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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Commencement Address to the

University of Baltimore

December 18, 2017

Thank you, President Schmoke, for that kind introduction. I have admired your work
from afar. Your commitment to this city is admirable, and your record of working for your
community is impressive. We all can learn from your efforts to make Baltimore the City
that Reads and from your work to empower parents, particularly those parents of inner-
city students. Thank you, President Schmoke, for your clear and courageous

And thank you for this gracious invitation to be with members of the Board of Regents of
the University System of Maryland, the University of Baltimores board members, its
faculty, and, most importantly all of you -- its proud graduates.

As I prepared to be with you today, I reflected on my own graduation. Sitting there that
day, I never would have imagined one day Id hold the title of Secretary or of
commencement speaker. My public speaking class was not my favorite. And I must say,
Im not always very comfortable being on stage like this.

But there is a title that Im much more comfortable with: and that is mom.

From the moment my first child was born, I knew there would be no greater vocation
than to be a parent. I know many if not, all parents in this room feel the very same

Graduates, even though we are here today to celebrate you and your accomplishments,
there are others due some recognition, as well. Your parents, spouses, children, friends,
co-workers and others who propelled and cheered your success all walked side-by-
side with you as you pursued your education here at UB. They supported you, coached
you, tutored you and loved you.


Graduates, how about standing and recognizing all those here who have helped make
this day possible for you?

Some of you may know that Ive been working for over 30 years to empower parents.
That work hasnt changed even though my office address has. I came to Washington
with this core belief: Those who are closest to students know best how to serve them.

Thats one reason I was so pleased to accept President Schmokes invitation to be with
you today. UB was established on that same core belief.

Nearly 100 years ago, UBs founders recognized Baltimores workingmen and women
needed options geared toward their needs. Since its inception, the University has
provided any student access to a great education: working adults, first-generation
college goers, career changers, and those who need flexibility outside of a traditional
college environment. Offering curriculums customized to trades and classes scheduled
around working hours were innovative ideas then, and they still are today. UBs brand is
truly knowledge that works.

More institutions could learn from UBs concerted effort to shape education around what
students want and need not the other way around. Importantly, more institutions could
also learn from you, its students.

Your stories are inspiring!

Antieris, who will receive her diploma today, founded the Be YOU at UB campaign to
tell the stories of her fellow UB students. Her own story is worth telling, as well.

Antieriss birth mother placed her in a new home. Her adoptive parents knew little about
college, but Antieris was determined to be the first in her family to pursue higher
education. She began work on an associates degree in Philadelphia and wanted to


pursue a Bachelors, but returned to Baltimore to help her family. By the time she was
able to revisit her education, Antieris was in her 30s, but she was undeterred. So, she
enrolled in the accelerated Bachelors/Masters degree program at UB.
Thats why Antieris says its never too late to pursue education. No one here at UB
apologizes for their mistakes. They look ahead to just get this done.

Or Shae, another first-generation college student. Shae and her sisters grew up in a
tough neighborhood raised by a mother afflicted with addiction. Surrounded by bad
influences, Shae refused to follow her mothers path. She enrolled at UB to show her
younger sisters that success is possible no matter where you come from. For Shae,
earning her degree opens up opportunities to break free of the negativity she grew up

I also think of Claudette who began working at UB in the freshman academic advising
office. While there, she was inspired to continue her own education as she guided other
students. Claudette had been out of school for 13 years and was admittedly skeptical
about going back.

She was nervous about being in classes with students much younger than herself, but
that fear soon disappeared. What I learned was that some of my classmates were just
as nervous as I was, she said, and it became easy for me to talk to them and establish
relationships. Those friendships helped Claudette find her passion, and she chose to
pursue studies in human services.

Each of these stories reflects something of struggle, challenge, fear and thats OK. No
student should see those as limitations. Learning is for all people at all stages and all
backgrounds. And students should have as many pathways as they have dreams.
Learning should mold to meet the needs of students; it should not force them into a


I share these inspiring stories because, if you remember nothing else I say today,
remember this: you are a source of inspiration. You are the reason we are working to
rethink how our country approaches education.

Because not one of you is an ordinary student. And while some may consider your
educational journeys out of the ordinary, we consider you extraordinary.
You are each unique truly one of a kind. And if that is the case, then we must admit
that a one-size-fits-all approach to education at any stage -- will not work.

We must stop suggesting there is only one, conventional path to success. In fact, there
are many avenues to gain what individual students need or want: industry-recognized
certificates, stackable credits, credentials and licensures, badges, micro-degrees,
apprenticeships, two-year degrees, four-year degrees, advanced degrees

All of these are valid pursuits. Each should be embraced as such. If its the right fit for
the student, then its the right education. Period. Students are allowed and should be
encouraged -- to be unconventional. And no stigma should follow a students journey to
At the same time, lets discard the notion that education should end after you cross this
stage. Graduation ceremonies like this are called commencements for a reason: a
diploma is not a finish line. Your learning should be a lifelong pursuit.

This pursuit requires three challenges of character Im going to posit today: the
challenge to be thoughtful, the challenge to be selfless and the challenge to persevere.

The first charge might be a little unexpected given todays culture of high volume and
snap judgments. There is plenty of talking, but Id suggest there is not nearly enough


You just reached this important moment in your learning journey; your new knowledge
and skills help to broaden horizons and confront realities you might not have previously

This moment gives rise to a new voice full of ideas. And it comes with an inherent
responsibility to be considerate and careful in the exchange of ideas.

