Speeches by Governor Martin O'Malley

Anne Arundel Community College
Forty-Fifth Commencement

May 24, 2007


Sue, thank you very, very much.  To President Smith, to Dr. Meyer, Reverend Wharton, Delegate Love, Councilman Jones, Carter Heim, Arthur Ebersberger, trustees, faculty, staff, fellow Marylanders, and of course graduates of Anne Arundel Community College…thank you very much for the honor of being with you on this happy day.

It’s really a great privilege for me to be able to share in this celebration with all of you. You know this is one of those happy moments in life -- life has its share of sad ones -- but this is a great night for all of you. 

I especially want to say a word to the parents of those of you who are receiving diplomas here today.  I am hopefully only a few years away from seeing my oldest walk across with cap and gown.  And I can imagine there’s no bigger thrill in life than this moment for all of you, who have stood by your children, seeing them grow into the great adults they are. 

Except for those of you who are long suffering-spouses waiting for your spouses to graduate today…which would also be a joy.  I can remember – when my wife finished up her last year of law school, we had a little baby at home and another baby on the way.  And thank goodness, we got through it and so have you, so it’s great to be with you.

I want to single out, at the risk of embarrassing her, your valedictorian -- Olga Rehn.  Less than a decade ago, she immigrated here to the United States.  To this state, the original land of the free, home of the brave.  At that time she spoke no English, and yet this courageous single mom graduates today at the very top of her class and will go on to study accounting at the University of Baltimore.  That’s a community college. 

Today we celebrate learning.  We celebrate achievement in a laboratory, a studio, the commercial kitchen, the simulated ambulance.  And on the lacrosse field as well -- by the way congratulations to Coach Griffiths and all women’s laxers, and I look forward to celebrating a three-peak with you next spring.

Today we also, simultaneously with a little bit of nostalgia and with an anticipatory spirit, celebrate passage and transition.  Today we rejoice in the fellowship, we rejoice in the friendships -- many of which will last a lifetime.  And today we also pray.  We pray in thanksgiving for the gifts that we have as citizens of this great country.  We pray in anticipation of the joyous, bountiful opportunities that lie ahead.  And mostly we pray that the governor will be brief so we can go out to dinner and the parties, right?  Admit it, admit it.

I think it was cartoonist Garry Trudeau who pointed out that commencement speeches seem to be guided by the belief that students “should never be properly released into the world until they have been properly sedated.”  Well I ask you to bear with me…if I cannot be transcendentally inspirational, I at least hope not to sedate you.

It’s my great honor to be able to have accepted your invitation here, and this is the very first commencement that I’ve had the opportunity to do as Governor.  And I wanted to come to a community college, and I’m so grateful to Anne Arundel Community College for giving me the opportunity to be here.  And no, its not because Navy and Johns Hopkins didn’t invite me…they didn’t. 

But in all seriousness, it’s because community colleges really are where America goes to college.  And Anne Arundel Community College in particular represents not only higher education, but deeper and more relevant education, meeting people where they truly live…giving them relevant skills…in an increasingly faster-paced, market-driven world.

They are a uniquely American innovation, and they’re animated by the timeless values of inclusion and diversity and that American commitment that we all share -- and sometimes take for granted -- to the notion that every single person in our country is important.  And every person deserves to have the doors of opportunity open to them, for them to walk through with their talent and hard work.

It was community colleges that were the first ones actually to open the doors of college to women, at a time when many elite institutions were male bastions.  Still today, nearly 3 out of 5 community college students are women.  And of course here at Anne Arundel and around the country, our community colleges also are really powerful economic engines -- giving back to their communities, Madam President, far more than the public invests in them.  …And we appreciate your tremendous leadership of this institution and the leadership of your colleagues at community colleges around our state.

You know I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about just how important community colleges are.  Very few of us can get through our day without having to depend on a graduate of a community college.  From cradle to grave: that technician who administers the sonogram that projects images of the unborn child -- often a community college graduate.  The OB-GYN nurse that helps deliver that baby 6 months later?  Very likely a community college graduate.  On the other end of life’s cycle…the hospice worker providing compassionate end-of-life care. 

