Commencement Address by Dr. Jill Biden to Graduates, Family Members, and Faculty of Montgomery County Community College
Good evening everyone…as a Philadelphia-native, it’s great to be back home!
Thank you Dr. Stout and Chairman D’Aniello for inviting me for such an important day. And I also want to offer congratulations to tonight’s other honorary degree recipient, Mr. Mike Bittner. And wasn’t Antonio great? Thank you for your inspiring words – you are a tough act to follow!
It is an honor and a thrill to be here to celebrate with all of you.
Thanks to the tireless work of you and your team, Dr. Stout, Montgomery County Community College has earned national recognition for its tradition of service to the community, its advanced technology programs, and for its outstanding teachers.
Congratulations, that recognition is very well-deserved.
And today, I congratulate all of you. All of you graduates, all of your proud mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons, daughters and friends. You did it!
And I think you all deserve a huge round of applause.
I feel right at home at a community college commencement. Some of you are familiar with my story. As Dr. Stout mentioned, I have spent my career as a teacher and to this day I am a full-time professor at a community college in Northern Virginia, not too far from the White House.
People often ask me why I continue to teach, and my answer is very simple: it’s you. It’s the students. Tales are often told of teachers inspiring students, but I find it is more often the other way around.
On more days and in more ways than I can remember, my students have inspired me with their persistence, their inquisitiveness, and their absolute faith that education will make their lives better. And I bet your professors here would say the same thing.
Throughout your time at Montgomery County Community College, you have no doubt seen the signs and reminders around campus: ‘Think Big.’ ‘Think Big’ About Your Future.’ ‘Think Big About Your Possibilities.’ ‘Think Big About the Difference You Can Make.’
And over the last couple of years, whether at Blue Bell or at Pottstown, you have risen to that challenge. You have “thought big” about what you will make of your life and through your hard work you have inspired us all.
You are Karen Vasko, who, after taking care of her elderly father in a hospice, realized she had a natural talent for nurturing others. Karen promised her father that after he died, she would follow her dreams of becoming a nurse.
When he passed away, Karen left her 30-year career in banking to study medical assisting here at the College. And I’m so proud to say, that at the age of 57, Karen recently passed her registration exam with a score of 99 percent and will be graduating to fulfill her dream – and the dream of her father – here today. Karen, I know your father would be so proud of you today.
You are Elizabeth Neuman, who came to the College interested in biotechnology. Thanks to this College’s exceptional biotech program and the relationships she was able to develop with her professors here, Elizabeth was able to work hands-on with lab equipment, develop her own techniques, and prepare herself for a terrific career. And I’ve learned that she has recently been hired as a research assistant at a biotech company, congratulations Elizabeth!
And you are Brian Lukens, who took a break from college in 2004 to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. After serving two tours of duty in Iraq, Brian returned to study here at Montgomery full-time, while still serving as a reservist and a full-time security employee in order to support his family.
It’s people like Brian and his family who show us what words like “service,” “strength,” and “sacrifice” really mean on a daily basis.
Brian, you and your fellow service members across the country inspire all of us – including me and First Lady Michelle Obama. We are working hard to make sure the rest of the country understands how important your leadership is to the future of our nation. And we will stand by your families – and all our military families – no matter where your future missions take you. As an Army mom myself, I want to say to you and your family, Brian: Thank you for your service.
You all came to this college at many different stages in life, but, 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.
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 the stage and receive a diploma as you will today, 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, yes, 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.
The joy of watching you close those gaps is exactly why I am a community college professor.
The education you received here at Montgomery County Community College goes so far beyond the four corners of a diploma. So far outside the pages of an English textbook or the walls of a computer lab.
What you have gained here is 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. No matter if you are a budding biotech expert, a 57-year-old banker or a young reservist coming back from deployment.
Years from now, you may not be able to recall a certain scientific formula, or recite those verses from Shakespeare. You may not immediately be able solve the complex calculus problems you’ve conquered here. But I have no doubt in my mind that you will be able to say, “No matter what is put in front of me, I can do it.” You’ve done it here. You can do it anywhere.
I’ve been lucky enough to witness firsthand the power of community colleges to change lives, first as a community college teacher but now as part of an Administration that also recognizes their value. President Obama has set a goal of leading the world in college graduates by 2020. And he knows that community colleges are key to reaching that goal – and you all are living proof.
There are close to 1,500 of you graduating today—the most in the College’s history. Some of you will go on to four-year universities; some to graduate school; and others into the workforce. But I hope for each of you that the education you received here will spark a quest for discovery that will last a lifetime.
As the Irish poet William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire.”
So no matter where you go, I urge you to embrace that fire. Embrace that fire, that new confidence, and pass it on. Inspire others by showing them the good that can come from a great education. Show them what they are capable of when they work hard doing what they love, and light that fire anew for so many more.
Congratulations, graduates, and good luck in all that you do!
Thank you so much.