Thank you, President Leigh Goodson, for that kind introduction, and for your leadership of Tulsa Community College. Director Millicent Newton-Embry, Superintendent Jeana Ely, Warden Janet Dowling, thank you all for your hospitality.
And, Chef Jeff, we look forward to hearing your story of personal redemption, growth and success. Class of 2019, many of you will soon tell similar stories. Though, you may not be able to bake a carrot souffle quite like Jeff does!
I’ve really looked forward to being here today. It’s hard to believe that in 1970 the first classes of TCC were conducted in leased office spaces. And I understand there weren’t enough chairs on the first day, so the students sat on lawn chairs and pillows! Come to think of it, that arrangement might still be more comfortable and maybe even more conducive to learning today.
Since then, TCC has become an important presence in Oklahoma, serving over 27,000 students each year. In 2007, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, the Dick Conner Correctional Center and TCC partnered to ensure all students have opportunities for a lifelong learning journey.
That partnership has changed the direction of a lot of lives. And today, we celebrate the program’s largest graduating class!
This ceremony is about you and all that you have accomplished. It’s also a moment to acknowledge what you’ve overcome.
When Dean VanTrease, a beloved president of TCC, was asked how he would like to be remembered, he responded, “Hopefully just helping this place on earth become a little better…maybe eventually helping people break down barriers.” Well, all of us in this room believe you have the potential to do the same.
Your teachers believe in you. Your families believe in you. Your country believes in you.
President Donald Trump and I have faith in the power of redemption. He has led important reforms to our justice system to help anyone who needs “a second chance at life.”
And we all need second chances, don’t we? You all have benefitted from what in “government speak” we call Second Chance Pell. You are all examples of what happens when students can use aid in expanded ways. You are why we propose the Second Chance Pell experiment or “pilot” be made permanent.
Pell Grants have historically been only for students attending traditional, four-year colleges or universities. But this Administration recognizes that every student is anything but traditional!
Your education is your education. And it’s the right education if it prepares you for successful careers and a meaningful life. Education is not about the building in which you learn or the pathways you pursue. Education is about you. It’s about your aspirations and abilities. Your passions and pursuits. Your ingenuity and what you do with it determines your destiny, and contributes to ours.
I think of one graduate I recently met named Brian.
Brian has been where you are. Like all of us, he made mistakes. But he recently graduated at the top of his class, summa cum laude, from a program much like yours with a Paralegal certification. He aspires to be a lawyer; so he’s currently working at a law firm by day, while pursuing a law degree by night.
Each graduate like Brian—like you—is someone with a chance to participate in a strong economy. Your contributions can make it even stronger. As a graduate, you are prepared to earn a paycheck, to provide for a family and to participate in prosperity.
And you’ll contribute to an economy—the strongest it’s been in years! There are about 8 million unfilled jobs today. Small businesses are opening at record numbers. Wages are growing and unemployment is shrinking—for everyone. Our economy is expanding faster than anyone predicted.
Employers in your communities need folks with your skills and your talents. I think of Cody.
Cody has already earned an associate degree and a few certificates. Today, he’ll receive his second associate degree as he works toward a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma’s own HBCU, Langston University.
I enjoyed learning about Cody and what he said about his “better chance at life.” Cody said that “all of this education will help you find a job… It is a way to turn what was a very bad decision on my part and turn it into something more positive.” That’s the sort of attitude all of us can embrace.
No matter what any of you decide to do with the talents you’ve developed here, there is no ordinary task, no ordinary job. Because none of you are ordinary. And there’s nothing out of the ordinary about a second chance.
As I said before, all of us need second chances. We all need opportunities to learn from falling, to get back up, and to try again. If we acknowledge as much, it is because each of us was born in the image and likeness of God, endowed with dignity that no man and no government could ever take from us.
You were born with great dignity, and with great purpose. I think of my late friend, Chuck Colson. He became a Christian while incarcerated and spent the rest of his life serving as a witness to the Gospel, especially in places like this. He said that his “greatest humiliation—being sent to prison—was the beginning of God’s greatest use of [his] life.”
I believe there is a great plan for each of you, too. So, bring all that you have, to all that you do. This is your chance to be the best husband you can be. The best father. The best citizen. The best man.
Notice that each of those titles demands a service. Service to your family, to your country, to God. The talents God has given to you, were not given only for you. They were given so that you might serve others.
That’s not a popular thing to say these days. Too often we put ourselves on a pedestal. Instead, choose to put others first. Too often we feel entitled. Choose to give, instead. Too often we want to do whatever we want to do. Instead, choose to do what is right.
Choose to be selfless. Recognize that you are—and always will be—greater than the sum of your parts.
I’m inspired by these lines from Scripture: “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor.”
Make no mistake, though: being selfless doesn’t suggest you should become like everyone else. To the contrary! You need to be yourself because there is only one of you, and we need you. We need your talents and your unique perspective.
Yes, it is good to pause today to applaud your success. But after this moment, I am confident you will find supporting the successes and joys of others more rewarding than anything else. In serving others, we always reap more than we sow.
And remember it’s been said that it’s not enough to do good. Good must be done well.
There is a power already “at work within us.” Scripture tells us this. A power “who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine.”
So, cooperate with that power! Invent. Create. Build. Transform. Cure. Solve.
I believe you can. The President of the United States believes you can. Your country believes you can.
Thank you all for having me here today, and congratulations.