Sometimes exchange requires raising your voice above the noise, but more often, it
requires embracing the power of silence.

Susan Cain, an attorney, author and introvert, has some common-sense advice that
youve probably also heard from your mom or grandma: We have two ears and one
mouth, and we should use them proportionally.

Spend just a few minutes watching cable news and youll encounter folks who havent
followed that advice. On social media and on many college campuses, groups and
individuals pit themselves against each other -- not to discuss and debate deeply held
beliefs or ideas -- but to raise decibels, score gotcha points or shout down an
opponents voice.

The natural instinct is to join in the chorus of conflict, to raise your voice louder, to
promote your profile and ostracize others. Too many assume that those who are the
loudest are leaders and those who stay quiet are followers.

But we will not solve the significant and real problems our country faces if we cannot
embrace this paradox of silence.

We will do well to first listen, study, ponder, then speak to genuinely engage those with
whom we disagree. Voices that are quiet at first, grow in strength while those who rush
to shout are humbled.


In our fast-paced, loud world, it is healthy to develop an interior life, to be silent, to pray,
to review and to contemplate. No matter what mayhem is happening around me,
Susan Cain wrote, I know I can always turn inward. This challenge doesnt take much:
a few moments each day to reconsider, to reflect, and to rejuvenate would benefit all of

I will admit many in my generation havent done a stellar job when it comes to dealing
with one another. You have an opportunity to do better. You can lead the way towards a
new era of engagement in our country, one where we discern when to be thoughtful and
silent and when to speak with strength.

That brings me to a related challenge: to be selfless. This might also come off as
counterintuitive in todays me-first culture. But we would do well to recognize that we
are -- and always will be -- greater than the sum of our parts.

Im 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.

Too many try to invert the Golden Rule. Dont do to others what you would not want
done to you. The inversion suggests that if we just look out for ourselves, wed all be
better off.
The real Golden Rule, we know, is a call to action: Do to others whatever you would
have them do to you. The challenge to be selfless is to first recognize something bigger
than ourselves.

We rightly celebrate what you have accomplished today, but in doing so, we also
acknowledge that you didnt do it only for yourself. You came here to gain skills that will
ultimately help others. You came here to set an example of whats possible for others.
You came here to defy expectations and challenge norms imposed by others.


Make no mistake, though: being selfless doesnt 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.

The degree conferred on you is a celebration of the time, energy and effort you have
invested. And of knowledge, experience and skills you have gained.

However, you didnt invest here at UB just so you could don the stylish regalia and
receive a fancy piece of paper, did you? No!

Your time at UB your work, your experiences and your relationships laid a
foundation for you to seize opportunities. To put your knowledge to work not only for
your own benefit but also for the benefit of others.

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.

The last challenge Im going to lay out today to persevere may well be the most
difficult to actually do. Thats because our culture seems to promote the ideal of a
sheltered life, free of hardship. This siren song tempts us to always take the easy road,
the path of least resistance.

But real life isnt like that, is it? Antieris, Shae and Claudette know this. You all know

The path of a real and full life is like the path to success. Its long, gritty and its
sometimes painful. It requires perseverance, resilience and sacrifice. Those are words
we dont hear often enough.


Angela Duckworth, a psychologist who studies grit, reminds all of us that the science of
success is the study of a persons will to carry on, adapt and improve. She says: When
you dont come back the next daywhen you permanently turn your back on a
commitmentyour effort plummets to zero. As a consequence, she wrote your skills
stop improving, and at the same time, you stop producing anything with whatever skills
you have.

Ultimately, she says, We have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again with
lessons learned.

Yes, perseverance requires facing up to fears, and steadfast effort applied to doing
something worthwhileregardless of what comes along. Indeed, its not always failure
we encounter along the way; its often glitz and glamour that distracts us. So to
persevere means putting off the pleasures -- or the pains -- of the moment with an eye
toward the future.

The test of success isnt in the difficulties we face, the unforeseen circumstances, or the
sudden, sharp turn. No, the test is really in how we respond. The test is in how we
persevere. How we keep going.

It can be easy to quit. It can be easy to throw in the towel and hope someone else finds
the solution. But whats easy or appealing is not always whats wise or prudent.

Your most difficult challenge may have already come and gone, or it may lie just around
the corner. There is no way of knowing. But I trust you possess the will and the wisdom
to rise to the challenge. To carry on, head held high.

This will to persevere wont be formed without a certain selflessness that recognizes
something bigger than yourself. And it can only be developed in the context of a
contemplative life.


These three charges to be thoughtful, to be selfless, to persevere will serve you well
no matter where you go and what you do. Theyll add contour and texture to the work
you do, the family you raise and the life you lead. Embracing them will help you leave
your unique imprint on the world.

So too will the power of the knowledge youve gained.

So take your universitys motto, knowledge that works, seriously. Youve invested the
time and effort to gain knowledge. Now put it to work.

Invent. Create. Build. Transform. Cure. Solve.

No matter what you want to do, now is the time to start doing it.

It has been said that thoughts become words. Words become actions. Actions become
habits. Habits become character. And character becomes destiny.

Today marks an opportunity to turn words into action for the sake of your destiny, and of

Congratulations class of 2017! Thank you for the opportunity to share in this special day
with you, and I wish you all the best as you embark on the next step of your journey.