And in between those bookends, men and women educated at our community colleges are influences on our entire lives, teaching our children -- are there any would-be teachers out there?  The dental assistant, the CPA who prepares our taxes, the architect who designs our homes and offices, the pharmacy technician who fills our prescription -- we trust them; we depend on them; and maybe we sometimes take them for granted.  But those skills, the skills that all of you have learned, are the skills that make our economy grow. 

Not to mention our first responders, our police officers, our EMTs, our firefighters -- those folks on the front lines of our homeland security battle.  Four out of five first responders, I understand, are educated and trained at community colleges.

To flip through your catalogue is to take a humbling journey through all the things I haven’t the foggiest notion as to how to do.  Listen to this: HTML programming, cyber forensics, semiconductors and linear circuits, digital logic design (we could use a little more of that in Annapolis).  My point being that Anne Arundel Community College is anything but an ivory tower -- a term that I suppose is a little unfair, but it does denote a distance from and lack of connection to the real world, the challenges you face when learning is a lifetime endeavor and [there are] fast-changing moves in the marketplace.

Community colleges are very much like a community garden of opportunity.  And as a community garden of opportunity, it really calls upon all of us to tend it.  Because if it’s properly nourished, it will grow, and it will be able to sustain the entire community.  But it does not happen on its own.  The members of the community have to understand its value, Madam President.  Have to be willing to invest in its value.  Have to be willing to give of themselves for one another for our families and for the common good.

You know, for more than one hundred years, community colleges have done exactly that -- training people to come back after serving our country, doing so much to make our country a better place, building up human capital…which really is our country.  And we’re doing it again.  BRAC is going to be importing all sorts of jobs and opportunities and, yes, really vital, critical security assets to our state.  And who are we going to rely on to create the human capital that fills those jobs and answers that call?  It’s community colleges, and Anne Arundel Community College in particular.

And that’s why, even in a budget noteworthy for its slow rate of spending growth, state investment in community colleges -- with bipartisan support, including the delegates and senator in this room -- increased by 18 percent…  We chose to invest in community colleges because the talent of our people and the working families of our state is really the future of our state.  And I am very pleased to see that your Board of Trustees -- and this will no doubt bring on a huge applause… – voted, because of our collected investment in community colleges, not to increase tuitions.

Now we operate, of course -- budgets and tuitions -- on a year-to-year basis.  That’s why continued investment is so very, very important.  So that more and more working people can be able to continue their education or send their children to college. You know, in the long term, we have to strive to make the development of human capital the centerpiece of our shared agenda.  In other words, to develop a workforce-centered economic development strategy, one that recognizes people -- that the cultivation of their talents is the most precious and irreplaceable resource.  And if we develop that, the jobs and opportunities will follow.

But at the same time, you know an education isn’t just about a marketable skill.  As Dr. Martin Luther King said: “Intelligence plus character: that is the goal of true education.” And that is why, Madam President, it is so heartening to see that Anne Arundel Community College has put a premium on service-learning and civic engagement, through the Sarbanes Center. 

In a world and a nation that is wracked with so much suffering and so much injustice, those of us who have had the privilege of a quality education have to be about more than material fulfillment of self.  At the very least, we have to be aware – if not outraged and hopefully driven to action -- by genocide in Darfur, by fellow human beings stripped of their dignity in dismal places half the world away.  Or right here in our own communities, where desperation and deprivation strip our neighbors of their dignity.

Jobs are what we do; they are not who we are.  Who we are is defined by more eternal things.  By our willingness to embrace the idea that empathy is not just a duty; it is a privilege; it is the core of humanity.  By our determination to see God in the faces of others, especially those whose station we do not envy and whose customs we consider alien.  Understanding, in the words of Robert Kennedy, that “those who live with us are our brothers…they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek as we do nothing less than the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness.” 

The country and the world is waiting, and it’s waiting for you to carry those values forward, in some cases to restore those values.  Go do it.  Congratulations and God bless you.