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Sanchez Addresses College of Education Graduates

Eduardo Sanchez
Commencement Address
Sam Houston State University College of Education
6 p.m. Friday
May 11, 2007
(Eduardo Sanchez biographical information)


Eduardo Sanchez
Dr. Eduardo Sanchez
It is truly an honor for me to join you today for this special occasion to deliver the commencement address for the 2007 College of Education graduating class at Sam Houston State University.

First things first.  

Congratulations to all of you.

You know, I give a fair number of speeches. But, unlike the other speeches I give, whenever I tell folks I'm going to give a commencement address, people want to give me advice.

One friend encouraged me to be profound, witty, and brief.

Another said, you know a commencement speech should have a great opening, a great close, and as little in between as possible.

Another said, a commencement speech is like a wake and the speaker is like the corpse. Everyone expects him to be there but no one expects him to say very much.

I get the picture.   Be brief .

I also understand that graduation means different things to different people. For graduates, it's the end of a long road that, in retrospect, may seem like an entrance ramp to life's expressway. For faculty and staff here at Sam Houston State University, it's the culmination of years of work.

For parents and family, it's the payoff for years of worry, love, nurturing, and financial support. And that's quite an accomplishment.
I have four children, ranging from 4 to 15 years old; I can just imagine how proud and relieved I will feel to see my kids reach this moment.

And so I would ask the graduates to acknowledge the fundamental truth that none of us can accomplish very much on our own. That we owe much to family, to friends, to mentors, to all who inspire, encourage and guide us forward.

At this time, then, I will ask the graduates to stand and give a heartfelt round of applause to all those who have helped along the way, including those here today as well as those who could not be present.    Graduates.

Okay. Enough about them. Let's talk about you.

Did you ever wonder if you'd actually get to this point? It can be tough. I've heard college described as a multi-year sleep deprivation experiment. But it's about to pay off, for you and for the lending institutions that are eagerly anticipating their first check.

You know, less than 40 per cent of all adults 25 to 44 years old in this country have achieved a college degree. More than one-third of those who enroll don't finish. This is in spite of the fact that education so clearly pays off.

Those without a high school diploma earn on average less than $19,000 a year. Those with a high school diploma average more than $27,000 per year. Those with a college degree average more than $51,000.

As Ann Landers once said, "If you think education is expensive. Consider the cost of ignorance."

Some of you are the first generation in your family to earn a college degree. And surely you recognize there's more to your accomplishment than the size of your future paychecks. The fact is that you are already in a position of influence. People will watch what you do.

You are responsible for the effects you have on others. You can be a positive role model. In addition to higher earning potential, statistically, educated people make healthier lifestyle choices and are therefore healthier people.

In fact, for people ages 25 to 64 with 13 or more years of education, the death rate is less than half the overall death rate for people with less than 12 years education.

People with more than 12 years of education are less likely to die of chronic diseases, such as heart disease or cancer, than those with less education. Yes, education leads to higher income and better health. And if you eat healthy, are physically active, don't smoke and get enough sleep, you're not only going to be more healthy but also more successful, you will have more energy, more productivity and fewer absences due to illness.

Trust me on this. I'm a doctor.  

I believe part of your responsibility, as college-educated adults is to help the people you care about become more healthy.

First of all, you can demonstrate the value of an education. Second, you're healthy behavior will influence your parents, your friends, your younger brothers and sisters. Third, because you might better understand health and medical information, you might be able to help family and friends make informed decisions about difficult health issues.

Let me focus on one health challenge.

We have an epidemic of obesity in this state and in this country. We've tripled the number of overweight and obese kids in a single generation. Obesity has increased just as markedly in adults. That's significant because obesity is associated with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attacks, and diabetes, just to name a few.

I have worked with others, including Representative Eissler (May 12 commencement speaker) to help reverse the trends we are seeing in Texas children.   I have worked to make sure that children are active and eating healthy in school and at home. Along the way, I have come across very good evidence that fit kids are smart kids.

Let me say that again. Fit kids are smart kids.   Being a healthy kid helps improve academic performance and educational attainment.   High educational attainment helps adults be healthier and better employed.

So, if you were asking yourself why a health professional is addressing future education professionals, I think you will appreciate that education and health are inextricably tied together.  

Eating smart and being active can prevent obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes at a much lower cost and in a healthier way.

You, graduates, to whom friends, family and, future students will be looking to, can model that healthy behavior.

