Commencement Address by Second Lady Jill Biden at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York

June 12, 2009

DR. BIDEN: Good morning. Thank you for inviting me for such an important day. And I want to say thank you to the Mayor and to Chuck and to all the elected officials.

And to Dr. Peruggi — and Marty — as the granddaughter of Dominic Giacoppa, I like that name too. Thanks to President Peruggi — your decades of work on behalf of higher education have been vital to the field and have helped turn Kingsborough into one of the top community colleges in America. I congratulate you.

And, today, I congratulate all of you. All of you graduates, all of your proud mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters. You did it! And I think you all deserve a round of applause.

The truth is — I feel right at home on a community college campus. I have been an educator for 28 years and have spent the last 16 at a community college. In fact, I continue to teach English at a college in Northern Virginia, not too far from the White House. There was never a question in my mind when we moved to Washington that I would continue to teach.

People often ask me why I choose to teach at a community college. Well — the answer is simple: It's the students. It's you. Because I know who you are:

You are Grace Simmons, who after 16 years as a lab technician lost her job and came here to Kingsborough College for retraining. You are graduating today, Grace, with a nursing degree, and I understand you have a job offer waiting at Lutheran Medical Center. Good for you!

You are Taheem Lomax. Stand up, Taheem. Taheem came to Kingsborough as the first in his family to go to college. He became one of 10 students to win a scholarship to study in Austria — the first time you ever left Brooklyn. Now you are transferring into a four-year college and pursuing your dream of starting a non-profit to help children around the world.

You are Jaqueline Carter-Cutting — born in Guyana and moved to the US in 2000. After being laid off from your job as a flight attendant in October of 2001, you joined the US Army Reserves. You were injured while serving abroad — and then you returned here to Kingsborough for your nursing degree. Graduating alongside you today is your daughter, Sherifah Carter.

You all came to this college at many different stages in life, and, today, after hard work and sacrifice, long hours and sleepless nights, you all walk across the same stage, having accomplished something no one can ever take away from you.

I am a community college teacher not simply because I hope to inspire you — but because you inspire me.

Every year, I meet students who have doubts, who are unsure of their destinies, unaware of the abilities they possess. And every year, around this time, I see those same students, in caps and gowns, walk across a stage and receive a diploma, knowing that, yes, they cast those doubts aside, and, yes, they did what they set out to do.

It's a feeling you can get at most universities, but it's especially strong at community colleges — where the gap between what is imagined at the beginning and what is achieved at the end can be so wide.

Just watching you close those gaps is exactly why I am a community college professor. I often say that my students are my heroes, and I am not exaggerating. You are all heroes. And today we celebrate your heroism.

The education you receive here at Kingsborough goes so far beyond the four corners of a diploma. So far outside the pages of an English textbook or the walls of a research lab.

What you have learned here is nothing so much as the confidence it takes to succeed, the knowledge that, hey, I set out to do this, and I did it, and now I can do so much more.

Years from now, you may not be able to recite the lines of poetry from your English textbooks; you may not be able to do the complex math problems you finally conquered — but you will be able to say, "No matter what is put in front of me, I can do it."

Over the last 16 years, I have seen firsthand the power of community colleges to change lives. And now the good news is — now we have a president, Barack Obama, who sees the same thing.

The President's goal is for the United States to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates by the year 2020 — he knows community colleges will play a major part in achieving this goal. He also knows that community colleges are critical to the administration's efforts to promote access to job training or additional education for unemployed Americans.

We know that community colleges have been meeting these critical needs for decades. This is nothing new to you.

Community colleges are leaders in creating training programs for green jobs, for manufacturing, and for targeted areas like Kingsborough's own marine technology program.

I have always said community colleges are one of America's best-kept secrets — and now we have a president and an administration who are highlighting their contribution, bringing more students to colleges like Kingsborough, so they, too, can gain the skills and the confidence they need to succeed in a new era.

The education gained on campuses just like this will provide the knowledge that will power the 21st century. You're not just here amassing knowledge; you're sparking a quest for discovery that will last a lifetime.

Some of you will go on to four-year universities; some to graduate school; and some into the workforce. No matter where you go — let your education continue. Keep your eyes open to the world around you. And always see in others what they are capable of being and becoming.

See it. Pass it on. You need to inspire them. Show them the good that can come from a great education. Show them what they're capable of. Show them, above all else, that they can do it too!

Thank you. Congratulations, graduates.

Jill Biden, Commencement Address by Second Lady Jill Biden at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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