Governor Deval L. Patrick
UMass Amherst Commencement Address
Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium, UMass Amherst, Amherst
Friday, May 9, 2014

Chairman Thomas and the Members of the Board of Trustees;

President Caret, Chancellor Subbaswamy, and Members of the Faculty and Staff;

Fellow Honorees, Distinguished Guests, Family and Friends;

And most especially proud members of the UMass Amherst Class of 2014:

Congratulations on reaching today's milestone and thank you for having me.

The main event this afternoon, of course, is getting in hand the degree for which you have worked so hard. But the main question is "what's next?"  

From the time you were little boys and girls, someone has almost certainly been asking you what you wanted to be when you grow up. It's what adults ask kids, especially parents of their own kids. Little kids answer with gusto. As young people get closer to actually being grown up, the gusto seems to fade.

When my daughters were college seniors, I would ask them and their friends what plans they were making for their lives after graduation. They hated the question. They said it made them feel pressured to choose a career before they felt quite ready to do so. I tried to be patient and leave aside mentioning that, when I was their age, I didn't have the option not to choose a path for myself after school. I also wanted them to understand, as I do you, that the choice you make now need not be and probably won't be the choice for all time. 

Mostly, I wondered where in the world would we be if nobody ever wanted to be anything?

I certainly hope there are future doctors and lawyers and biologists and engineers here. I hope there are future soldiers and sailors and nurses and builders here. I hope there are some who will have more than one career in the course of their working lives. And I hope that whatever you choose to do, you do it with integrity.

But above all I hope you will choose to be good citizens.

There is so much emphasis on education as a pathway to a good job. I get that. Given the changes afoot in the economy and in the world, education will be the key to your success and ours as a Nation. Despite strong job gains in Massachusetts in the last several years, we still have 220,000 people looking for work – and 150,000 vacancies. What employers keep telling us is that they can’t find people with the skills they need to do the jobs they have. 

But your education here at UMass is about more than preparation for being good employees. It is about preparation for citizenship itself.

Good citizens take an interest in people and issues outside themselves. They understand community, in the sense of seeing their stake in their neighbors' dreams and struggles as well as their own. They inform themselves about what's happening in their community. They volunteer. They listen. They take the long view. They vote.

Good citizens don't just live and work in a community. They build community.

And what a beautiful community you are. You are 5,500 graduates strong. You represent nearly every race, ethnicity and religion on the planet and scores of languages and cultures. Many of you are the first ones in your family to learn English or to go to college or to graduate school. And still, as widely diverse as your backgrounds and widely divergent as your views may be, through this community you are connected to each other and to the larger world. 

Many of you act on that, too.

I think of Shirin Hakim, who created a student-run program to connect homeless people here in Amherst to local resources for food, healthcare, transportation and jobs.

Or Brian Cormier, Andrew Friedlieb, Catherine Paquin, Kyle Morrell and Emily Gardner of the UMass engineering team who designed a mechanical arm to help a disabled Northampton kindergartner feed himself.

Or Air Force Staff Sargent Jeff Axton who, having serving two combat tours in Iraq, wants to use the degree he will be awarded today to make higher education more accessible to returning veterans.

Each of them and many others exemplifies the highest form of citizenship by seeing your stake in your neighbors' dreams and struggles as well as your own. “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” Dr. King used to say, “tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” So many of you are already living and acting in that spirit, making the kinds of choices good citizens make. And it makes this faculty, your families and this Governor very proud.

It seems to me that that same spirit has to infuse more of our public policy. 

Surely no policy choice before this community, this Commonwealth and this Nation is more emblematic than climate change. For we cannot continue to consume so much of the world's energy and take so little responsibility for the impact of that consumption on the lives of others, and the life of the planet itself.

Only this week, the Obama administration released a report, co-authored by over 300 independent scientists, which catalogued the evidence of climate change and its impact. The assessment demonstrates that climate change is an issue right now, not just for future generations. The impacts are being felt in all corners of the country and in a range of manifestations, including heat waves, coastal flooding, intense precipitation, and more extreme storms. And those weather changes have implications for our economy, transportation, energy, water, agriculture, ecosystems and oceans. 

Most of these conclusions are not new. We are already seeing more severe weather extremes in our Commonwealth and our region, more hurricanes and wildfires, more coastal damage and blizzards.

Starting seven years ago, with that future in mind, we in Massachusetts took a fresh look at our energy reality. We knew that if we harnessed Massachusetts-grown energy sources, reduced our energy consumption and protected our natural resources, we could strengthen both the environment and our economy.

I am proud of the progress we have made and the example we have set for the Nation:

In 2007, we had just over 3 megawatts of solar capacity; today we have nearly 500 megawatts installed, and will more than triple that by 2020.

