While congratulating MDC’s class of 2009, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis encouraged the new graduates to take risks and to use their education to support their communities and their country.
In the face of a global recession, Solis said, college graduates have a responsibility to give back. “The recession has hit almost every country,” she said. “But we can get past this. It’s like our president, Barack Obama, says, ‘It’s time for us to reinvest in America.’”
Solis delivered the keynote address to students at the May 2 Wolfson Campus commencement exercise at the BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, one of six MDC ceremonies at which nearly 9,000 students received associate and bachelor’s degrees.
“What a sense of pride – orgullo – and excitement to see this graduating class here tonight, not only because Miami Dade graduates more minority students than anyone else, but because you students represent the United Nations,” Solis said. “Indeed, this is a great college, and this is a great country.”
A member of President Obama’s cabinet, Solis spoke passionately about her personal experiences as the daughter of Mexican and Nicaraguan immigrants. Speaking in Spanish and English, she encouraged students to use their energies to advance, and said their graduating from MDC was a milestone that indeed merited celebration.
“Now you are going to be moving on, I know you’ll find success because all of you have ganas, ambition,” said Solis, the first Hispanic woman to serve in the President’s Cabinet. She also graciously accepted an honorary degree from MDC.
‘The world needs you.’
Also delivering parting words to graduates were former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence Jr., president of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation; another former Herald publisher Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Helen Aguirre Ferré, chair of MDC’s District Board of Trustees and opinion page editor at Diario Las Américas; Dan B. Kimball, superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas national parks; and Dr. Bernd A. Wollschlaeger, a family practitioner and president of the Dade County Medical Association.
“I’m thrilled to see so many smart, talented people graduating from Miami Dade College, the largest institution of higher education in the United States,” Kimball said. “The world needs you. Today.”
Kimball, like Solis, encouraged graduates to consider careers in public service. “I can’t tell you how proud I am to work in public service to preserve and protect the national parks,” he said. “So please consider public service as a career path.”
In recent years, MDC’s commencement ceremonies have been the destination of choice for national leaders like President George W. Bush (2007), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (2008) and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings (2008). Last year, an international head of state, El Salvador President Elías Antonio Saca, spoke at an MDC ceremony.
“When I think of the people who’ve been at this podium before me, I’m truly humbled,” Solis said.
‘Of the many, we are one.’
While commencement is a day of joy for students and the College, the jubilation of the day was countered with disappointment. Despite the efforts of some legislators, members of the Board of Trustees and students, a handful of Florida lawmakers killed a local option bill that would have provided additional financial support to MDC, which has experienced state budget cuts. Despite passing unanimously through the Senate and several committees in the House, it was not allowed to reach the House floor.
Ferré, the MDC board chair, said that in Tallahassee, some local lawmakers “were not united in this endeavor and that’s why the result was not what it should have been.”
“Of the many, we are one,” she added. “We all need to work hard to secure the future of Miami Dade College.”
Ferré asked graduates to reflect upon this when they next enter the voting booth – to ask candidates, “What did you do for Miami Dade College?”
Lawrence, who spoke at the InterAmerican Campus ceremony at the Dade County Auditorium, quoted George Bernard Shaw: “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.”
He said it was an “outrage” that a handful of legislators blocked the local option from a vote on the House floor.
This was a milestone year for Miami Dade College. In addition to graduating more two-year associate degree recipients than any other school in the country, the college also graduated students from four-year degree programs: 81 in education, 95 in public safety and 41 in nursing.
Thirty-two students graduated from MDC’s prestigious Honors College Dual Language program. Among those graduates was Roger Reyes, the son of immigrants. Reyes, who was raised by his widowed mother, maintained a 3.92 grade point average.
Aerospace major Yuray Rodríguez’s story was also compelling. The Wolfson Campus graduate arrived from Cuba on a raft less than two years ago. While at MDC, he immersed himself in the college experience, volunteered at campus events and tutored students in the GED program, all while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average.
Rodríguez was one of six recipients of the MDC District Board of Trustees Scholarship, which covers tuition and expenses at the baccalaureate level.
Carlene Reaser attended the Homestead ceremony to support her sister, Donna Junior, a 47-year-old grandmother who earned an Associate in Arts in liberal studies.
“I’m very proud of my sister because she has been trying to achieve this for 20 years,” Reaser said. “She recently lost her son and going to school has kept her going. I’m very, very proud of her.”
Choking back tears while delivering the farewell speech to her classmates, graduate Ophelia Somers, president of the Wolfson Campus student government association, said: “Today is the beginning for our generation, so let us go and show the world the power we possess.”
— Staff Report