Videos & Speeches

President Calaway, members of the board of trustees, faculty and staff, parents and graduates, thank you for the kind invitation to join you today. To the class of 2011: congratulations on your outstanding achievement.

I want to thank the parents, spouses and family members with us today who have sacrificed to make this day possible. When your son or daughter, or husband or wife graduates from college, it’s a wonderful day for your entire family.

If you ask these students who had the most influence on their lives, I bet not one would say “my Senator.” Most likely they would say their parents. Few things in life are more important than our jobs as moms and dads. As your son or daughter takes the next step in their life today – you can take pride in knowing you played an important role in their success. I know the graduates will join me in thanking you for your love and support.

I also want to thank the members of the faculty and staff. JCCC is fortunate to have excellent faculty members who impact students’ lives and work hard to prepare them for a successful career or a transition to another college. You have much to be proud of – because research shows your students continue to succeed after leaving JCCC. There is no more important, no more noble profession than teaching. Your decision to invest in the lives of young people is an honorable one, and I thank you for it.

Graduates: you have worked hard for this day. For some of you, today has been a long time in coming. Many of you have responsibilities beyond school –jobs and families to care for – and you will be returning to those responsibilities full-time after today. Others here are taking the next step forward in your studies. And this evening, some of you are fulfilling the dreams of generations in your family by becoming the first person to graduate from college. Congratulations on a job well done.

Addressing a class of graduates is a difficult task. It’s not easy to tell people how to live their lives or give them a recipe for guaranteed success. I suppose, in an attempt to make me feel better, people have told me not to worry, because “no one will be listening or remember what you said.” I guess that makes me feel better.

Your education here at JCCC has undoubtedly prepared you well. For more than four decades, JCCC has given thousands of Kansans access to an affordable, high-quality education and the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Many of you came here to learn new skills or get additional training for a new career.

JCCC has earned a reputation for academic excellence. One program in particular has gained international attention – your culinary and hospitality management program. I was impressed to learn that JCCC culinary students earned six international gold medals in 2007 and have won the National Junior Chef Culinary Team competition three times.

One of today’s graduates, Carmaleta Gilmore, enrolled in the hospitality program when her company downsized in 2008, and she had to look for a new job. While growing up, Carmaleta discovered her love for hospitality, so she decided to turn it into a career. Over the last two years, she has not only benefited from her talented instructors, but she has also grown personally and professionally. Here is what she had to say: “It has been one of the greatest experiences of my life to be here at this school. There are so many opportunities.” Congratulations Carmaleta on your accomplishment.

Another one of today’s graduates, Maxwell Matite, has a remarkable story – as a young boy, he grew up in Kenya and came to the United States after his father tragically passed away. He heard about JCCC from a friend and decided to move to Kansas and pursue a major in political science in the honors program – with the goal of one day serving in public office. This is what Maxwell had to say: “Working one-on-one with instructors to glean from their vast knowledge has been one of the highlights of my time at JCCC. My mentors have constantly pushed me for excellence. I’m looking forward to the future.”

This fall, Maxwell plans to attend American University in Washington, D.C., and was recently selected to receive a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship – one of only 60 given to scholars this year. Congratulations Maxwell on your achievement.

Graduates, for the next few minutes, I’d like to visit with you about the road ahead and the choices that lay before you. Whether you are continuing your education or about to start a new job, you will face many decisions over the next few years. But the question I’d like to ask you today is this: how do you define success? Is it defined by your resume? Or your job title? Or your salary?

I’d like to challenge you to think differently about success. In my view, true success is not marked by your achievements, but by the kind of person you become. So as you enter this new chapter in your life, I challenge you to become a person of character who pursues excellence and puts others first.

First, commit yourself to being a person of character. Your character in life is shaped by the principles you choose to follow and will stay with you for the rest of your life. I was fortunate to be raised by loving parents who taught me the value of honesty, the importance of personal responsibility and the necessity of integrity. I can still recall one of those early lessons.

As a seven year old, I once “found” six pop bottles – and in those days you could get three cents for each empty bottle – so I took them to the grocery store to “cash-in.” The only problem was that I had found the bottles in my neighbor’s back yard! As you can guess, my parents quickly found out. I still remember knocking on my neighbor’s door to explain my crime and hand over the eighteen cents.

A lot has changed since those days – and the “right” thing to do is not always the easiest thing to do. You will be faced with many difficult choices in life and many of those choices will test you and your character. But if we are to live meaningful lives and have any hope of addressing the problems of today, we must remember that there is a difference between right and wrong.

Secondly, commit yourself to pursuing excellence. In whatever you do, big or small, do it well. There is a difference between excellence and perfection. Things may not always turn out to be just perfect and that’s ok. Perfection has to do with the end product, but excellence has to do with the process. Becoming a person of excellence means that in every circumstance you make the most of your God-given talents and abilities.

I once heard a story about a recent college graduate and his experience on the first day of work. When he walked in that first morning, the manager greeted him with a handshake, gave him a broom and said: “Your first job will be to sweep out the store.” The young man had a puzzled look on his face and said: “But I’m a college graduate.” The manager replied: “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that – here give me the broom and I’ll show you how.”

I imagine he felt a little humbled by that comment. Your first task may not be to sweep out the store – but no matter how small you think the task may be, I challenge you to do your best. By doing so, you’ll earn respect, including self-respect, and more opportunities will come your way.

Lastly, commit yourself to serving others. I am convinced that success is not measured by what you get out of life, but by what you give back. We are often told that our country is in need of great leaders. But I believe what we really need are great servants – people who put others first. We all come from different backgrounds and have different abilities and talents – but we all have something to give. In my view, individuals who engage in their churches, schools and communities can have the greatest impact and change lives for the better.

In my life the talk is almost always about what’s going on in Washington, D.C.  And while what happens in our nation’s capitol is important, I believe that if we really want to change the world we do so one soul, one person at a time.

Many of you here today have taken the time to give back to this local community. Whether you helped create a food pantry for students, or helped raise scholarship funds for students participating in the “Start to Finish” program, I commend you for your service to others.

Graduates, in life, each of us has a higher calling. Not just to make a dollar, but to make a difference. Not just to find happiness, but to fulfill a purpose. No job, regardless of the salary or perks, can take the place of a life committed to a purpose greater than yourself. Tony Snow, a White House Press Secretary who lost his life to cancer, told a graduating class shortly before he died that “to love is to acknowledge that life is not about you.”

The world is a large and wonderful place and this is your moment to step into it. Remember that true success is not marked by your achievements, but by the kind of person you become - so I challenge you to become a person of character who pursues excellence and puts others first.

Let me leave you with a few words spoken by one of Kansas’ most famous sons – President Dwight D. Eisenhower – more than half a century ago to a gathering of college students: “Sooner or later the day will come when the decisions which control the affairs of your community, your nation, your world, must be made by another generation – yours. The nation’s future is what you make it. … I have faith in America’s young men and women, and in the future they will build.”

I stand here today with that same optimism for the class of 2011.  Clearly our country faces many challenges, but you are armed with your education and the character bred into you by family, friends and faculty. We have every right to be hopeful for your lives and for your futures.  We need the chance to change the world and God has always given us that. Congratulations to the class of 2011.