Governor Deval L. Patrick
UMass Boston Commencement
June 1, 2007
Thank you very much.
Mr. Chairman, Mr. President and Members of the Board of Trustees;
Chancellor Collins and Members of the Faculty and Administration;
Honorees and Distinguished Guests;
Proud Parents, Families and Friends; and especially
Deserving Graduates of the UMass Boston Class of 2007.
What a difference a year makes. I remember last year at my friend and your speaker Senator Barak Obama. Reflecting on his experience here said that it was great to be here despite the cold and the rain but then here the JFK reward recipient basically stole the show. I see that that is a pattern here at UMass Boston and I especially want to congratulate Najia for her award and her remarkable comments. What I really should do if I were as smart as all of you graduates is say simply, "what she said" and sit down.
I thank you very much for inviting me to be with you on this very special occasion on this very special campus. I want to congratulate each of the graduates here today for your toil and your trouble, and your families for encouraging, supporting and sometimes just putting up with you. Whether you followed a straight line to this day, or came here by a more winding path, every one of us here is proud of you -- and anxious to see just what you will do with the possibilities you have been given.
Because your lives have been transformed. You know things you didn't know before. You know people you would not have known before. You have a broader range of employment options than you had before. By virtue of your successful studies here, in the course of your working life, you are likely to earn more than twice what someone without a degree will earn.
But you know all that, and more. You already know your lives have been transformed. All graduates do and, I think that's why, so focused on that on graduation day, you are unlikely to remember a single word I say, or even who your graduation speaker was. Nevertheless, since some 85% of you will live and work (and vote!) in Massachusetts after you graduate, I do want to paint a picture for you of just how profoundly your own transformation can shape our common future.
Last week, I went to our youngest daughter's graduation from high school. At some level I couldn't escape the contrast between her life at that point and my own at a similar milestone.
I arrived at Milton Academy as the Chancellor says in the fall of 1970, the night before classes began. I had lived until then in a small apartment in an inner city neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, a life of want, of deeply segregated and ill-equipped schools, of gang violence and limited hope. I had never had my own desk or my own bed. I enjoyed reading, but I can't remember before ever having had my own book. I had never seen Milton or any place like it.
We had a dress code in those days: the boys wore jackets and ties to classes. Now, a jacket on the south side of Chicago, as my frinds from Chicago here will confirm, is a windbreaker. So when the clothing list arrived at home, my family splurged on a brand new windbreaker. That first day of classes, when all the other boys were putting on their blue blazers and tweed coats, there was I in my windbreaker. I had a lot to learn.
Our daughter Katherine, by contrast, grew up in a house in the town of Milton that was on the paper route I had once had while I was a student at Milton Academy. She has always had her own room. She has been in excellent schools for all of her life. By the time she arrived at high school as a freshman in the Fall of 2003, she had traveled on three continents, knew with confidence how to pronounce and use a "concierge," and had shaken hands in the White House with the President of the United States.
Once when Katherine was in kindergarten the class was studying the changes in the seasons. Her homework assignment was to describe for her parents the four seasons. She proceeded to recount in minute and accurate detail her several visits to the Four Seasons Hotel. She was five years old!
Last June, as the Chancellor said, I was so proud to be here to watch my sister, at age 50, cross this very stage to receive her B.A. degree. Not only has that changed the way she thinks about her own future, but her persistent striving for educational attainment over many years influenced her children as well. The week before my sister graduated from UMass Boston last year - the week before - her daughter graduated from college in Maine. Her son graduated from high school the next day and is off to college himself. It was a very full spring for my family - because we understand that that kind of achievement is not inevitable. It's not inevitable.
Like many of the Moms and Dads here, my sister and I strive to offer our children a very different and fuller life than our own. Education has made that possible. You should be grateful, you graduates, for today's milestone. But so should your children and your grandchildren because you have changed their sense of possibility.
Our founders understood the transformative nature of education. We were one of the first states to require a public education for every citizen. John Adams, a school teacher in Worcester before becoming an icon of American democracy, wrote into our constitution that protecting our liberties will "depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people."
Our Commonwealth is the home of Boston Latin, America's first free public school; of Harvard, America's first college; of Mt. Holyoke, America's first college for women; of Perkins School for the Blind, America's first school for the sight-impaired. For centuries, we have been a leader in education because our forebears appreciated that education was about advancing civilization and securing our future.
