(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
To President Cabrera, members of the Board of Trustees, the faculty and staff of George Mason University… thank you for inviting me here today to share in this momentous celebration. To the parents, grandparents, spouses, family and friends…You too have been part of this journey. Your love and encouragement… and let’s face it, your money… have allowed your sons and daughters this opportunity … It is truly my honor to be a part of your special day… and what a wonderful day this is.
But most importantly, to the graduating class of 2017…What an impressive group you are, Patriots! … I know you spent long hours and a lot of hard work preparing for this moment. I’ve been in your seat! It is no easy feat…and you should be very proud of your accomplishments.
I’ve given quite a bit of thought over the last few weeks about what I’d say to you today… while keeping it brief, I promise. So I thought I’d share with you some things that I’ve learned from my own life and journey that brought me here today. These are lessons that I have come to understand and appreciate, such as finding your passion, learning from our failures, seeing the glass as half full and keeping an open mind, and the importance of giving back to your community… All of which I learned and experienced during my time here at GMU.
GMU reinforced those themes that helped prepare me in my life and my career. The breadth of knowledge and diversity that exists here is unparalleled. It provides such an important and unique perspective; an insight into the world. I know your time here has provided you those same skills and the understanding to be flexible across your careers and make a difference in this world as well.
When we were first married, my husband Dana served in the United States Navy. I travelled with him from station to station. While he was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, I began my graduate studies. On the first day of class, I was running late. This was the day topics were assigned. The last one left was “Nursing and Politics”…no one wanted it. So it went to the last student to arrive, of course… me!
Up to this point, I had never been the least bit interested in politics, or given it much thought. I was not happy to say the least. However, I was determined to keep an open mind, a positive attitude, and see the glass as half full. Taking the view that the glass is half full is not always easy, but it will always serve you better in the end. Often we have to play the cards we’ve been dealt…Or, as I’ve also heard it described, “View life like a wave…you cannot control it but you can learn how to ride it.”
As part of my course, I began to work at a local homeless shelter there in Charleston. Now, for a girl raised on a farm in Sussex County, Delaware, this was an eye opening moment in my life… working in some of the poorest neighborhoods…Serving those in the most underprivileged communities. It is where I learned the impact I could have on other people’s lives as a nurse, and through public policy.
For too many of those people, the time we had with them was the only time they had an opportunity to be treated with dignity and respect. That time together was just as important to me as it was to them.
You see, I always knew I wanted to be a nurse. But it was through that work… and that assignment I received of “Nursing and Politics,” that I realized I had to do more to help those in need. Not just the homeless, but for those struggling with cancer, battling addiction, and those struggling with crime and despair in their neighborhoods. This was my calling… my passion. Know your “WHY”…some, maybe even many of you haven’t figured out what that is yet.
But, if you do the work you’re MEANT to do, that you have a passion for…if you focus on the difference you want to make, the rest will fall into place. Trust me. Your purpose will become clear. Maybe not immediately, but as Steve Jobs once put it, “The dots will begin to connect.”
So, after years of practicing as a public health nurse and teaching and conducting research as a nursing professor, I decided I needed to expand my horizons. I knew I could impact others by going into public policy and politics. I had more to offer beyond the classroom or an exam room. In order to make a real difference, I believed I needed to get involved with health policy.
In 2000, I ran for State Representative to tackle the issues I had worked on as a nurse and in my community. My passion as a nurse motivated me. After a hard fought campaign and a lot of work and sacrifice, I lost that race…
Was I disappointed? Yes, absolutely.
But as Henry Ford once noted, “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”
But I learned a great lesson… to channel adversity into action. Even more persistent now, I rededicated myself to the cause and I ran again. I did not lose my vision to help our most vulnerable populations...our children and elderly, those with mental illness and our homeless.
Through my failure, I learned and rebounded. The second time I ran in 2002 I won. I immediately took on those issues I care so much about.
Do NOT be afraid to fail. I’ve heard so many times Vice President Joe Biden quote his own father when he told him, “It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, it matters how many times you get back up!”… He couldn’t be more right.
So the lesson in this is that failure can be a better teacher than success. Each time you fail is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and how to handle what life throws at you. It makes you a better, wiser person. You will stumble, that much I can promise you. When that happens, combine faith and perseverance and chase your passion. Do that, and you’ll move your life forward in a profound and meaningful way.
Learning does not stop here today with your degree. In fact, it only begins. Your degree alone does NOT define who you are.
Your time here at GMU has prepared you for that. Each of your paths will take you in different and unexpected directions. As you travel along your path, you will continue to learn not only new skills and talents, but also about life, about yourself…what gets you fired up…what brings you happiness… what drives your motivation… what gets you out of bed in the morning...and when that happens, be open to it. …You will grow and be better for it. How you handle the unexpected failures and setbacks in life will reveal who you really are… It’s called life.
I’m still on my life’s journey and I’m still writing my story. Just eleven months ago I was fortunate enough to be sworn in as Delaware’s Lt. Governor, where my call to service continues to be to work toward a stronger, healthier Delaware for everyone regardless of background, race, or religion or ZIP code.
My father, a man of deep faith, often used the phrase “To whom much is given, much is Expected.” It is a phrase I have come to live by. As a society we are judged by how we treat the least among us. If we are all willing to sacrifice a little, commit to our goals, and help others along the way, there is no limit to what you can do.
As you leave here, I encourage you to always think about what you can do for your community, for your state, and for your country. Each of your paths will take different turns – each as unique as you.
As you begin to apply the skills you’ve learned here, you’ll find that your talents are equally needed in your communities. The service you give to others is as equally fulfilling, meaningful, and essential as the work that you do to earn a paycheck.
You’ve all been given an opportunity to learn here at GMU, not just in the classroom, but through your peers, faculty, and experiences as well. Many of the relationships you’ve forged here will endure throughout your lifetime. You’ve met the demands of balancing college and all that goes with it, and today is your reward. Today is a defining moment… a milestone… the first of many. Live in the moment as you meet and surpass these milestones, you will hopefully encourage others along the way and remember the impact you can have on those you work with and serve.
In the days ahead, many successes are bound to flow your way through hard work, perseverance, timing… and a bit of luck here and there. But you will also face challenges, trials and setbacks. I urge you to remember to trust your instincts and be true to the values you were taught here at GMU and at home. Those values have brought you here today.
As I close, I leave you with a quote I have often looked to and used in my own life…
"RISK more than others think is safe…CARE more than others think is wise…DREAM more than others think is practical…EXPECT more than others think is possible.”
Thank you and Congratulations Class of 2017!