Senator Al Franken congratulates students on achievement
Hundreds of students walked across the stage to receive their diploma Friday, May 11, becoming graduates of Anoka-Ramsey Community College-Cambridge Campus (ARCC).
U.S. Senator Al Franken spoke to graduates and their families at the commencement ceremony at the Cambridge Community Center, telling them not to underestimate the power they have in improving the nation.
“When it comes to bouncing back in tough times, there’s no trampoline quite like education,” Franken said. “Education is as every bit important to our country as it was to each of you when you made the decision to come here.”
He explained that the percentage of adults ages 25 to 34 with a college degree is a statistic used to measure how educated a country is. In 1976, two in five Americans—40 percent—had a college education. America led the world at that time.
However, Franken said, fast forward to 2011, and 41 percent of Americans in that age bracket have a degree, “right around where we were 35 years ago. Over the course of those 35 years, we have fallen from first all the way down to 16th.”
Today, the options for those who don’t go to college are dwindling, he said. By 2018, 70 percent of the jobs in Minnesota will require some kind of postsecondary degree or credential like the ones graduates earned from ARCC.
“An educated population is in our national interest,” Franken said. “Community colleges are a big part of the answer—putting the key to a brighter future in the hands of more Minnesotans.”
He encouraged graduates to lead by example, saying they can make differences to help the country bounce back.
“While I know it’s customary for a commencement speaker to offer you advice, the truth is that I need your help more than you need mine. Our nation faces extraordinary challenges… We need to address our challenges, but it won’t come from a piece of legislation; it will come from the example that each of you sets for your community,” Franken said. “Don’t underestimate the difference you can make by sharing your passion for learning with those struggling to find their path. Don’t underestimate how inspiring your commitment to doing hard things could be with those tempted to give in to cynicism. Don’t underestimate how badly this country needs the resilience you’ve shown in getting to this day… I don’t just want to congratulate you today for your dedication and your resilience; I want to thank you.”
Student speaker Debora Mansell—a mother of three who became a full-time student while working full-time—said she worried about the cost and the time involved with going back to school, but she knew she had to do it for herself and her family.
“A little determination and a lot of hard work will get you everywhere,” she said, explaining she struggled from 16-hour work shifts one day to studying, doing homework and taking a test the next day.
“Those were the times when I would look myself in the mirror and say, ‘I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!’ Mansell joked, referencing Stuart Smalley, a fictional character invented and performed by Franken on Saturday Night Live.
Through all of the difficult times, however, Mansell never lost sight of her goal of becoming a nurse to help people.
“Don’t sit around and wait for good things to come to you; make things happen for yourself. Let the people who surround you see what’s inside you and be a role model and touch the lives of others,” she said. “Live life to the fullest; it goes by quickly. Don’t let ‘I can’t’ be a part of your vocabulary. Do something for yourself. Do something for others. Love life.”
The other student speaker, Allison Sivigny, is also a mother of three. Simultaneously attending classes at ARCC and St. Cloud State University, she earned her associate’s degree last semester and is on track to receive her bachelor’s degree in a year.
Sivigny spoke to graduates about the special moments when she would say to herself, ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’
“Today is the only day that you know you have. It’s up to us to choose how we’re going to spend that day. So while saying ‘I can’t believe I’m here,’ I found a determination to make each day count,” she said. “My litany of ‘I can’t believe I’m here’ has included both heartbreak and joy. What I’ve learned is that no matter how hard something may appear to be, I, like you, have the knowledge, the skills and the determination to work at it and to be successful. Life has a way of throwing all it can at each of us, and my question to you today is this: What are you going to throw back? As we go forth from here, we’ll each have some challenges thrown our way, as well as moments of great joy. We can choose to be the victim of life’s circumstances, and use them as an excuse to not reach our goals, our dreams and our potential. Or we can believe in our own greatness and continue on until we have reached the height of our dreams and beyond.”