But a glorious history does not guarantee a glorious future. Sensing that the time was right to refresh our mission and commitment, Massachusetts embarked in 1993 on an ambitious path to education reform. You are among the first class of college graduates to have benefited from the commitment to excellence that we undertook as a state. Because of those efforts made over the past 14 years, Massachusetts is recognized as having one of the finest public school systems in the nation. And for that we should all be proud.
But the world keeps changing.
In the Commonwealth today, we still teach on an agrarian schedule, with children dismissed from the school day and the school year in time to plant, to harvest and otherwise keep up with chores around the farm.
Achievement gaps for poor and minority kids persist, and half of all kids in some of our public high schools drop out before they graduate. And they then become the 75% of prison inmates and 69% of jail inmates in this country.
We have rightly focused on the need to test progress and achievement, but there are serious and thoughtful questions we don't even ask about whether the test we use measures the skills that count. And when 50%, 50% of the entering freshmen at some colleges require remedial courses to be ready for that college's work. And we offer less and less enrichment for gifted and talented students.
I meet teachers all over the Commonwealth, including in wealthy communities, spending thousands of dollars of their own money for required materials in the classrooms.
Parents are paying fees for their kids to play a school sport or park in the high school lot or to join the math team. And there are a record number of property tax override votes in cities and towns all across the Commonwealth because state aid has not and cannot close the gap at current levels between what education actually costs and what local communities can raise.
Mandatory fees on this campus and others are higher than the tuition. Senior faculty appointments are not keeping pace with the need, financial aid is stagnant, and buildings (like your garage over there) are in a sorry state of repair.
And that my friends, that is just the local landscape. You are about to enter an economy that does not recognize borders. The skills and talents you offer will be measured against those of people in Shanghai and Bangalore as well as in Raleigh and San Jose. China is building a university the size of UCLA every year for the next ten years. While the United States will graduate 70,000 engineers this year, India is graduating 350,000 engineers and China an astounding 600,000. Right here in Massachusetts, there are 125,000 people looking for work and 80,000 vacancies - jobs that go unfilled because the people who need work don't have the skills to do the jobs that are available.
"Human history," George Orwell wrote, "becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." My friends, if we rest on our laurels today, if we fail to take account of the changes upon us in the state and in the world, then catastrophe will befall us. And at unspeakable cost.
What we need, I believe, is kids who are ready to learn, teachers who are ready to teach, principals and superintendents who are ready to be accountable, and workers who are ready to excel. We need generations able routinely to even imagine sitting where you sit right now. Who can conjure that image at an early age and project themselves and their and achievement into the seats you occupy today.
So, right here, right now, I commit my administration for the next ten years to a statewide and sustained effort to change fundamentally the way we think about and deliver public education, to get ready for our future.
And being ready, being ready means public education that is about the whole child not just set on a single standardized test. Its about education that fosters creativity of every sort and that develops the ability to apply those kinds of problem solving skills to challenges of a whole range and variety.
Being ready means a comprehensive, seamless education package that starts with high quality early education universally available to three and four year olds, all day kindergarten and smaller class sizes, especially in the early years. Being ready means extended learning time, so that there is more time for teachers to spend with individual kids and room in the daily schedule for music, and art, and exercise, and community service, and mentoring and other ways to expand a young person's mind and experience, and also to occupy young people in safe and supervised settings after the conventional school day ends.
Being ready means at least three years of mandatory high school math and science, and the chance for all Massachusetts students to complete at least an associate's degree or an apprenticeship in a trade - at the state's expense.
Being ready means well-prepared and well-respected teachers, qualified in the subject matter they are assigned to teach, with regular opportunities for skills development. Teachers whose ability to get certified is more straightforward, whose ranks range from fresh new graduate students to mid-career professionals or early retirees looking to bring practical life experience into the classroom.
Being ready means refurbished and well-equipped public college and university campuses, campuses that reflect the magic we seek and the achievement we honor in every dimension of academic life, from the laboratories of Nobel laureates to the classrooms for part-time commuter students right here.
Being ready means a higher ed program responsive to the demands for talent in the workplaces of today and tomorrow, producing nurses and lab technicians and teachers and entrepreneurs and clean energy engineers and whatever other skills our economy needs.
Being ready means restoring esteem for learning and creativity, not just as the province of the privileged, but as the expectation for all.