Let me now focus on career-related challenges.

We must graduate more Texans out of high school and get them into college. Only 29 percent of Texans 25 to 34 years old hold a two-year degree or higher. Nation-wide, 39 percent of people in that age bracket hold a degree. In South Korea: 49 percent. In Canada: 53 percent.

Our great state will not be able to compete for the jobs that we need to prosper without an educated workforce.
Higher educational attainment will improve our physical health and our fiscal health.    

We need you more than ever as educated citizens, as role models, as leaders, as teachers.

You know, when I think about commencement speeches, I imagine the typical speaker to be old and wise, and I am neither. However, my hair did go from jet black to more gray than black in my five years as Texas Commissioner of Health. And I think I've learned a few things as my career and my life have unfolded. And if I can synthesize my experience into three principles, three guidelines that have worked for me and can work for you, I would say they are as follows:

Dream big.

Learn to learn.

And stay balanced.

Anatole France said, "To accomplish great things we must dream as well as act."  

Of course, dreams must be tied to action. I'm not talking about sitting on your couch and dreaming about winning the lottery. Dreaming big is about believing in yourself, believing in your ability to do the things you want to do and your ability to make a difference.

Your job will be to encourage your students to dream big and to help them realize their dreams.

When I first applied for the job as Commissioner of Health, I thought of myself as a long shot. I don't know what kind of odds Vegas would have given on my chances.

However, one of my favorite quotes, a Louis Pasteur quote, says "Chance favors the prepared mind."   My chances, my odds, were made better because of education, education that prepared me to seize opportunities.

I saw it as a dream opportunity to take all the things I'd been learning and apply them in a way that could have a statewide impact.

This is the work we must all do. For successful people, learning never ends. A degree is a great foundation, but now you must be the architects of your continuing education.

A fellow named John Lubbock put it nicely when he said: "If we succeed in giving a love of learning, the learning itself is sure to follow".

You have chosen careers in what may be the most under-appreciated profession in modern day America.   I firmly believe that you will be among the most influential individuals in many a young person's life.

My journey from Corpus Christi Carroll High School to five years as the state's top doc with stops at Boston University, Duke University, and the UT Southwestern Medical School was successful because caring and competent teachers in Corpus Christi helped me be prepared and helped pave the way.

Among the teachers to whom I am most thankful are Mr. Rosales,   my 6 th grade teacher at Sanders Elementary School, Mrs. Barnett, Advanced Placement English teacher at Carroll, and Mr. Carl Young, my calculus teacher who drew things out of me that helped me succeed in college later on.

My teachers helped me learn to learn.   My teachers encouraged me to dream big. You will have that kind of impact on the children whose minds you will have the awesome responsibility to help prepare.   Thank you, in advance.

The final lesson is one I feel very strongly about. Four years ago, as a result of legislation mandating that Texas reduce in number and consolidate its health and human services state agencies, I helped to orchestrate a massive state government reorganization that combined four existing state agencies into one, the Department of State Health Services.   That effort required leadership, vision, teamwork, planning, and execution.

On Labor Day weekend 2005, Texas took in almost half a million visitors from Louisiana.   The challenge and the opportunity that Katrina presented was initially overwhelming. We sized up the situation, developed a plan of action, and on a daily basis, we assessed our efforts and recalibrated.

We had a play book, a lesson plan, if you will, that served as the foundation for our actions, but we adjusted our plans when unforeseen circumstances presented themselves.  

It would have been easy, in either of the situations, to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. But I believe strongly that we each have a responsibility to balance work with the other parts of our lives. We can't allow ourselves to get burned out because, then, we are no good at work or anywhere else. Life is more than work.

I have a great wife and four great kids, and I love to be with them.  

As you go about life's journey, you have to make time for those you love. You have to make time for yourself.

I like the way Tolstoy put it. "In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, and look around you."

If you do take a moment, every day, to look around, to ask yourself if you're staying balanced, you'll be a better person.

Two quotes to close:

Only a life for others is a life worthwhile .

                                                            -Albert Einstein


While you cannot do all the good the world needs, the world needs all the good you can do .


As a college graduate, I'm sure you understand that everything is connected; so health is a combination of sound body, sound mind, and sound spirit.            

Stay balanced, learn to learn, and dream big my friends.

The future is your stage. And you are its players.

Congratulations and God bless.


SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
May 14, 2007
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