2005 Commencement Address

The Honorable Gary Locke, Governor of the State of Washington, 1997-2005


Thank you, President Thomas, for this profoundly moving honor.  And thank you for your leadership of this great institution of learning.

Chair Deanna Oppenheimer, officers, and members of the Board of Trustees, alumni, faculty and staff, distinguished fellow honorees, students, and guests: I am honored to be part of this exciting and momentous day.

Congratulations to this outstanding class of 2005, to the parents, families and friends of every graduate, and to the faculty and staff of the University of Puget Sound who have made this day possible.

It’s great to be back here on the campus of UPS.  It’s been some time since I toured this campus, but I actually spent a lot of time here when I applied for admission as a high school student. I ended up going elsewhere, but my sister and many friends attended the University of Puget Sound.

For many years, this was a great school for mainly Washington students. But now the University of Puget Sound is one of the premier liberal arts colleges in America, with 75 percent of its students coming from 47 different states and territories and 16 foreign countries.

This university has produced many of our nation’s best and brightest over the years.  The tradition continues in the record eight Fulbright scholars, two Rhodes scholars, a Watson fellowship, and numerous other fellowships and awards captured by this exceptional graduating class.

For you graduates, today symbolizes your intense investment of time and energy, mind and body, heart and soul.

For your families, today reflects their support, sacrifice, trust, encouragement, and confidence.  Most of the family members here have traveled long and far to witness this joyous event.

Together, you’ve placed your profound faith in the future.  And today we keep and honor that faith. Today is proof that the American Dream lives on.

I share this belief in the American Dream with all my heart because, like you, I have lived it.

Being at this commencement brings back fond memories for me.  When I was growing up my parents owned a little mom-and-pop grocery store in Seattle.  They worked seven days a week, 365 days a year, and 14 hours a day, year after year after year and never closed for even Christmas or New Year’s.  They used to tell us kids that “Rent is charged 24 hours a day, every day.” And so they worked tirelessly.  They denied themselves even some of the smallest luxuries so that we children in the family could have a better life.

But when I graduated from college, they closed that store.  They locked up the store and traveled all the way across the country to the East Coast to attend my commencement ceremony.  It was a major milestone in the journey of the Locke family, just as today is a major milestone for each of your families.

Every family here has a story to tell.  The details may vary, but the journey is the same.  A journey fueled by the American dream of freedom, hope, equality, and opportunity.  A journey in which education has played a pivotal role.

My own family’s journey began when my grandfather came to the U.S. from China as a teenager more than 100 years ago.  He worked as a servant for a family in Olympia, the state capital, in exchange for English lessons.  A century later, I lived in the Governor’s mansion-just one mile from the house where my grandfather swept floors, cooked and washed dishes.  We joke that it took our family 100 years to travel one mile.  So I guess traffic in the Puget Sound area has always been bad!  But what a journey that century mile has been for our family.

For the entire Locke clan, education has been the great equalizer: that regardless of gender, ethnic origin, income level, with a quality education we are all able to realize the American dream.

Not long after I was elected governor, our entire family – Mom and Dad, my brother and sisters, and their spouses, my wife and I made a pilgrimage.  We traveled to our ancestral village called Jilong in the Guangdong province of southern China.

It was like stepping back into the 1800s when my grandfather left China to come to America.  We went back to the family home where my grandfather and father were born.  My Mom and Dad had not set foot in the village since their wedding day fifty years earlier.  In our tiny village of about 150, there is still no running water. Just a well in the center of town.  There is no indoor plumbing, no toilets.  People still use chamber pots and sewage runs in open gutters along the walkways that connect the tightly-spaced dwellings.  Only a few homes have electricity.  Almost no one has a phone.

Very little has changed for the people of our village since my grandfather left a hundred years ago.  People still live by the ancient rhythms of planting and harvest, and of birth and death.  They measure time in generations, not in news cycles.

To the members of the village, my return was a vindication of their hard work and sacrifice.  My election as a governor in the United States of America represented the success of our entire clan and the affirmation of all that America promises.  They rightly understand-and they reminded me-that my success belongs to them, and to my parents, not just to me as an individual.

