Governor Deval L. Patrick
Springfield Technical Community College Commencement Address
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Thank you, President Rubenzahl, for that generous introduction.
To Chairman Toledo and members of the Board of Trustees;
To the Faculty and Staff of Springfield Technical Community College;
To Mayor Sarno and other distinguished guests;
To the proud parents, family members and friends who have supported, enabled and encouraged these accomplished graduates to reach this milestone; and most especially
To the STCC Class of 2013;
Congratulations and thank you for having me join in your celebration.
The main event tonight is getting in hand the degree for which you have worked so hard. So I promise to be brief. I simply want to honor this remarkable community, this Class of 2013.
And what a beautiful community you are. You range in ages from 19 to 70 years young. You represent nearly every imaginable ethnicity, race and religion. Some of you are the first ones in your family to learn English or to go to college. Each of you, in important ways, is living the American Dream.
Community itself is integral to your journey.
When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s on the South Side of Chicago, everything seemed broken. Sidewalks. Playgrounds. Families. There was a lot we didn’t have. But one thing we did have was a strong sense of community -- because that was a time when every child was under the jurisdiction of every adult on the block. If you messed up down the street in front of Ms. Jones’, she would straighten you out as if you were hers -- and then call home, so you’d get it twice.
What those adults were trying to get across to us was that they had a stake in us. And that membership in a community is understanding the stake that each of us has in our neighbor’s dreams and struggles as well as our own.
Community, in this same sense, has always been a part of the American story. It’s what John Adams wrote about in the famous preamble to the Commonwealth’s constitution:
“The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals,” he wrote. “[I]t is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good.”
The common good. The Commonwealth. Community.
In recent weeks, our community has tested. The horrific events of Marathon Monday brought such tragedy and devastation -- the deaths of three innocents from the blasts and of an MIT police officer five days later; the brutal and in some cases profound injury of hundreds of others; the shock to us all. The senselessness of it all, even now, is hard to absorb.
And yet in some ways Marathon Monday and the days following brought out the best in our community: the EMTs, volunteers and bystanders who rushed to aid and comfort the victims; the medical professionals who made the world’s best care better and lost not one patient who made it to hospital; the law enforcement teams -- federal, state and local -- and the National Guard who committed to resolving this crime and doing so collaboratively.
The everyday people who, in their own private ways, showed repeated acts of kindness, compassion and courage.
Out of the dust of tragedy, the spirit of community emerged. It might just have been our finest hour because we showed the world -- and each other -- that nothing can defeat that spirit.
When I went to bed late that Thursday, I was bone tired. We had had a week of crisis, followed by the ordered chaos, if there is such a thing, of launching the investigation.
I had visited volunteers and hospital workers to offer encouragement and thanks, victims to offer comfort, and the families of the dead to offer condolences. The media at the time, dedicated to filling airtime even when there was no news, can only be described as crazy.
The interfaith service that Thursday, from start to finish, was healing, but also draining. The investigation itself, which had come to focus on two suspects -- soon to be known as “Black Hat” and “White Hat” -- had turned to the review of thousands of photographs and videos collected from scores of individual and commercial sources. The best thing for me to do then was to stay out of the way. After a quiet supper with my wife and daughter, I fell into bed.
At 1:00 a.m., the first call came from my team. There had just been a shoot-out in Watertown with the bombing suspects. Explosives had been deployed at the scene. One suspect was down and the other was in flight. He was considered armed and extremely dangerous. I received hourly updates through the rest of the night as law enforcement created a perimeter around the neighborhood and prepared to search door to door starting at daylight.
In a pre-dawn conference call I was asked to suspend MBTA service through Watertown and to ask residents in the neighborhood to “shelter in place.” The reasons for this were two-fold: to prevent flight and to keep people safe while the door-to-door search of that neighborhood was conducted.
By the time of the press conference that morning, we had reports of related developments in the Fenway and at South Station. So, we decided to extend the “shelter in place” request to all of Boston. And because it is nearly impossible surgically to suspend service on the T in or out of an area that includes the City of Boston, we suspended the entire system.
It was an interesting and tense moment. I did not order people off the street; I asked them to stay indoors. It was not an indefinite request, but one that was pending the completion of the door-to-door search. I asked people to help us help them stay safe. And by and large, and to great effect, they did.
I didn’t have to govern through power or through fear. I governed, I hope, through a sense of shared community and common cause.
When Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found in that boat later that Friday evening, hundreds of heavily armed police officers rushed to the immediate area. Monitoring the scene from the command post, I could tell that everyone’s adrenaline was pumping, maybe most especially the officers on the immediate scene. One state trooper described it vividly to me afterwards when he said, “Any one of us would gladly have put a bullet into White Hat;” and yet, he said, when ordered to hold their fire, they did. And when White Hat was apprehended, and the EMTs placed him on a gurney and wheeled him past those throngs of armed and agitated police, that same state trooper said, not one officer showed the least lack of restraint.
Everybody respected the rules. That, too, was a sign of strength.
Someone someday, once we have some perspective on it all, will write the story of the Marathon bombings – what lessons we learned, what we knew or should have known in advance, and what difference it should or could have made.
For now, I’m glad for the professionalism and restraint of law enforcement, and I’m glad that our sense of community made it unnecessary to order anybody to help us help them. Indeed, I’m more than glad. I’m proud because in many ways the system worked and we showed the world (and ourselves) what civilization looks like.
Which brings me back to where I started. The STCC community is part of a larger community, a national community in which we all have a stake and which is deeply in need of repair. For if Boston and our Commonwealth showed a sense of common cause and common destiny last month, it contrasts with a sometimes fractured Nation.
America is not organized the way countries are usually organized. We are not organized around a common language or religion or even culture. We are organized around a handful of civic ideals. And we have defined those ideals, over time and through struggle, as equality, opportunity, freedom and fair play.
For this, more than anything else, we are the envy of the world.
The notion that in this country you can imagine a better future for yourself and your family, and then reach for it, is central to American Dream. It’s the Dream of pilgrims who came to the American wilderness in search of religious freedom; of immigrants who fled oppression in search of a chance to flourish; of your parents and grandparents who scraped and sacrificed so you wouldn’t have to struggle as hard as they did. It’s your Dream, your story, your journey.
Don’t lose faith in the American Dream. And don’t forget that you have a responsibility to preserve that Dream for others and pass it on.
In one generation, my family and I have moved from poverty to a position to help others help themselves, earning a college degree, a law degree, and a little money along the way. But you don’t need to be governor to pass it on. You just need to know that someone else’s American Dream depends on building community, on you seeing your stake in your neighbor’s dreams and struggles as well as your own – and living your life accordingly.
Carmen Arce left her family in Mexico to come here for graduate school. She studied law and diplomacy. She worked hard. She met a nice guy. They married and started a family. She works for me now as head of personnel and administration in my office.
Just the other day, Carmen took her citizenship test. She was given 10 random questions. The second one made her giggle: “Who is the Governor of your state?”
Needless to say, she got the answer right. But the moment was not lost on her. Seven years after arriving here, Carmen has built a new life. She knows that whether we are here by birth…by boat…or even by the brutality of slavery, the American Dream is more than the stuff of legend or folklore. It is real. It is Carmen’s story. It’s mine. And it’s yours. Whether it is the story of the next generation of Americans is up to you.
Congratulations again. Good luck to you.