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Westridge School Graduation Commencement

Mayor Bill Bogaard
Westridge Graduation 2013
June 7, 2013

On June 7, 2013, Mayor Bogaard delivered the commencement address at Pasadena’s Westridge School, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary.  Sixty-nine young women received their diplomas amid the cheering and applause of family and friends.  The Mayor also presented an official commendation celebrating the School’s anniversary.  His remarks are set forth below: 

SOME ELEMENTS OF LEADERSHIP AND SUCCESS 

I am honored to share the excitement of Westridge commencement; to congratulate each of the students who is graduating; and with them, to bask in the glory of achievement and success. 

Graduations are wonderful occasions!  I can’t think of anyone here who does not share the happiness:  the graduates, the teachers and school staff, parents, friends and relatives.  With such a milestone, everyone shares at least a great sense of relief!  “We made it!”, the graduates say; “They made it!”, the others say, everyone having in mind the moments of uncertainty, frustration and fatigue along the way.

But more importantly, there is no greater feeling than success, accomplishment, not having to go back.  So at events like this, there is excitement about what has been accomplished, and anticipation about the future—about great things that are to come. 

I want to begin with congratulations to Westridge as a distinguished academic institution, and to all of the persons, who today and over the years, have contributed to its success.  This is the 100th year since Westridge was established under the direction of Mary Lowther Ranney. It is known far and wide as an excellent school, determined to be in the forefront of responding to young women in learning all subjects, including math and science.  In recent times, along with the construction of the science building, the  school has been "energizing" its science curriculum for the 21st century - expanding from biology, physics and chemistry to include electives in cellular and molecular biology, ecology, anatomy and physiology, as well as partnerships in research with  Caltech and Children’s' Hospital.

So 2013 is a milestone for Westridge School, and one that will surely inspire the young women to think of themselves as capable of success and leadership in all fields of future endeavor.  On behalf of a proud and grateful community, I offer congratulations to Westridge School.

Then, I hasten to congratulate the Class of 2013 for all of your accomplishments, in the classroom and in the rich variety of other activities that make up the Westridge experience.  Outside the classroom, you are involved in organizations, and programs and projects that offer opportunities for experience and leadership.  I know from my conversations with students that they consider the outside activities nearly as important as courses in the classroom. 

This group of graduates entered the ninth grade at the time of the worst economic recession in 60 years, which impacted not only the United States, but the entire world.  In recent times, it is reassuring to see signs of economic recovery, and let us hope that the apparent recovery continues in the months and years ahead. 

During the recession, a question that caught my attention is whether a college degree is worth it.  We all know that achieving a degree is hard work and extremely costly, and there are some who have raised the question of cost benefit.  While I have not heard that question around Westridge, I want to offer the view, emphatically, that a college degree is definitely worth it, and is a sensible, important goal for any young person.

A couple of weeks ago in the New York Times an article appeared with the headline: “College Graduates Fare Well in Jobs Market, Even Through the Recession.”  It reported that evidence suggests that college graduates have suffered through the recession and the slow recovery with remarkable resilience.  The unemployment rate for graduates in April was a mere 4.3 percent, compared with 7.5 percent for the workforce overall.  College graduates are the only group that has more people employed today—by a factor of 9%--than when the recession started.  High school graduates are down 9% and those with less than high school are down 14%.

So, assuming the only goal of college is getting a job—and it is certainly an important one—I would argue that every young person benefits enormously by getting a college degree, even during troubled economic times.

Beyond that, we know there is more to college than receiving a paycheck.  College is about history and math, physics, biology, economics, and other subjects—knowledge which enriches our lives and helps us understand, appreciate and grapple with the experience of life.  College is about pursuing limits, discovering talents, transcending boundaries.  So, to the graduates, as you prepare for college this fall, you are definitely on the right track.

Recently I met with members of seniors and we had a wonderful conversation about their years at this great school, about the celebration in which they were engaged, and about what the future holds.  In that discussion, one of the questions was “What are the requirements of leadership and success?” I understood that perhaps they were hoping I would offer my views on that complicated subject.

Let me begin by telling about a young man who graduated last month from USC’s Keck School of Medicine, with a Master’s in Public Health.  He is a remarkable person  named Jaime Gonzalez, about whom I learned from the Los Angeles Times about the same time I met with the students.

According to the report, he walked to the graduation ceremony with his parents from the tiny south central Los Angeles apartment he grew up in, only five minutes from the USC campus.  It was the same walk his mother took him on thousands of times when he was a small boy, when she willed her son to take one more slow, painful step, then another.  “Please, Jaime, you can do it,” she would plead, and he did.

When he was born 29 years ago, the doctors told his parents that his physical birth defects were so serious that he would probably never see his first birthday.  When Jaime proved them wrong, the doctors said to buy him a wheelchair, because he would never walk, even with the countless surgeries he would need on his severely deformed legs and feet.  But Jaime walked.  Not great and never fast, but he walked.

In 2002, he graduated with honors from Reseda High School. 

During his time at USC, he went from being the kid on campus everyone averted their eyes from because they felt sorry for him to becoming one of the most popular kids on campus.  And he had brains.  Every prestigious university in the country wanted him, but it was the neighborhood university he saw every day on those slow, painful walks to physical therapy with his mother that was lucky enough to land him. 

Dr. Erin Quinn, former Dean of Admissions for the Keck School, said:

“I’d see him struggling to get across campus to be on time for
his next class, and think what an incredible kid. He has a resilience
and inner strength I’ve rarely seen.  He’s going to be one terrific
doctor.”

He had wanted to be a surgeon and perform operations like those performed on him so many times, but he knew he couldn’t stand for long periods over an operating table.  And he knew he could never move quickly enough when the call came to “Move it, doctor…we’ve got an emergency!”  Next week, he leaves to take his first job as Jaime Gonzalez, M.D., caring for the children of migrant field workers in a Salinas family health clinic. 

His parents held down multiple jobs and double shifts to support their son, and to provide daily physical therapy sessions just a few blocks from the USC campus where the young doctor graduated with a Masters in Public Health.  They still live in the same apartment, still work the same jobs.  Jaime says he wants to hang up his shingle one day in the old neighborhood.  He knows the families living on those streets could use some quality healthcare, and he wants to give it to them. 

Although not yet 30, Dr. Gonzalez has already demonstrated leadership and success.  We know that his record of achievement will only continue.  So let me try to identify characteristics that, in my view, contribute to all that he has and will accomplish. 

There is no doubt that he has intelligence and good training; he is willing to work hard; he has passion for his work; and he has courage and character.  I am confident he is a good listener and has great empathy, with the ability to put himself in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from himself—the child who’s hungry, the worker who’s been laid off, the farmer who has lost his crop when a heavy storm sweeps by.

So I would suggest that leadership and success depend on intelligence and good training; hard work; passion; courage; and character.  Good listening skills and empathy are essential. 

I want to point out that these qualities—except for intelligence—are not ones that we are born with.  They’re not like the color of eyes or one’s height.  They’re not qualities that are beyond our control.  You can decide how hard you’ll work and you can learn to be a good listener.  So I urge you to make these choices soon, if you haven’t already.  And I hope you will assure yourself that you will achieve your goals, no matter where life takes you.

So, graduates, congratulations once again.  We are proud of you.  You should be proud of yourselves.  Best wishes for the future. 
In closing, let me quote from Mark Twain:  “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor…Explore.  Dream.  Discover.”
 

Posted: 6/7/2013 02:05:00 PM