Gary Locke at Washington State University

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Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks

Washington State University Commencement

May 8, 2004

Thank you, President Rawlins, for that kind introduction and thank you for your leadership of this great institution of learning and research.

Provost Bates, members of the Board of Regents, ASWSU President Spuria, GPSA President Williams, alumni, faculty and staff, distinguished honorees and guests: I am honored to be part of this exciting and momentus day.

Congratulations to the honored class of 2004, to the families of every graduate, and to the faculty and staff of Washington State University who have made this day possible.

As governor of this great state these past seven-and-a-half years, I have taken great pride in our universities, colleges and vocational and technical training schools. Washington State University has produced many of our best and brightest over the years—and it’s clear today that this proud tradition continues.

Today we celebrate the power of a college education. The power of the American Dream.

This is a power born of opportunity, hard work, talent and determination.

For you graduates, today symbolizes your intense investment of time and energy, mind and body, heart and soul.

For your families, today reflects their support, sacrifice, trust, encouragement and confidence.

Together, you’ve placed your profound faith in the future. And today we keep and honor that faith. Today is proof that the American Dream lives on.

I believe in the American Dream with all my heart because, like you, I have lived it.

Being at this commencement brings back fond memories for me. Some of your family members have traveled long and far to witness this joyous event. When I was growing up my parents owned a little mom-and-pop grocery store in Seattle. They worked seven days a week, 365 days a year, 14 hours a day, year after year after year and never closed for even Christmas or New Year’s. They denied themselves even some of the smallest luxuries so that we children in the family could have a better life.

But when I graduated from college, they closed the store and traveled all the way across the country to the East Coast to attend my commencement ceremony. It was a major milestone in the journey of the Locke family, just as today is a major milestone for each of your families.

Every family here has a story to tell. The details may vary, but the journey is the same. A journey fueled by the American dream of freedom, hope, equality and opportunity. A journey in which education has played a pivotal role.

So it’s wonderful to be here today, to share in this celebration of the power of education, and the success of every graduate and every graduate’s family.

My own family’s journey began when my grandfather came to the U.S. from China as a teenager more than 100 years ago. He worked as a servant for a family in exchange for English lessons. Today I live in the Governor’s mansion—just one mile from the house where my grandfather swept floors, cooked and washed dishes. We joke that it took our family 100 years to travel one mile. So traffic in the Puget Sound area has always been bad! But what a journey it has been!

For our entire Locke clan, education has been the great equalizer. We believe that regardless of your gender, your ethnic origin, your income level, with a quality education we are all able to realize the American dream.

Not long after I was elected governor, our entire family—Mom and Dad, my brother and sisters and their spouses, myself and my wife—made a pilgrimage. We traveled to our ancestral village called Jilong in the Guangdong province of southern China.

It was like stepping back into the 1800s when my grandfather left China to come to America. We went back to the family home where my grandfather and father were born. My Mom and Dad had not set foot in the village since their wedding day fifty years earlier. In our tiny village of about 150, there is still no running water. Just a well in the center of town. There is no indoor plumbing, no toilets. People still use chamber pots and sewage runs in open gutters along the walkways that connect the tightly-spaced dwellings. Only a few homes have electricity. Almost no one has a phone.

Very little has changed for the people of our village since my grandfather left a hundred years ago. People still live by the ancient rhythms of planting and harvest, and of birth and death. They measure time in generations, not in news cycles.

To the members of the village, my return was a vindication of their hard work and sacrifice. My election as a governor in the United States of America represented the success of our entire clan and the affirmation of all that America promises. They rightly understand—and they reminded me—that my success belongs to them, and to my parents, and not just to me as an individual.

Ever since that visit, I’ve reflected on the relationship between the past and the future. How the differences of living conditions between my birth home, Seattle, and my ancestral home, Jilong, have been shaped by the power of education and by the benefits and the expectations of an educated society.

I’ve also reflected on how, in about the year 2020, I hope to be sitting out among you, as a proud father of a graduate. That’s when my daughter Emily, who just turned seven years old, will likely participate in this rite of passage. My son Dylan will be in college by then too—he just turned five. And by then, one of you may be up here speaking as the Governor of our state! All due to the power of education.

That’s what makes days like today so profoundly important—important to each of us, and to our society, and to humanity.

This outstanding class of 2004 has benefited from the open doors of opportunity. And we must always make sure those doors stay open.

Since 1997 when I took office, we’ve steadily increased state funded enrollments at our state colleges and universities. Standing here today, we can’t help but feel very proud of that progress. Yet even if we increase college enrollments at the same pace as we have done the past 10 years, we will be woefully short in meeting the demand for a college education, because we will be graduating more students from high school than ever before.

Without significant new funding our state will soon be turning away each year 10,000 qualified students from our colleges and universities. 10,000 students a year who won’t ever participate in a commencement exercise like this one.

But we have an opportunity to do something about it in November.

Let’s make sure everyone in our state has the opportunity to know the deep fulfillment of a day like today.

This fulfillment derives from your accomplishments, but also from the profound challenge you will face when you leave here today: To embrace the power of education to move our civilization forward.

The purpose of education is not to help you lead more comfortable lives. It is to enable you to lead more useful and more meaningful lives. You must use the power of education to confront, understand, and alleviate suffering and conflict in our society. You know too much—and you’re too talented—to turn your backs on disease, poverty, ignorance and tyranny, whether in our communities in America or elsewhere in the world.

We can work for a world in which all humanity recognizes its shared destiny; and in which every individual, every family, and every community realizes its fullest potential.

Let’s energetically confront the great challenges facing the 21st century world. Let’s work to put an end to terrorism and war. Let’s find solutions to global warming, and let’s preserve and protect our precious environment for future generations. Let’s find ways to help those struggling with poverty, hunger and disease. There is so much we can accomplish in the years and decades ahead using the power of education.

And as we’re making this world a better place, let’s explore and conquer new and exciting frontiers like advanced computing, biotechnology, advances in medicine, energy and environmental technology. Let’s instill the arts with renewed vitality and creativity, and elevate humanity’s grasp of its place in the universe. Let’s take the spirit of educational excellence we see before us today, and turn that spirit into a world-class education system for every American.

There is so much good to be done in this world. And your generation is perfectly positioned to make these great things happen.

As I look out on this wonderful sea of faces, I see and feel a powerful promise. The promise that you will move civilization forward. I see that all the sacrifices of our parents and our grandparents were not in vain. And I see a new generation blessed with great challenges and equally great opportunities. A generation poised on the brink of greatness.

And I see the profound promise that only a good education can produce: that in an economy driven by knowledge, in a society devoted to knowledge, people who value learning will be blessed with the gift of wisdom.

Never before have the challenges facing our species and our planet been so daunting. But never before has a generation of young scholars been better prepared to make the most of the opportunities ahead.

I urge each of you to hold fast to the lessons of the past and to embrace the future. Both belong to you. Both are yours to keep and yours to lose. When you finally hold that diploma in your hand today, you will hold the power of education and the responsibility for human progress. Honor both.

So once again, congratulations to: the class of 2004! Be proud—because we are all very proud of you.

And to each of you, Godspeed. Godspeed in your lives, your careers, and in the fulfillment of your sacred obligation to the advancement of our civilization.


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