Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
All-Washington Academic Team
March 7, 2002

Many thanks, Leesa (Bahrt), for that kind introduction. I’m delighted to be here.

Thanks, as well, to the terrific culinary art students who put this reception together.

Today is a remarkable day for so many people -- for families, friends and all those gracious souls who knew that you’d excel and thrive. I’m honored to participate and to applaud your achievements.

A few years ago, many of you gathered here were raising your children and living your lives without an inkling of returning to school. But you did return -- whether it was to expand your job skills, launch a new career or simply feed a natural yearning for knowledge. Whatever the reasons, whatever the motivations, the outcome is awesome: You’ve proven to yourselves, to your professors and to your peers that you are the very best.

The 2002 All-Washington Academic Team represents an extraordinary range of people. Some of you are “running start” students -- teenagers such as Megan McPherson of Columbia Basin College and Anton Preisinger of Everett Community College. Some of you are older, returning students committed to new careers and new interests -- people like William Wright of Bellingham Technical College and Melannie Cunningham of Bates Technical College.

Together, you reflect a cross-section of backgrounds, races and income levels. Collectively, you’re living proof that we live in a meritocracy -- people can work their way to the top -- one homework assignment and one final exam at a time!

Our community and technical colleges remain the great equalizers. They allow us to cast a very wide net. They allow us to spread a culture of learning and, in turn, a culture of prosperity to all of our citizens.

The stitching together of multiple cultures is the essence of the American experiment. It is from this blending -- this diversity -- that we draw our vitality and that we fold together into a wholly unique and vibrant country. We can’t lose that.

I want to talk to you today -- you, our best and brightest -- about social justice in the Pacific Northwest and in this country, about the “City of the Have’s” versus the “City of the Have-Nots.” What does this divide, this growing polarization based on class and race and geography, say about our priorities and values as a society? And what can we do, as community members, as students, as citizens who may have been part of the “Have Nots,” to bind the wounds and rip down the walls dividing us?

Some of you probably know the story of Saint Francis of Assisi. His way of ripping down the walls was to strip naked… hand his clothing to his wealthy father… and walk out the door of his fine house into a lifetime of service to the voiceless poor.

I’m not saying we must all follow the way of Saint Francis in order to address social injustice. We can do much from just where we stand. We can look and then we can act.

Class separation was starker in the early days of Washington statehood: Timber barons settled in the mansions on the hill; the working poor represented the majority. The contrast was stark, reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ London: Rich and poor divided.

Thankfully, the era of an oppressive class divide eroded over time and a new political culture emerged. We witnessed the development of an entrepreneurial culture, fueled by immigrants from Scandinavia, Asia, Europe and from throughout the United States, and driven by the promise of the American dream of freedom and opportunity.

After the Second World War, Washington could boast of a solid middle class, with family-wage jobs in aerospace, food processing, aluminum production and manufacturing.

Our politics, like our people, were progressive and expansive: Big hydropower dams, big university education and big social-service programs.

That era of a larger-than-life public sector has passed. But our responsibilities to our neighbors have not.

What can we do? We can begin to take a part in public life. We can begin to build up society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom. How? By investing in community.

I want to challenge all Washingtonians to consider the role they play in being a BIG CITIZEN of our state. It takes an informed and active citizenry to step forward and propose solutions, serve on public boards or commissions, volunteer time to be a reading tutor or serve meals to homebound seniors, and make time for people in need.

In the aftermath of September 11, we want a stronger America. We build it one community at a time.

It’s just not enough to vote every few years. It takes all of us working together to make this wonderful experiment in democracy meaningful to all who call themselves Americans.

Now, all of you gathered here have come a long way to be members of the All-Washington Academic team. You’ve already demonstrated that you’re the very best --that you’re a BIG CITIZEN. I hope -- and I believe in my heart of hearts -- that you’ll extend that sense of excellence and service to your community. That after college is behind you and in the years ahead, you’ll remind yourselves of the men and women who are struggling or are on a similar path. I’m confident that you’ll reach out to them, pull them up and remind them of your stories.

That’s what makes you both good students AND good citizens.

Thank you and congratulations.

Now, I’m honored to present a certificate to the 2002 “New Century Scholar,” Melanie Smith, of Tacoma Community College. Melanie delayed school until her seven children were older. Now she studies at TCC with her eldest daughter. Melanie has been active as the Phi Theta Kappa regional recording officer and Chi Gamma chapter president, as TRIO Club vice president and student government senator. She also finds time for community service while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average! Melanie’s goal is to attend law school and work as a youth advocate in the juvenile justice field. Congratulations to Melanie!
Related Links:
- Locke honors All-Washington Academic Team

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