Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
B’nai B’rith Champion of Youth Banquet
November 2, 2003
Good evening. Thank you, Governor Rosellini, for that kind introduction. Incidentally, I am very proud of the fact that Governor Rosellini and I share the same birthday. He remains so energetic and active that I sometimes think that includes the same birth year.
And thanks to the Greater Seattle B’nai B’rith Community Foundation for this honor. And for your many years of outstanding contributions to our community.
As Mona said, we are deeply honored to be recipients of this award.
Standing here, I remember something I heard once that bears repeating: We are who we are because of someone else.
We are changed and formed by the people in our lives. Try though we may, we don’t have complete control over the persons we become. We need others to show us the way. We are who we are because of someone else.
There were many “someone elses” who made all the difference for me.
I remember a camping trip I took with my Aunt Mary and Uncle Fong when I was just five years old.
I will never forget the sense of awe I felt as we walked in the rain forest of the Olympic Peninsula. The thrill of standing beside a wild river waiting for a fish to strike. That eye-opening introduction to forests and swift-flowing rivers filled me with an enthusiasm for the outdoors.
My parents ran a grocery store that was open seven days a week. They lived an unbelievably selfless and disciplined work ethic. They taught me the importance of getting a good education, working hard, and helping others. Values that became a part of me and my life.
But it was very difficult for my Dad to break away from the store and our family’s livelihood. Knowing my enthusiasm for the outdoors, my parents urged me to join the Boy Scouts, and I jumped at the chance.
Scout leaders became an extended family, more “someone elses” in my life. And Scouting was a great adventure. I eventually became an Eagle Scout, and the fun—and learning—never stopped.
I became very active in the Order of the Arrow. Through all my high school and most of my college summers, I worked at Camp Omache in the Cascades. Second best job I ever had! My scouting experiences became a part of me.
There were other “someone elses” in my life. My 6th grade teacher, Mr. Grefton. Mr. Grefton encouraged me. He assigned me to write a report on a particular topic. I became very energetically interested in it. I read everything I could get my hands on. Spent countless hours putting the report together. When I gave my report to the class, Mr. Grefton told me he liked it so much he wanted me to present it to other classes too. I left school that day walking on air.
I also left with something very valuable. What Mr. Grefton really conveyed to me that day was that I had worth. That I could learn. That I could achieve high goals. That, too, became a part of me.
I was not confident that I would succeed in college. School wasn’t easy for me. I sometimes struggled. I worked very hard and never considered myself among the best and the brightest. I was often one of the last ones to finish the test. I seemed always to need more hours of study than some of my quicker classmates.
But my family, my friends, and my teachers believed in me. They supported and helped me. They encouraged me. And their encouragement gave me the courage to believe in myself. And that became a part of me too.
Every one of us could tell such a story. We are who we are because of someone else, the people who made a difference in our lives.
Today’s youth desperately need people to make a difference in their lives. Never have the pressures and challenges been greater.
The information explosion, an affluent society, and greater mobility make trouble easier to find. Pervasive pop-culture icons and pseudo-values make it easier for young people to believe they aren’t measuring up, aren’t cool enough, aren’t good enough.
Hard-working parents and over-burdened teachers make individual attention and quality time elusive. These factors are a formula for bad decisions and dire, lasting consequences.
Too often, the “someone else” for kids today is a video game, cable TV show, or Internet chat site. A drug or a gang or a street scene. These are not good ways to become all that one can be.
The problems start so early. Grade-schoolers are exposed to dangers and unhealthy influences. Many receive too little family or community support. Mona and I, like all parents, worry about what Emily and Dylan might be exposed to and whether we’ve prepared them for it.
It has never been more important to be a champion of youth. It has never been more important to be that “someone else” who helps a young person along the way.
Programs that benefit children and young people need our help—and our time and money. Let me thank all of you for doing just that tonight. Proceeds from this dinner will benefit some great causes for kids:
· The Hands on Children’s Museum
· Study Buddy, a literacy program for schoolchildren
· B’nai B’rith Youth Organization
· B’nai B’rith Hillel at theUniversity of Washington, which helps students express and develop their Jewish identity and distributes toys to children in homeless shelters; and
· The Anti-Defamation League, which sponsors the “World of Difference” tolerance series in Seattle area schools.
As Mona said, we must start early, at birth. Early learning can be the launch pad for a lifetime of exploration, accomplishment and fulfillment. Studies show that two-thirds of all brain growth occurs during the first three years of life. There’s a window of opportunity to help children develop into caring, loving, individuals. Miss that window, and that person may face physical, emotional or psychological challenges for the rest of their life.
We must nurture and encourage and help all kids early, from birth on.
We must also get parents and communities more involved. Parents must become better informed and more directly involved with their kids. More parents need to play a more active role in their kids’ schools and extra-curricular activities. And communities must be more engaged in serving youth. It’s true that it takes a village to raise a child. Communities must consciously live that truth in their planning and activities.
Finally, the greatest gift we all have to give is the gift of ourselves. Our time.
If we want young people to learn that they have worth, we must show them that they are worth our time. If that means canceling a meeting, tearing ourselves away from the desk and computer, or skipping the 5:00 o’clock news report or a round of golf, we’d better be prepared to do it. Because if we neglect our youth, we forsake our future.
Forgive me—I preach to the choir. But let’s leave tonight with renewed determination to help our babies, our schoolchildren, our adolescent teens, our young men and women. Let’s convince our fellow citizens that we must all be champions of youth.
Jonas Salk once said: “Good parents give their children roots and wings. Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what’s been taught them.”
Let’s give the children of our state the roots to know and love their family and community. Let’s help them to know who they are and that they belong. And let us give them wings to soar into a bright future for themselves—and for us all.