All of that is possible in Massachusetts. I ask you to see what I see about what's possible here and indeed essential to be ready for our future. And I ask each of you to join with me in working to make that vision real.
Because if we join together, we can eliminate a pernicious achievement gap between kids who are given a chance to succeed and kids who are left to languish in mediocrity and low aim.
If we join together, we can reduce the drop out rate from 50% today to 25% by 2015 and to single digits by 2020.
If we join together, we can drastically reduce gun and gang violence, teen pregnancy, poverty and a whole host of other social dysfunctions, and the hundreds of millions of dollars we spend on them today.
If we join together, we can have consistent excellence in every public school, consistent pride in every student, and consistent hope in every Massachusetts household - the kind of hope that you have today because education has transformed your life.
If we join together, we can be ready for the economy of tomorrow, one that builds global strength in clean energy technology, life sciences and nanotechnology alongside the prominence we have already in IT, medicine and financial services.
Here's the point. If we don't, if we accept the status quo as the best that we can do, and the best that we can have, then God help us. Because the future in some ways is already here.
A decade of hard work, focus, discipline and accountability. A decade of "no excuses" leadership, starting with me. A decade to get ready - so that we can master and shape our own future. That is what I commit to you and I ask you to join me.
Now, there will be those, there always are, who will say we can't afford this; that this is too ambitious; that the interests involved are too entrenched; or perhaps that this is just too hard.
Those are the same voices, friends, who said that President Kennedy's call to put a man on the moon in less than a decade was folly, who said that the United States could never win the Second World War, who said that America would never free her slaves, who said that the colonies could never be independent of Britain, that America herself could never be born. Those are the same voices who said just a few years ago that we could not come together to radically reform the health care system in here Massachusetts. A journey we have started and will stay on.
Those voices have always represented the resistance to human progress. Masquerading as "pragmatists," they lull us into believing that problems we made are beyond our capacity to care about and to solve.
But I remind you that the American experience and the American character have at critical moments in our history been bigger than that. And they must be again. Our future depends on it. We will put a team on this assignment, this "Readiness Project," who will be composed of the brightest leaders and thinkers in education, in business, in local communities, in our legislature, to work through the challenges and the solutions, to hammer out the compromises and to confirm where compromise is unacceptable. We know where we are headed. Their job of that team will be to implement that vision.
Failure is simply not an option. Just the simple opportunity to attend a pre-K class makes a child 40% less likely to need special ed services, 40% less likely to repeat a grade, and twice as likely to graduate from college. A 10% increase in the graduation rate for boys would reduce the arrest rate for murder by 20%, for car theft by 13%, and for arson by 8%. Just a 5% increase in high school graduation rates would produce $115 million in annual benefits to the state and bring an additional $55 million in wages into our economy. (That's before you even begin to count the multiplier effects.) The point is that failure to act has profound costs all its own.
And believe me, this hardly just about abstract numbers or principles. I visited the Holland School in Dorchester a couple months ago. And I went to that school - you may remember a few months ago there was a young woman visiting Boston who was shot and killed near the Holland School. And a few weeks after that, an 11-year-old boy found a .44 caliber pistol and brought it into the classroom. The neighborhood was understandably in an uproar. And so the mayor and I and several folks from law enforcement called a community meeting at the school, really to try and listen to ideas that folks might have in the neighborhood about how we could help and to offer a few of our own.
The meeting was called for the end of the school day, when kids were gathering to come home. And as the neighborhood was coming together in the cafeteria the kids were going home on the buses lined up just outside. I had a minute alone in the principal's office before we started to look over my notes and just collect my thoughts.
You know how you have that feeling sometimes your being watched. And I looked up, and there outside the window were a dozen or so little black and brown faces, backpacks on beaming, pointing and waving, so excited and proud.
When I look into the eyes of those boys and girls, the excitement I see is not so much for the history we made but for the history they might make. Not just my chance, but theirs. And I see that possibility in the eyes of children all over the Commonwealth. I see it in yours, you graduates.
No policymaker, no leader, no citizen could look into those same eyes or these before us this morning, and say that we cannot do what we must do. This is not simply about the future of our schools. This is about the future of our state and of our civilization.
Education transforms your lives today, as it has my own and my family's. For the families of tomorrow, for our common future, let's pass that on.
God bless you all and good luck. Thank you again for having me.