Ever since that visit, I’ve reflected on the relationship between the past and the future.  How the differences of living conditions between my birth home, Seattle, and my ancestral home, Jilong, have been shaped by the power of education and by the benefits and the expectations of an educated society. 

I’ve also reflected on how, in about the year 2020, I hope to be sitting out among you, as a proud father of a graduate.  That’s when my daughter Emily, who just turned eight years old, will likely participate in this rite of passage.  My son Dylan will be in college by then too-he just turned six.  Our little Madeline won’t be far behind!  And by then, one of you may be up here speaking as the Governor or former Governor of our state!  All due to the power of education.

That’s what makes days like today so profoundly important-important to each of us, and to our society, and to humanity.

This outstanding class of 2005 has benefited from the open doors of opportunity.  And we must always make sure those doors stay open.  Together, we must make sure that succeeding generation of children will always have the opportunity to realize the American Dream of a college education.

Today, gathered at one of our nation’s finest colleges, we also reaffirm our unwavering commitment to a liberal arts education.

We live in a materialistic world.  Too often, we’ve seen more emphasis on earning than on learning.  Too often, our society has been preoccupied with graduating specialists instead of individuals with an exposure to a broad array of disciplines. 

But this graduating class reaffirms a timeless idea-that college should teach us not just how to make a living, but also about life itself.

Liberal arts study teaches us to ask meaningful questions, encourages us to expand our imaginations, and cultivates the courage to challenge the irrational and champion the humane.

If we are to confront the great challenges facing the 21st century world, we must be critical thinkers, grounded in many disciplines.  Universities like the University of Puget Sound expand the intellectual, emotional and spiritual capacity to adapt to a constantly changing world, and to choose and change values wisely.  The liberal arts offer a key to a more enlightened, more caring and more civilized society.

The purpose of education is not to help you lead more comfortable lives.  It is to enable you to lead more useful and more meaningful lives.  You must use the power of education to confront, understand, and alleviate suffering and conflict in our society.  To move our civilization forward.  You know too much-and you’re too talented-to turn your backs on disease, poverty, ignorance and tyranny, in our communities, whether in America or elsewhere in the world.

Together, we must continue to work for a world in which all humanity recognized its shared destiny and in which every individual, every family, and every community realizes its fullest potential. 

Let’s energetically confront the great challenges of this century.  Let’s work to put an end to terrorism and war.  Let’s find solutions to global warming, and let’s preserve and protect our precious environment for future generations.  Let’s help those struggling with poverty, hunger and disease.  There is so much we can accomplish in the years and decades ahead using the power of education. 

And as we’re making this world a better place, exploring and conquering new and exciting frontiers in technology and medicine.  Let’s instill the arts with renewed vitality and creativity, and elevate humanity’s grasp of its place in the universe and let’s take the spirit of educational excellence we share today and turn it into a world-class education system for every American.

There is so much good to be done in this world.  And your generation is perfectly positioned to make these great things happen. 

As I look out on this wonderful sea of faces, I see and feel a powerful promise.  The promise that you will move civilization forward.  I see that all the sacrifices of our parents and grandparents were not in vain.  I see a new generation blessed with great challenges and equally great opportunities.  A generation poised on the brink of greatness.

And I see the profound promise that only a good education can produce: that in an economy driven by knowledge, in a society devoted to knowledge, people who value learning will be blessed with the gift of wisdom.

Never before have the challenges facing our species and our planet been so daunting.  But never before has a generation of young scholars been better prepared to make the most of the opportunities ahead.

I urge each of you to hold fast to the lessons of the past and to embrace the future.  Both belong to you.  Both are yours to keep and yours to lose.  When you finally hold that diploma in your hand today – and keep it dry – you will hold the power of education and the responsibility for human progress.  Honor both. 

Congratulations to the class of 2005!  Be proud – because we are all very, very proud of you.

And to each of you, Godspeed.  Godspeed in your lives, and in the fulfillment of your sacred obligation to the advancement of humanity.