Lower Columbia College | 2012 Commencement Ceremony

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76th Annual Commencement Ceremony

Friday, June 15, 2012, Truman Myklebust Gymnasium.

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Commencement Address

Charlie Earl, Executive Director, State Board for Community & Technical Colleges

Good evening. President Bailey, thank you for the kind introduction. And thank you for inviting me to join you at this great celebration.

I'm told the local public access channel might be filming my speech tonight - but I have a hunch it won't go viral like Derrick Salberg's amazing catch a few weeks ago.

Now, I know many of you have already seen the YouTube video or even attended the game.

But what you might not have noticed in my introduction is that I'm the past president of Everett Community College -- yes, Everett -- the very college that was defeated with the Salberg catch.

But rest assured that I don't hold a grudge, at least not any more. After all, the catch was amazing. In the final moments of the game, Salberg managed to leap over a 4-foot fence and make a winning catch in mid-air, seizing victory for the Red Devils.

It was a tremendous play -- not just because Salberg is a great athlete. But because he knew where to focus. You see, Salberg didn't focus on the fence; he focused on the catch. And that's what you all have done to get here today.

You've cleared hurdles -- worked hard -- fulfilled a promise to yourselves and your families to finish what you started. You made the catch, and I congratulate you.

Tonight's event has special meaning for me, beyond the fact that I used to be president of Everett Community College. It's the last time that I'll be giving a commencement speech as executive director of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. Next month I'm retiring, starting a new journey in my life as you are starting yours. But although my career is coming to an end, I'm not done learning -- not by a long shot. And that's what I want to talk to you about tonight.

You and I both know that education is the single best investment any of us can make. Economic downturns don't last a lifetime, but your education will. But like any investment, you can't just make one deposit and let the account sit there, neglected. You need to nurture it to keep it growing and relevant. Over time, you'll find that you need to add to the account -- with more education and new skills.

When I was preparing for this speech, I started thinking about the people who were most influential in my life. I've had many influential instructors and professors, but the person who probably made the biggest impact in my life was a friend of mine in the military.

We were both in the Air Force in Sacramento. I was 23; he was 30. We used to ride back and forth to work and he'd tell me that education and work experience are both tremendous advantages, but they can also be traps if you don't stop learning and exploring. He pursued education and jobs as steps to broaden his reach, not narrow it.

In the service, he started as a military policeman, went to missiles, picked up an MBA, became a quality control officer in a defense plant, got a second master's degree, and ultimately became a military attache to the lead US representative to the Turkish government. Eventually, he became a general.

He said education was all about thinking wider in life; not narrower. And I've followed his advice in my professional and personal life.

Many of you, too, have taken different paths to get to this exciting moment. Some of you came to LCC right out of high school -- or while you were still in high school. Some of you came from other colleges. And many of you are looking to switch careers altogether.

About half of you came here for workforce training, and about a third of you came here to start the first two years of your bachelor's degrees.

Veterans, you've come here, too. Thank you for serving our country -- and thank you for making the challenging transition back to civilian life to serve in new ways.

Each of you comes from a different background, but you all share a common trait -- the will to succeed. And each of you is so much more valuable than the sum of your education. which brings me to my next point.

As a coworker, you will be relied on as a person. To give your best effort, to show up, and sometimes -- like it or not -- to make others look good at your own expense. Aside from your training and skills -- the capacity to understand people, to listen to them, to be emotionally intelligent, and self-aware are also important.

When you bring with you to the workplace not just your education, but your ability to be a friend, to be reliable -- THAT is when some of the best career-building moments happen.

Really great coworkers see each other as whole human beings and realize that each of us has a life outside of work. And sometimes you will need to help your coworkers or employees cope with or get through a crisis.

One of my favorite fiction books is called the "Floating Opera". Now don't worry -- I won't break into song. The book describes an opera on a barge in Chesapeake Bay. The barge would float along the bay, so that people would experience a different scene depending on where they stood. Some people would see the beginning of the opera -- others the middle or the end. The experience was different for every person depending on where they stood, what the weather was like.

We're all like those bystanders on the banks, seeing a portion of a scene in each other. We don't always see the whole play --cannot always judge where people have been or where they're going. And that's why it's so important to show empathy, compassion, respect -- to recognize that what you see is not the entire story.

It reminds me of a quote I once read: "People won't always remember what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel."

As I look around, I see pride in the faces of the families and friends in this audience. You've already made a difference.

Your education not only changes your own life, it also inspires OTHERS to take the leap in higher education. Especially if you are the first in your family to earn a college degree. Achieving that milestone will cast ripples for years to come.

Now, I have a favor to ask: Remember your roots, remember LCC and speak of it with pride. This college is known for innovation-- like its online and hybrid classes, including the online nursing program.

LCC is deeply committed to this community. When the recession hit and the state started cutting money to community and technical colleges, LCC continued to accept far more students than the state was willing to pay for. LCC has had a record number of graduates for the past three years.

So before I leave you to enjoy the truly fun part of your evening -- celebrating with friends and family -- let me sum it up:

Keep exploring. Keep discovering. Treat others and yourself with compassion. These goals are the real game-changers.

Congratulations to you all!