At colleges and universities across America, a wave of commencements is underway. For thousands of students, crossing the threshold and becoming graduates is a moment when everything is possible.
And for the Class of 2013 at Gallaudet University, a world leader in educating deaf and hard of hearing students, this is particularly true. Because the 144th graduating class at Gallaudet has already faced their share of adversity, and they have responded with their share of boldness.
I was honored to speak at Gallaudet's commencement ceremony last Friday. As a member of the Gallaudet Board of Trustees from 1997 to 2009, I welcomed the opportunity to return to the Kendall Green campus and challenge the Class of 2013 to continue being bold. It's a challenge I'm sure they will have no difficulty meeting head-on.
After all, boldness is in their blood--it’s been there all along. When other kids treated them differently. When the clerk at the grocery store was unable to answer a simple question because they couldn’t sign. When people misunderstood their abilities, and so dismissed their dreams.
Boldness helped them overcome the many obstacles they’ve faced throughout their lives, and it will continue to push them along and help them pursue their big dreams.
America is no stranger to boldness. From the moment the first colonists left their homes, we have demonstrated to the world our willingness to press forward boldly. In 1817, the boldness of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet--for whom the University is named-- helped him co-found the first school for the deaf in the United States.
Boldness was a hallmark of President Abraham Lincoln, who signed the charter for Gallaudet University in 1864. It was with him when he assembled as his Cabinet a Team of Rivals, when he signed the bill that led to the first transcontinental railroad, and when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
In 2009, some of my own colleagues thought it was bold of me to accept President Obama's invitation to join his Cabinet as Secretary of Transportation. I don't know about that--in fact, it was probably bolder of the President to nominate me, a lifelong Republican.
But if there was any boldness in my decision, it was in my willingness to look beyond what divided us and focus on what President Obama and I shared: a deep passion to get things done for the American people. And to me, in this political climate, the willingness to look past our differences is the most important form of boldness I can urge upon today's graduates.
At DOT, we help communities build transportation projects. Some of them are big, and some of them are not. But all of them are the product of people who have boldly put their differences aside to work together.
Being bold requires us to work together. It requires civility. It requires compromise. College students understand this. They have lived side-by-side with and become friends with people who are different from them. And they have come to know and love their friends not just despite their differences, but even because of them.
Today's graduates--from Gallaudet and elsewhere--are bold; this nation is fortunate to have them. We might even learn a thing or two from them.
Congratulations to the Class of 2013 across America. Good luck and Godspeed.