that matter most.

HBCUs were originally created in response to Jim Crow laws to educate African American students shut out of higher education. Virtually all HBCUs, including Fayetteville State, started out as schools that trained African American teachers. My mother got her degree in education and went on to teach high school.

Contrast that history with Fayetteville State today and the education you acquired here as students. What was once provincial has become panoramic. What was once girdled has become global.

No HBCU in the nation has a footprint in China like Fayetteville State. You have strong dual-degree exchange agreements with five universities in China--as well as with universities in South Africa, Morocco, Poland, Grenada, and France.

Next fall, FSU education students will be taking a course in educational psychology and measurement taught concurrently by video to students at Baotow Teachers College in Inner Mongolia, China. And students from around the world come to see and use FSU's Electron Microprobe—a rare, state-of-the-art microscope.

Your many courses for military members and non-traditional students from Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base include the only Bachelor's program in the UNC system in Intelligence Studies, as well as a unique on-base master's degree in social work for active-duty personnel.

FSU's School of Business and Economics is the only HBCU program in the country ranked in the top 200 business schools--and you edged out mighty Wake Forest in the rankings.

As you know, the business school here places a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship. Going head to head with students from 50 other business schools, FSU business students won the top honors at the Venture Challenge Entrepreneurial Conference four of the last six years. And I want to wish good luck to the student team that recently won the regional Students in Free Enterprise Competition. They are headed in a few days to the finals in Minneapolis.

Finally, your teacher preparation program is among the strongest in the state. Nearly 160 members of the class of 2011 are graduating with a degree in education. A large, rigorous study of UNC teacher preparation programs last year found that FSU education graduates were significantly more effective at boosting student achievement in high school science and English than teachers from other institutions.

The Cross Creek Early College High School at FSU is a beautiful on-campus example of educational innovation that blends high school and college and provides an accelerated path to a degree. I believe the 2009 valedictorian of Cross Creek Early College High School is graduating today--only two years after entering FSU.

Now, in a way all of this begs the question on many graduates' minds. Yes, you have an education that helped prepare you to compete in a global economy. You are building those skills of creativity, entrepreneurship, and teamwork that can help you succeed. But the question remains: What are you going to do with a 21st century education now that you have it?

As you pursue your passions, your careers, and build a family in the years ahead, I would like to add one more path to follow.

I hope that every graduate comes to feel an obligation to be involved in some way in transforming education so that the students behind you go to college and earn their degrees too. Take your education and pay it forward. Res Non Verba. Deeds, not words.

In the knowledge economy, education, more than ever, is the great equalizer. It is the one force today that can consistently overcome differences in background, culture, and privilege.

But if education is the new game-changer that drives economic growth and combats poverty, we also know that far too many children of color are dropping out of high school and failing to finish college.

Our children, our communities, our country cannot win the race for the future if we let children and youth fall behind at the starting line. That is why Secretary Duncan says that education is the civil rights issue of our generation.

To all the graduates here who are about to embark on careers as teachers, I can't thank you enough. Great teachers are our nation's unsung heroes--and we know that minority students have too few teachers of color.

On the way here, I read up on one of FSU's great teachers, Carole Boston Weatherford. She is an extraordinarily accomplished poet and children's novelist. She has been a best-selling author, and has won both the Caldecott and the North Carolina Award for literature.

But as impressive as her awards and accomplishments were, two things jumped out at me about her story. When she graduated from college, Professor Weatherford wanted to go into public relations. And when she started submitting her poems and short stories for publication, she got a lot more rejection letters than acceptance letters. She changed her career goal. But she never gave up pursuing her passion.

I loved what one of Professor Weatherford's students, senior Mary Ann Hull told the Fayetteville Observer about her professor. Mary Ann Hull said Professor Weatherford's example inspired her to think that she also could write a memoir.

"It's almost like a passion or a vision," Mary Ann said. "[Professor Weatherford gave birth] to something in me. She may never know this, but she did that for me."

Well, Mary Ann, I think your secret is out. Professor Weatherford has heard you. But think of how a great teacher can change the course of a student's life.

Now, I recognize that most of the graduates today are not planning to be teachers. But you can still assist the cause of elevating and transforming education in America. Tutor, coach, join the PTA, run for the school board. Help with fund-raising for special initiatives. Put your managerial and financial training to work for a school board, as I had the opportunity to do in Los Angeles.

You have so many great examples of FSU graduates who have elevated education. Ask Carl Person, a proud son of Fayetteville State who worked for 20 years in the U.S. Department of Education. He ultimately administered 15 higher education programs with a billion dollar budget. Today he is NASA's program manager for HBCUs. He helps ensure the participation of underrepresented and underserved populations in NASA's programs.

Ask Jessica Henderson Daniel about giving back. She is now an award-winning professor at Harvard Medical School and a renowned mentor and advocate for women entering the psychology profession.

Ask Superintendent Annette Cluff. She and her husband didn't like the schools available to her preschooler in Houston. So they took $10,000 of their savings and opened their own school. They had 10 students, no business plan--and almost no bankers willing to invest in their school.

Twenty-five years later, Annette Cluff is the superintendent of a publicly-funded charter school district with not one but three campuses and 1,700 students. Last year, one of her schools won the U.S. Department of Education's prestigious Blue Ribbon Award for being one of the highest-performing schools in Texas. Ninety-eight percent of her students qualify for free and reduce-priced lunch.

Do you know what Annette Cluff said when she found out her school had won a Blue Ribbon award? She said "we will not rest on our laurels. We will continue to provide a quality education at all three of our campuses."

Last, but not least, ask FSU grad Michele Jones. She originally joined the Army because she liked the uniforms. No one else she knew was enlisting. She wanted to be different.

Guess what? Michele Jones turned out to be a trailblazer. She became the highest-ranking African-American female enlistee in any branch of the U.S. military, and the first woman to be a Command Sergeant Major in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Today, she works for First Lady Michele Obama's Military Families Initiative and the President's Veteran's Employment Initiative. Ebony magazine has named her one of the 35 most remarkable women in the world.

When Michele Jones gives a speech, she often points out that "no one gets mentioned in history or has made history because they did something just for themselves. The people who have made the biggest impact on our world did it for everyone else."

So pursue your passions--not just for yourself but for the good of everyone else. Include, not exclude--and your lives will be richer for it.

I congratulate every one of you on your wonderful accomplishment today. Class of 2011, you show deeds, not words.

Today, I hope you celebrate your journey here. Tomorrow—and in the years ahead—I hope you continue that journey as lifelong learners.

Everyone here today is so proud of each and every one of you. We look forward eagerly to the next stage of your journey. Congratulations! And good luck.