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Secretary Paige and President Gaertner
SHSU President James F. Gaertner, right, thanks U. S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige for his participation in the university's December 2003 commencement exercises. While Secretary Paige is invited to speak at many colleges and universities, he limits his commencement appearances to four per year.

Secretary of Education Addresses December Grads
As Prepared for Presentation Dec. 13, 2003

Thank you, Dr. Gaertner.

I am not altogether certain that I deserve such a splendid introduction, but be assured that I enjoyed it nevertheless.

I want to begin today by thanking this great university for this unparalleled honor. It is a very great honor and responsibility, and I am genuinely proud to share this important day with you.

I want to thank Dr. Gaertner, the great president of Sam Houston State University. Thank you, Dr. Gaertner.
My thanks also to the members of the board of regents, and to the president's cabinet, the deans of the colleges, and of course this great faculty.

I am indeed honored to be here with you today and to be associated with this dynamic university, which so perfectly personifies the vitality and exuberance of this great nation.

This great university--the personification of the "New South"--combines innovative entrepreneurship and imagination with a rock-solid commitment to the traditional calling of higher education.

Texas, and the United States, are proud of this great university.

It is a real pleasure for me to be here to participate in these graduation exercises, and to bring you the greetings and congratulations of the president of the United States and Mrs. Bush.

Before I go further I want to offer my commendations to these students who have by persistence and hard work shown themselves worthy of bearing the seal of Sam Houston State University.
Indeed, the key words are hard work.

Seldom do any of us get anything of substantial value without working hard, and this is particularly true in education.

You certainly deserve the congratulations of your teachers, parents, and fellow students, and the community at large.

I, too, wish to congratulate you on your achievements and challenge you to continue your efforts.

Congratulations are due not only to all of our graduates, but also to their parents, spouses, children, and significant others.

I know that academic achievement involves the whole family, not just the student.

So while we focus our attention on the students today, I congratulate everyone who helped to make the students successful.

I have always felt that no one accomplishes much alone.

Talk to the jockey who wins the Kentucky Derby or an astronaut upon his return to earth, and the first words out of their mouths are words of thanks to the team that worked to make it happen.

So this is a day when each of you is in the winner's circle.

You should congratulate those who lifted you up and now share in your accomplishments.

Of course, I believe that students excel at Sam Houston State University because of an outstanding faculty. This faculty is not only hard working, but it is also one of the best qualified and the most creative. I congratulate the faculty, and I thank its members for years of support of the dreams of these students.

Now that the congratulations have been made, I am obliged by tradition to give you some sage advice.
In keeping with this great tradition, I want to speak for a moment on the topic, "Moving Beyond Personal Excellence."

Graduates, your degrees represent the fact that you have received a great education.

I must remind you that B. F. Skinner defines education as, "That which survives when what has been learned is forgotten."

But I think the best definition of education was provided by the great educator, Virginia Gildersleeve, dean emeritus of Barnard College of Columbia University.

She postulated that "the ability to think straight, some knowledge of the past, some vision of the future, some skill to do useful service, some urge to fit that service into the well-being of the community." These, she emphasized, are the most vital things education must try to produce.

It is the "some skill to do useful service, some urge to fit that service into the well-being part of the community" part of that statement that I wish to emphasize today.

We are living in some very exciting times.

The world is undergoing rapid change.

Even a casual review of history will show us points in time when the world underwent drastic shifts in direction. Most of these changes were caused by new developments in technology.

It is during these great leaps forward that educated men and women are so needed to assure that human social development keeps pace with these rapid advances.

Think about the social and cultural shifts brought about by the invention of the printing press around the year 1450. Before that time, books were made entirely by hand, with monks carefully writing out the text with pen and ink.

The process was so slow and expensive that only the very rich had access to books and the knowledge they contained.

The printing press made it possible for books to be mass-produced so that eventually everyone would afford them. From then on, education was not the exclusive property of kings and queens. It was for everybody--for me, for you, for your children, for all children.

Because of the printing press, the world changed.

Another invention that really changed society was the mechanical cotton harvester. This machine took the place of hard-working men and women who went up and down the rows of cotton, picking it by hand.
Like other developments of the Industrial Revolution, this machine sped up production and began the shift in emphasis away from unskilled labor and towards the more skilled.

America is still learning to adjust to these pivotal economic and social changes 100, even 200 years later.

Many sociologists believe that the people displaced by the cotton-picking machine fueled the greatest migration of people in our nation's history. This migration was the genesis of the urban ghettos, as we know them today.

After the Civil War and Emancipation, freed slaves became poor sharecroppers struggling to survive.

