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Spring 2011 Commencement Speech

Judith A. Canales

Following is the text of Ms. Judith Canales's Commencement Speech:

President Keck, members of the board of trustees, members of the administration, faculty and staff, distinguished guests, friends and families and most of all, the Texas A&M International University Graduating Class of 2011.  I am deeply honored to be here and it is a tremendous privilege to be addressing you today. 

As a member of the Obama Administration, I bring greetings and best wishes to you on behalf of President Barack Obama and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.  President Obama recently stated that in today's global economy, economic progress and education achievements are linked.  A high-quality education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity - it is a prerequisite to success.

And success is certainly in the forefront as I witness today's event with the hundreds of graduating students here at Texas A&M International University as well as marvel in the vast campus that this proud institution has become.  The growth of this university that has transpired at this location over the past two decades is remarkable.  Community leaders of Laredo, Texas are to be commended for your dedication in establishing a world-class educational institution in south Texas.

As a native of south Texas, born and raised in Uvalde and with family roots in Eagle Pass, Texas, it is a joy to join with you in this celebration.  I am also a product of south Texas educational institutions as a graduate of Uvalde High School and Southwest Texas Junior College.  I continued with my education earning a bachelor's degree at the University of Texas at Austin and completing a master of arts degree at Trinity University in San Antonio.

As a college student, I was inspired to public service through an internship that I received working for the Member of Congress who represented the 23rd Congressional District for 18 years.  I served in the Washington, D.C. office of the Honorable Congressman Abraham Kazen of Laredo.  This internship made a profound impact on me and it represented the first of four opportunities in my career to work in Washington, D.C.    This early exposure to Washington, D.C. along with internships that I held with the City of San Antonio and City of Phoenix were a great launch into public administration and public service.  I returned to Washington, D.C. and gained public policy experience by working with national nonprofit organizations including the National Council of La Raza which focuses on how public policy impacts the Latino community in the United States.  Building on this experience, I then served as the Legislative Representative in the Washington, D.C. for the City of New York.      

Next, Bill Clinton became President of the United States.  I worked seven of the eight years of the Clinton Administration, first at HUD when Henry Cisneros was HUD Secretary.  After HUD, I earned a second masters degree attending Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government.  Upon graduation, I returned to the Clinton Administration and joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development as Deputy State Director for Texas.

After working in the Clinton Administration, I returned to south Texas inspired to pursue a long-standing goal, that of elective office.  I ran for public office and while I was not elected, it was an invaluable experience and it is one that I will pursue again.  I worked for the City of Eagle Pass as the Assistant City Manager and in economic development as the Executive Director for the Maverick County Development Corporation.

Upon the election of President Obama, I received my second presidential appointment serving in the Administration as the Administrator for USDA Rural Development Rural Business and Cooperative Programs in Washington, D.C. 

But it is indeed the upbringing from my south Texas heritage that I believe carries the day.  Because in order to attain educational and professional achievement, you must establish your goals but you must follow through on them.  This means setting a game plan that includes hard work as well as developing the stamina to help you overcome the challenges that you will certainly encounter.  In my case, my goals were to pursue and achieve a higher education and to dedicate my professional career to public service.  The journey towards public service as in any field is filled with opportunities and challenges.

You have reached a critical point by accomplishing this major step today.  A college degree is an invaluable asset that serves as the foundation for your personal and professional development.  But your education does not rest at this juncture.  The lifelong learning must continue. 

I also want to present you with a challenge.  Consider your role in public service.  Ask yourself what can I do to make a difference in my community?  I suggest to you that the answer begins with a responsibility that we all have in this country which is to actively engage in civic duty.  What does this mean?  Get involved at the local level.  You may volunteer, you may work with young children or with elderly persons.  You may tutor students or register community residents to vote.  Or you may aspire as I do, to serve in elected office at the local, state, or national level.  The important mission is to get involved and do so unselfishly.

President John F. Kennedy stated, “Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.”

Fifty years later, President Barack Obama calls upon you to become leaders in your community, to contribute to its betterment and ultimately this great nation.  I also ask you to consider federal service.  We have career opportunities in the federal government particularly USDA.  The opportunities are boundless, this is a pivotal time in your life.  Seize it and make the very best happen.  We do not know what the future holds, but what we do know, is that the future of this great national is in your hands. 

Congratulations to the Texas A&M International University Class of 2011, on reaching this important milestone.  You, your parents and your family should be very proud of this achievement. 

God Bless you and God bless the United States of America.


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