University of Buffalo Commencement Address
As part of the University at Buffalo Educational Opportunity Center virtual commencement, John B. King Jr. offered remarks to the graduates.
Hello, U-B-E-O-C graduates!
Well, I’m guessing this is not how you thought you’d celebrate completing your program.
At home, online.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives.
But you already know things don’t always go as planned.
Maybe like me, some folks thought you wouldn’t make it in school. They counted you out.
Well, today, you’ve proven them wrong.
I can relate.
I like to say that while I may be the first U.S. Secretary of Education who got kicked out of high school, I hope I won’t be the last. That’s because I understand the power of second, and even third chances.
You see, I grew up in New York City.
My mom passed away in October of my 4th grade year.
So I lived with my dad, who had undiagnosed Alzheimer’s, until he passed away a few years later.
Life was scary. I was angry. And yes, I got kicked out of high school. Not once, but twice.
But then a counselor convinced me that my past didn’t need to dictate my future.
I know many of you have had the benefit of working with Buffalo EOC counselors. They’ve helped you navigate school… apply for scholarships… get through rough patches.
I got back on track and continued my studies.
It wasn’t till I got to college that I realized I wanted to live my life in service of others and fight injustice.
Education has a way of helping us not only learn more about the world, but also about ourselves.
Maybe the same is true about going through a public crisis like the one we’re all going through now.
I don’t think “PPE,” “social distancing,” or “contact tracing” were in my vocabulary before all this.
And seeing how COVID-19 is shining a spotlight on all our country’s pre-existing inequities has deepened my commitment to push for a better system…for racial justice…for educational justice…for economic justice.
We all have a role to play in creating a better world for future generations.
I’m sure, for many of you, that starts with pushing your way up the economic ladder for yourself and your families… and that’s what brought you to EOC.
What we are seeing even more clearly now is that the jobs Buffalo EOC prepares you for are the kinds of jobs that keep this country running.
You are, or soon will be, “essential workers.”
Some of you have sharpened your customer service skills.
We see more clearly now how much we count on grocery clerks, pharmacy staff, delivery drivers, and front-line workers in every industry.
Some of you have received training in healthcare fields: nursing…medical billing and coding…sterilization….
Without our medical professionals, from the front desk, to the back office, to the emergency room, we’d be defenseless against this virus and everyday sickness and injury.
Many of you have used your time at EOC to boost your skills in other ways.
You grew up speaking another language, and you’ve strengthened your English.
You hit road blocks on the way to a high school diploma, as I did, and you’ve gotten closer to that milestone.
You’ve got your sights set on higher education, and you’ve prepared to become college ready.
Whatever your program, congratulations for making the time to invest in yourself and your future and for getting this far.
Many of you are essential for another reason: you’re parents.
These last couple months, you’ve juggled child care and homeschooling while being a student yourself.
You’ve been pulled in every possible direction, and even when it felt like everything was weighing you down, you kept going.
And now here you are, celebrating the completion of your program at Buffalo EOC.
As a New Yorker… as a Black and Latino kid who was counted out and had his share of ups and downs and second and third chances… I am proud of each and every one of you for getting to this day.
If I could ask you to do one more thing…it’s keep going.
Continue your education. Keep learning. Grow new skills.
And never let anyone tell you that you can’t.
Last year’s recipient of the UBEOC Arthur O. Eve award is a great example.
When Paula Oliver enrolled in the registered medical assistant program, she was out of work and parenting four kids.
After completing the program, she not only secured a job at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, she decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in social work at the same time.
With the same spirit that drove Arthur O. Eve to create the program that would become EOC, Paula advocates for workforce diversity as a member of her labor union and helps young adults gain life skills and access community resources.
My commitment to you is that I will do everything in my power to help smooth the path for you and your families so Paula’s story is not the exception, but the norm.
To ensure all schools are good schools … To make college affordable … To put good jobs within reach.
And if you’d like to join the movement for educational justice, you can go to Ed Trust Dot Org Slash Join.
Congratulations, U-B-E-O-C graduates, for crossing the finish line.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and keep going.