Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona Delivers Remarks at the First Seal of Biliteracy Summit (As Prepared)

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona Delivers Remarks at the First Seal of Biliteracy Summit (As Prepared)

June 24, 2024

Thank you, Sejal, for the kind introduction, and congratulations on receiving the Seal of Biliteracy!

And welcome, everyone to this Summit – hosted by YOUR Department of Education!

First, let me give a huge thanks to our incredible team – Montserrat Garibay, and the staff of our Office of English Language Acquisition, and Dr. Melissa Castillo, Senior Advisor to me on Multilingualism – not only for bringing us together at this summit, but for all you do every day to advance multilingualism and support English learners in America. 

That means building, protecting, and embracing proficiency in languages – from Spanish to Mandarin, from American Sign Language to our many beautiful native tribal languages.

I’d also like to thank the many national organizations represented here today.

You all don’t always get the recognition you deserve for the great work you do, so I want to make sure we show you love today. 

Look: today is a very big deal.

It’s a big deal because, for the first time ever, all 50 states now offer Seals of Biliteracy.

It’s a big deal because 29 of those states are represented here today.

And above all: it’s a big deal because we’re fully embracing and celebrating who we are as a nation – a nation made stronger, not weaker,by its beautiful diversity. 

Some of you have heard me say this a million times, but I will never get tired of saying it:

Bilingualism is a superpower.

Biculturalism is a superpower.

And biliteracy is a superpower!

And if I can brag just a little, I’m proud that one of the young people who has been recognized this year as having those superpowers – someone who earned her Seal of Biliteracy just this month . . . is my own daughter, Celine!

I also want to recognize: for many of you, today is also a big deal because of just how hard the journey was to get where we are now.

Just over 26 years ago, in June 1998, the state of California effectively banned bilingual education – and made “English only” instruction the standard.

That lasted for 18 years.  If you were an English learner born in 1998, that was your full childhood.

But here’s the thing: during those dark 18 years, there was a group of people who stepped up unapologetically to challenge that deeply broken status quo.

They were parents.  Educators.  Activists.  Champions of civil rights. 

And even as the English-only policy persisted, they started fighting for a new recognition.  A recognition that saw English learners as people with assets, not deficits.  A recognition that saw biliteracy as the superpower it truly is. 

Through their efforts, in 2012, California became the first state to have a Seal of Biliteracy.

The leaders of that effort included Dr. Laurie Olsen.  Shelly Spiegel-Coleman.  And Arthur Chou. 

Let’s give them a big round of applause today!

Those are the parents, the faces on the Mt. Rushmore of the Seal of Biliteracy.  You are the Language Avengers.

YOU are the pioneers.  This is your journey.  This is your moment.  These are the fruits of your leadership.
And know this: if the rest of us in this room stand tall and proud today, it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Thank you for all you’ve done to make the Seal of Biliteracy a reality not only in California, but all over this great nation.

Now, if you are here at the Seal of Biliteracy Summit, you probably don’t need to be reminded of all the reasons bilingualism and multilingualism are good for our nation.

But we all know: there are more than a few people elsewhere who could use a little reminder.  So let me spell it out:

If you know more than one language, the research makes it clear: you are likely to do better in your life  – and not just academically. 

Cognitively, the evidence tells us that learning another language can make you more creative, more flexible and better equipped to make good decisions.

Economically, countries that actively nurture different languages tend to reap a range of economic rewards, including more successful exports, a more innovative workforce, and better paid workers.

So when you earn a Seal of Biliteracy, you’re signaling that you have a leg up.

You’re telling future employers that you have the language skills to keep their business or organization competitive.

You’re telling future bosses that you can thrive in a situation that requires being adaptable – because you’ve spent your lives code switching and culture switching between different contexts. 

When we have more students earning the Seal, we move the needle to reverse the historic focus on monolingualism in education.

This is why creating a pathway to Multilingualism is one of the main goals we have at the Department of Education. 

And don’t get me started on what this Seal of Biliteracy movement means to validate the benefits of being bicultural too. 

We cannot separate culture from language, so for me, in addition to learning new cultures, the Seal signifies the value we place on students’ native cultures at a time in this country when we have so-called leaders attacking diversity, affirmative action, and promoting racist policy. 

For too long, students who have mastered their native language and found identity in their beautiful culture have been made to feel less than in some schools. 

Well, I am here to tell those students: they have superpowers.  They are gifted.  Your ability to code and culture switch are your superpowers.  That’s why this cord represents so much to me. 

It’s validation.

What I might have been embarrassed about 40 years ago, helped propel me to the role of the nation’s Secretary of Education. 

Students, if it can do that for me, imagine what it can do for you.

We’ve come a long way since that grassroots movement started in California in 2008.  But this can’t be the end of the journey. 

Not when we still have so far to go to do a better job of recognizing and valuing biliteracy in the same way that we recognize the value of, say, getting an honors cord at graduation or taking a lot of AP classes.

Not when there are still some powerful people and nativist demagogues fighting – against all the evidence – to promote the sort of appalling and harmful English-only policies California rejected in 2016.

The good news is that we now have the right policy levers to undo the historic trend of monolingualism in our schools. 

We are unapologetically moving this important work at the Department of Education: from promoting high-quality dual language learning to building up the pipeline of great bilingual educators . . . and celebrating the Seal of Biliteracy wherever we can.

Summits like this one go a long way to transform a broken status quo and shine a spotlight on the assets that multilingual learners bring. 

As I said before, the way I see it, the Seal is much more than a just a validation…it’s an important celebration of who we are and where we come from. It’s a promise to ourselves and our families that we’ll uphold our languages, cultures and identities.  

Last year, I remember walking into the White House for a Cabinet meeting.  I was in this beautiful room next to the Oval Office, waiting with my Cabinet colleagues for the President.
I walked over to a group of my colleagues who were huddling under a big portrait of George Washington.  Those colleagues were Xavier Becerra, Alejandro Mayorkas, and Isabella Guzman.  As we chatted, we found ourselves speaking not in English – but in Spanish.

And I thought to myself: what a beautiful thing – four Cabinet leaders, standing under the portrait of America’s first president, preparing in Spanish for a meeting with America’s current president.

To me, this represents why we’re here.  It’s not only about Seals, or even bilingualism and biliteracy. 

This is about nothing less than finally realizing the full potential of our nation.  The promise that has always existed in our diversity and multicultural and multilingual heritage.

So as we move forward, let’s fight for a nation where every student can’t wait to earn a Seal of Biliteracy.

And let’s fight for a nation where the Seal is seen as the amazing honor it is . . . by every school, every business, every leader in every state and community across this country!

And let’s fight for more dual language programs, more bilingual educators, more English learners celebrated for who they are and what they bring.

You have changed your communities.  You have changed your states.  Now, it’s time to transform our nation.  We can do that together – and we will.

Muchas Gracias y Pa’lante!