CA Fwd President & CEO delivers commencement address at Cal State Sacramento

150 150 Jim Mayer

(Photo: Wikipedia)

The following is the full text of the speechd delivered on Friday, May 23, 2014

Good afternoon and congratulations.

Now, take a deep breath.

My job here is to tell you to follow your dreams, work hard and don’t give up. And the conventional wisdom is you will not remember what I am about to say – so I want you to remember how you feel.

Take another deep breath.

How do you feel right now?  It is not a simple question.  This is not a simple moment.

You are probably relieved for being done – with a twinge of anxiety about what comes next.

You are surely joyful — having reached this lofty milestone.  But perhaps a little melancholy, too, as this part of your journey – this time with friends, colleagues, mentors – is behind you.

You are proud.  This is a great accomplishment.  But you know that you are not fully prepared for every possible circumstance.

Clearly, positive prevails. You are confident, optimistic, strong. 

Don’t forget that.  You are confident, optimistic and strong.

Remember how you feel, because there will be times when you need to tap into this mental reserve.

Follow your dreams. Work hard. Don’t give up.

So far, everything we have talked about could be the charge given at any graduation anywhere at any time.

But you are not just anywhere.  You are in the capital of California.

And this is not just any time.  We are at a critical moment in history.  And you are going to make history.

California will be a very different place 30 years from now. And your job – our job – is to make it better.

Because, you see, it is not just about your dream.  It’s about our dream – plural – the California Dream.

Not so long ago we were the source of shadenfreude for detractors who declared California a failed state.  We were called ungovernable.  There are still some that would split the state in halves, thirds, even sixths. 

But by and large, political observers are now looking to California to see how we have eased the partisan gridlock.  California is coming to terms with it size and diversity – shifting more authority over public safety and education to local governments.  The leaders in the capitol are making smarter fiscal choices.  And despite Toyota, California is growing more jobs than any other state in the nation.

That’s all good news – especially that last part about jobs, especially for you.

This is a graduation celebration, so I will spare you the civics lesson.  But in short, this is not accidental.  California is gradually reforming its systems of governance to enable problem-solving. And the turnaround is just in time.

Looking forward, over the next 30 years, our future will depend significantly on how we – as Californians – respond to three global trends:  Climate change, economic competition, and the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

There is an ardent struggle underway – increasingly urgent – to address all three challenges at the same time preferably with integrated solutions.

A decade ago, striving toward a triple bottom line – people, planet and profits – was sort of a Ben and Jerry ideal.  Great for a quirky blue ribbon ice cream company.  The triple bottom line is now a necessity, regardless of your quartile.

This month we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Brown vs Board of Education.  The U.S. Supreme Court, led by Californian Earl Warren, legally abolished separate but equal.

But two generations later we have simply failed to provide the educational opportunity required for an economic democracy to match our political democracy.

With cost of living taken into consideration, California has the highest poverty rate in the nation; nearly one in four of us.

Graduation rates are lower for children born in poverty.

Incarceration rates are highest among adults who were born in poverty, and especially boys and men of color.

There is a tragic gap between what we are doing and what we could be doing to change lives and futures – even with available resources.  We simply cannot succeed as communities, regions and one state with so many Californians struggling to be safe, healthy and self-sufficient.

Graduate rates are increasing.  Incarceration rates are decreasing.  But progress must be accelerated.

On the environmental front, California is again leading with public policies intended to reduce our impact even as our population, our communities and our regional economies grow.  But we have not synced up our ambitions let alone our plans for curbing CO2, building sustainable communities, managing working lands and restoring ecosystems.  We should be proud of our values, but we have to get serious about the innovation – not just in technology, but in regulations and financial incentives – that will be necessary to reconcile our noble yet often conflicting economic and environmental goals.

Indeed, we won’t get far reducing poverty or protecting the environment if we can’t achieve a broader political agreement on the investments and the reforms needed to grow the human capital and build physical infrastructure necessary to be economically competitive and to grow middle-income jobs.

Each of these challenges is a struggle.  At times the frustrations outweigh the successes.  But we are no longer stuck on stupid.  In California, progress, indeed reform, is trending.

Once again, California is the frontier.  We are, we must and we will direct our creativity and ingenuity to manage common and complex problems.  We need more heroes willing to take on injustice and ignorance, poverty and pollution, even loneliness and despair. 

That’s where you come in – graduates in Government and Economics, Ethnic and Environmental Studies, Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology, Gerontology.

Take a deep breath.

I know.  For some of you, your version of the California Dream is a brick Tudor in East Sacramento, or maybe a loft south of Market Street.  That’s ok.  Part of my dream is an olive orchard in Yolo County.

But our personal dreams depend on a shared reality – a shared commitment, really – made possible now — by a shared heritage.

As graduates of a public university – as graduates of California State University, Sacramento – we are prepared and obligated to be steward leaders. To act with integrity, and on behalf of the whole.  To take risks, manage conflicts, and hold ourselves accountable for our contributions to family, work, and community.

Every one of you has already sacrificed today for the good of tomorrow.  And at this moment, you all know how good that feels.

Look around you.  You don’t need a quote from a dead president or poet.  All the inspiration you need in sitting right next to you.

Take a deep breath.  Remember how this feels.

Build the California dream, work hard, never give up, ever forward.

Thank you and Godspeed.


Jim Mayer

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