Office of Education

ASU Preparatory Academy 2016 Commencement Speech - May 26, 2016

Thank you, Beatriz ... And good evening, SUN DEVILS! Director Lebowitz, teachers, students, parents, friends, family -- and most of all --the 95 AWESOME graduates of the Class of 2016:

CONGRATULATIONS – and welcome to this moment.

Even though I graduated from high school a long, long time ago - use your imagination – I’d like to think that my three sons, aged middle school through college, have kept me young and up-to-date on the latest in pop culture.  

But I’d be wrong. So I’m going to ask you to meet me halfway ... and rewind to the year most of you were making your entrance into the world. The year, 1998. 

Here in Arizona, our second female governor, ane Dee Hull, was elected at the polls. Across the country, President Bill Clinton’s impeachment was on the front page of the papers. Newspapers, that is. Those were things we read before we had websites.

And all over the world, citizens braced for something called Y2K --which would have resulted in computers everywhere crashing. Luckily, you’ve probably never heard of it – because for the most part, it turned out to be no big deal.

The first Harry Potter book was released. The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl.And “Saving Private Ryan” dominated the box office.

 Fast-forward to today. You’re young adults. You have the entire world ahead of you -- and yet when you think about it, you’ve lived through an amazing, unprecedented 18 years of history:

The rise of cell-phones, and the fall of pay phones. The surge of email, and the decline of snail mail.There’s a Starbucks on every corner, and a Blockbuster Video on none. You can now read all seven “Harry Potter” books on your iPad, AND watch the movies. And guess what -- the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl – again.

And for me, the last 18 years have brought more joy than I ever dreamed of. My wife Angela and I now have three boys – Jack, Joe and Sam. And last year, I had the honor of being sworn in as Arizona’s 23rd governor – a privilege I never could have imagined when I sat where you’re sitting right now. 

Like many of you, I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do with my life at 18. So if that sounds like you, breathe. You’ve got plenty of time. You see, I don’t come from a political family. I grew up in Toledo, Ohio. My dad was a cop. I’m a product of the Midwest and the working-class. During my junior year of high school, my folks split up. Graduation was around the corner. And I didn’t know what I was going to do, where I was going to do it, or how I was going to get there. So I started visiting with a college counselor. And one day, he did what anyone would do for someone in need of direction: he pulled out a map...pointed to a spot somewhere in the southwest, and said: “Arizona. School is affordable out there, and that’s where the opportunity is.”

 So, I packed up my Datsun B-210 and drove from Toledo, Ohio, to Tempe, Arizona. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I studied business at Arizona State...paid my way through school...and few years later, we built a small ice cream company called Cold Stone Creamery. All we had to start was a great product, a handful of stores to sell it, and the will and work ethic to do something big. Today, Cold Stone operates in all 50 states, and in 31 countries around the world.

This adventure led me to understand the true meaning of “the American Dream.” Because we’ve all heard of it. It’s an idea as old as our country, rooted in our Declaration of Independence. And while its significance has changed over the course of history – at the heart of it is a word that is universal, and eternal. That word is “Opportunity.” Opportunity For All. Regardless of zip code or circumstance, to have a shot at a quality of life that is fulfilling, prosperous, and meaningful – whether that includes a four-year college degree or vocational training, military service or elective office, selling ice cream or serving Arizona.

Attending ASU Preparatory for the past four years has opened more doors for you than you’re probably aware of right now. Fair warning: if you’re anything like the rest of us,you’re only a few years out from being faced with a “quarter-life crisis” – that overwhelming feeling of choosing the career path that’s right for you. You may find yourself with so many options that you stop dead in your tracks –fearing that if you continue down one path, the rest will disappear. 

In this situation, the only advice I can give you is: Don’t Stop. 

 If you’re overwhelmed with choices, you did something right.

Don’t look at opportunities as burdens; look at them as blessings.

 Dream big ... THINK BIG ... but remember:there’s no shame in starting small. 

If I had a dollar for everyone I knew whose first job was a CEO, President, surgeon or four-star general -- I would be broke.

And while it may not always feel like it when you’re starting out, remember: there is dignity in every job. There may be days when your job feels thankless. It’s not. No job is “thankless”, and no job is “less than.” You will serve an important purpose. You will provide a service to someone who wouldn’t have called on you if they could do it themselves. If your job wasn’t important, it wouldn’t exist. No matter what you do in life, do it in the spirit of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who said:

 “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, 

he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, 

or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. 

No work is insignificant. 

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance... 

and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” 

Most importantly... regardless of what “job” you do, make serving people your vocation. Do something worthy of the people who’ve come before you, and who’ve helped you get where you are.

I mentioned the movie “Saving Private Ryan” earlier. It’s one of the greatest war movies of all time, centered on the Greatest Generation in American history. The film takes place during the Invasion of Normandy during World War II. It follows a patrol of eight Army soldiers as they search for young Private James Ryan – determined to bring him home to his mother after his three brothers are killed in combat. Not a single member of the patrol survived the mission. Each of these men died, trying to bring one man home. The last to perish was Captain John Miller, commander of the squad. He was able to reach Private Ryan, before being fatally shot by enemy fire.  

In his dying breath – in his final words to young Ryan -- he said: “Earn this. Earn it.”

I believe this is a lesson that transcends the battlefield, or the set of a Spielberg movie. With the help of your teachers, your parents, and all who have sacrificed for you ...you have all made it to your high school graduation – the first major milestone of many to come. You are going to be handed a diploma, a ticket to the next stage in your life. 

Earn it.

Lead a life that is worthy of their sacrifice. Live honorably. Make a difference. Be a hard worker. Be a leader. Don’t be afraid to fail. As the old adage goes -- failure is not the falling down, but the staying down. Remember your principals. Keep in touch with your teachers. Call your parents. And, to borrow a sentiment from fellow Ohioan, Minor Myers Jr.:

“Go into the world and do well. 

But more importantly, go into the world and do good.”

 And while you live your life – striving to be good sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, students and colleagues -- and one day, mothers and fathers...whatever you become, remember that one of your most important roles, is citizen of this exceptional country. The freest on Earth. For as long as our nation has known independence, we’ve had good patriots on the front lines, fighting for it and dying for it. The best way to honor their sacrifice -- is by not taking it for granted. You have the right to speak your mind. Speak it. To believe in whatever faith you choose. Believe it. To purse the American Dream. Pursue it.

You have a right to participate in our great democracy. And soon, you will have the opportunity to vote in your first presidential election. Don’t waste it. Whoever you decide to vote for – just make sure you vote. Make your voice heard because it’s a privilege ...because it’s your responsibility...and because you can.

YOU are our NEXT Greatest Generation, and your decisions have the power to make history, and shape the future. Do it.

Your future is bright.So – FORKS UP...... and GO DEVILS!

 Congratulations on this day. You’ve earned it!