In 2007, we had just over 3 megawatts of wind capacity; today, we have installed 103 megawatts of land-based wind and are poised to become home to the Nation’s first offshore wind farm.

We’ve tripled the energy we’re saving from efficiency initiatives and today lead the Nation in energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Working with other states through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, we have lowered carbon emissions throughout the region and demonstrated that a market based cap-and-trade approach works.

Between 2000 and 2012, the electricity generated from coal in New England dropped from 18% to 3%; electricity generated from oil is down from 22% to less than 1%. We have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 16% below 1990 levels already, and are well on our way to our goal of reducing emissions by fully 25% by the year 2020.

And our economy is not just unharmed but stronger.  While the US economy was at a standstill in the first quarter of 2014, Massachusetts grew at a healthy 2.6% rate; and, in the last quarter of 2013, Massachusetts grew 69% faster than the nation. Indeed, with over 5,500 clean energy firms and nearly 80,000 clean energy workers, Massachusetts now has one of the strongest clean energy job markets in the nation.

But we can do more.

In January, I announced a plan to coordinate climate preparedness. By January 2015, we will have a plan to make our transportation systems, energy facilities and coastal communities more resilient.

Three of the so-called “filthy five” coal burning power plants in Massachusetts have been retired in the last few years. Two remain: Brayton Point in the South Coast region and Mt. Tom, just down the road. Within the next four years, both should shut down and Massachusetts should finally end all reliance on conventional coal generation. 

As we migrate to cleaner natural gas, we should be mindful of the hazards of pipeline leaks to our immediate safety and also to the environment. A bill pending in the Legislature today would compel utilities to repair that infrastructure. We should pass it. And we should compel that same care around leaks of both methane at the source of extraction.

Our solar and wind generation has increased by great multiples in the last several years. We must redouble our efforts to get our electricity from clean power sources like wind, solar and hydropower, including by changing the laws that effectively limit the production, affordability and use by homeowners and businesses of clean alternative sources, and passing the hydro/wind bill now pending in the Legislature.

We have to migrate from the dependence on fossil fuels in transportation to the use of electric cars, buses and trains. Not only are these cleaner than gas- and diesel-powered vehicles today, but they will also get even cleaner as the means by which we generate that electricity gets cleaner.

And we should double down on energy efficiency. Massachusetts leads the Nation in energy efficiency. And yet here in a state filled with old homes and other buildings I meet people all the time – including many ardent environmental advocates – who have not even bothered to get the free energy audit from their local utility company. Changing out the light bulbs or adding some insulation, at the expense of your utility company, is a simple way for us to have a huge aggregate impact on reducing greenhouse gases and reversing the effects of climate change.

In fact, the time has come to set a new standard that ensures that, at every point in time, at every moment, we are getting the cleanest energy possible. It means energy efficiency first. It means zero-emission electricity next – solar, wind, and hydro. It means lower-emission electricity last – natural gas, an imperfect choice but best of the fossil fuels. And it means high-emissions sources never.

This is what we call a “clean energy standard,” and we should set one for our state that puts us on a path to reduce our emissions by fully 80 percent by mid-century. It’s not the ideal today, but it will get us there tomorrow. It’s how we move from good to better to best. 

What’s the best? The best is a future free of fossil fuels. It’s an economy driven by homegrown, independent sources of renewable energy, cutting edge technology, and hyper-efficient cars and buildings. It’s a future within our grasp. We don’t have to wait for disaster: the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stone, but because humankind imagined a better way and then reached for it.

Our clean energy future won't happen overnight, because it can't. But it will happen, because it must. And it will be up to you.

Which brings me back to citizenship. Good citizens would no more carelessly compromise the air and water we share with one another and future generations, than we would heave a bag of trash over the fence into our neighbor's yard.

Why? Because good citizens understand that we are all connected, bound together in that “inescapable network of mutuality.” There are no strangers here.

In the days and weeks after the Marathon bombings last year, we were reminded how few degrees of separation there are between us. 

I think of the young lawyer on my staff who finished the route on Boylston Street equidistant between the first and second explosions. Or the friends who left the finish line minutes before the first explosion. Or the friends who didn’t. There are no strangers here.

I see nurses and doctors in elevators and at the CVS whom I met on their third shift a year ago caring for the injured. My daughter Katherine was walking towards Boylston Street when the first bomb went off. I have a photograph of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old killed by the second blast, holding a campaign sign for me when he was 2 years old. There are no strangers here.

We are not strangers. We are all connected – to each other, to events beyond our control, to a common destiny. We share the same fears, the same hopes, the same community. “We are . . . tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

We are, in the end, one community. And strong communities are impossible without good citizens. Be good citizens – the kind UMass has so well prepared you to be – and your future, and the world’s, will be bright indeed.

Congratulations, graduates. God bless you. And good luck. Thank you.