As better-paying industrial jobs opened up in the North in the 1910s and 20s, black people began escaping Dixie's poverty and Jim Crow policies, sometimes at the rate of 10,000 and more a month.

Half the black population of some southern towns joined what was the largest migration in American history, and some plantation owners woke up to find every single tenant gone.

By 1930, two million African Americans had migrated to the cities of the North, especially New York and Chicago, and changed the course of history. They transformed out nation's past, and they are still influencing its future.

There have been many other great changes in the social and cultural order of the world. But never has the world experienced a change with the speed of the one we are presently undergoing.

Telecommunications, the World Wide Web, and the Internet power this change.
The rate of change in the Information Age seems to be approaching the speed of light, and we have to run as fast as we can to keep up.

During the past 20 years, computer-based technology has moved into high gear, carrying our world quickly into the 21st century.

From new discoveries in neural psychology--bridging the gap in our understanding of the workings of the brain--to innovations that can put satellites in space as easily as delivering newspapers, technology has made the impossible possible.

New and emerging technologies are becoming so much a part of our day-to-day lives that we take for granted the efficiency and comforts these innovations bring.

Although the novelty and initial impact have passed, the world has changed. We will never be the same--we are forever changed.

As graduates, you are living in time when the real challenge is helping us, the human race, develop and sustain socially viable systems of living together in this new world.

As graduates I call upon you to use your education to enhance the quality of your personal life, but also use it to help others.

I know that you are eager to start a new phase of your lives and use your hard-earned education to get a good job, buy a house, and raise a family. But I am calling upon you to also use your education to help us as human beings to become more human.

We are mastering the new technology, but can we deal with the social consequences of it? Can we develop proper priorities at a time when instant satisfaction and gratification are priorities?

We place a high value on getting results instantly.

But I urge you to take the long view, to think about the kind of future you want for yourselves, for your children, and for your nation.

I invite you to think with me for a few minutes about tomorrow and about your role in helping shape all of our tomorrows.

That role may not seem so clear to you today. It is easy to think that the goal of academic excellence today is to attain individual success and wealth as fast as you can. I challenge you to look beyond that. I challenge you to move beyond looking for personal achievement.

While there are no uniformed soldiers marching on our nation, while the economy is sailing along fine, and while there are no legal barriers to education for all, there are plenty of distractions and plenty of disparities to be overcome.

There is still the issue of the elderly of our nation. There is still the need for us to learn how to be different yet together. There is still the matter of learning to accept responsibility for our actions.

There is limited access to appropriate health care for poor people. There is an AIDS epidemic that is increasingly affecting young people. There are widespread educational deficits--urban and rural children growing up with limited literary skills in a world that increasingly needs only high skills.

What I am asking of you was better stated by one of our greatest presidents, John F. Kennedy. He said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

I urge you to move beyond personal excellence.

What does success mean to you in light of these challenges today?

My message is this:

You are graduating in a time when we need to proclaim the primacy of giving rather than getting. We need to see serving rather than receiving as the center of life.

I challenge you today, as graduates of this great university, successful students and high achievers, to make your success mean something more than a personal accomplishment.

I challenge you to put the interests of others at least alongside your own. To give of yourselves so that others might benefit. To give of yourselves so that children might learn, so that the homeless might be housed, so that the hungry might be nourished, so that the elderly might live out their lives with dignity.

All of this while you take care of Number One.

The notion of achieving academic excellence now so that you may serve tomorrow is the legacy that you have inherited at this university.

You have escaped the violence, hopelessness, selfishness, and greed that destroyed others. Your success is expected.

Like the seed in the good soil, your academic success will yield a hundredfold. I urge you to share that bountiful harvest with others.

Today we welcome you again to that tradition from your heritage. Hundreds have served so that you can have opportunities and talents today. We celebrate the gifts and possibilities that your brilliance portends.

I have learned to believe the words of the winner of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize, the great Albert Schweitzer. He said, "I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know. The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought, and found how to serve."

Not many people can be as selfless and dedicated to serving mankind as Albert Schweitzer. But all of us can embrace his philosophy of commitment to the well-being of our fellow man.

Dr. Schweitzer had many talents. He was a physician, a philosopher, a musician, and a scholar. But he is remembered today throughout the world not for his academic or medical accomplishments but for his service to humanity.

The world has changed a lot since Dr. Schweitzer's time.

But one thing hasn't changed--the Golden Rule of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

If you go away from here today remembering that, and then making it the cornerstone of your life, you will make the university and me very, very proud.

Thank you very much

- END -

SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Dec. 16, 2003
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