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Secretary Cardona Delivers Commencement Address to University of Central Florida Class of 2023

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On May 5, 2023, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona delivered a commencement address to the graduates of the College of Business Administration and the College of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando, Florida. His remarks, as delivered, are available below: 

Good morning, University of Central Florida! How are we feeling? Buenas Dias!

President Cartwright, Provost Johnson, Dean Klonoff, Dean Jarley, Dean Berry, Chair Martin, members of the board and platform party, distinguished faculty, proud parents, families, and most importantly, students: it’s an honor to join you to celebrate the class of 2023!

You know, listening to all the achievements of UCF grads, I have to give a special shout out to one of your alums, from the class of 2015.

During her time as a student here, she got to meet former President Bill Clinton. And she told him that “Knights are going to change the world.”

That UCF grad is changing the world.  Her name is Chelsea Daley, and I’m proud to have her on the Department of Education’s digital team. Let’s give her a round of applause.

I’m happy to have her as part of the administration, part of the team… and by the way, we’re still hiring, so if anyone’s interested… Catch me outside!

Do we have any first-generation college students in the house?

That’s awesome. I love to hear that.

I’m so glad to join UCF on this momentous day. This is an exciting place, where everyone can succeed.

A university that not only drives incredible innovation, but that also supports students of all different backgrounds and prepares them to make a positive impact on the world.

This is what makes UCF special. You invest in student success, and you deliver it. This is what our country needs if we’re going to take on the big challenges of our time. Institutions like UCF that are committed to unleashing 100% of our talent.

And that’s not all that’s special about this place. UCF is a community. When times get tough, Knights band together.

The class of 2023 knows that better than anyone. Many of you arrived here as freshmen during what I like to call “the before times.”

You were brimming with excitement. Maybe a little nervous. About meeting new roommates. About living away from home. About keeping up with coursework.

But within a few weeks, this 1,400-acre campus began feeling like home.

You emerged from “Spirit Splash” triumphant, with your little rubber ducks in hand.

Classes started to pick up speed. Lifelong friendships began to bloom.

Some of you even fell in love – with Lazy Moon Pizza, of course.

Little did you know the challenges coming your way.  The pandemic arrived. The world shut down. Classes went virtual, virtually overnight. Some of you experienced loss. Others struggled financially.

All of you endured isolation and uncertainty.

But you made it through, class of 2023. You made it here, together.

And if surviving a pandemic was not enough, mother nature sent Hurricane Ian your way.  Many students lost their belongings, their housing.  And yet again, you pulled together.

You made it through. And you know: YOU can make it through anything!

Let’s take a moment to celebrate and acknowledge the remarkable resilience of the class of 2023.

Nothing can stop you. Your determination will serve you wherever go. And with your degree from UCF, you are going places!

But before you go anywhere, let’s remember how you got here.

Joining us are people who’ve believed in you from Day One, at times when you maybe didn’t even believe in yourself.

Parents, grandparents, and family members. People who’ve loved you, who’ve supported you, and in many cases, sacrificed for you, and for your dreams.

This is their day, too.  Let’s give it up for your families! And remember as you cross that stage you are fulfilling the hopes and dreams of those who came before you.

Today you graduate. Tomorrow, a new chapter begins.  My advice is to dream big and do what you love.

Our country faces major challenges. NEVER hesitate to take them on. ALWAYS embrace opportunities to lead. Who better than you?

I want to share a piece of advice I give everyone – my staff at the Department of Education, students I’ve taught, teachers and principals I’ve worked with throughout my career:

Every day is a job interview.

I’m not suggesting you show up to work every day with a fresh suit and sweaty palms. Or walk around with a copy of your resume in your back pocket.

What I mean is, bring your best each day.  Bring your passion, your ingenuity, your willingness to take on big challenges.

You never know when opportunity is going to come knocking.

A few years ago, I was an assistant superintendent in my hometown in Connecticut. One of 169 school districts in the state.

In January 2019, I snuck into the inauguration of our newly elected Governor Ned Lamont. My wife and I went together.

You know, I listened to his speech. To be honest, I don’t remember what he was saying. Just like I’m sure many of you probably won’t remember my speech here today.  I do remember him mentioning just seeing the musical Hamilton and how much he loved it.

In his speech, he just kept on talking about Hamilton.  He mentioned it like, at least three or four times. I filed that away in my mental rolodex. If you don’t know what a rolodex is, ask your parents!

Months later, I found myself interviewing for a job I never planned for – the Commissioner of Education for the state of Connecticut.

There I was, in the Governor’s office, having a conversation with him. That’s when I remembered that entry in my mental rolodex, about the Governor loving Hamilton.

So, we were interviewing, and as I got up to leave, I couldn’t resist dropping a line.   I looked him in the eye, shook his hand, and said, “Governor, just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry, and I’m not throwin’ away my shot!”

I got the job.

Every day is a job interview.

A few months in, just when I started to hit my stride in this new role, COVID hit and all hell broke loose.

I was working out of my basement, figuring out how to get resources to students and safely reopen our schools.

Later that year, still in my basement, I was on a virtual panel, for a national conference, speaking my mind about the pandemic’s impact on students.

I was talking passionately about how the inequities that have long existed in education grew even worse during the pandemic, how students hit hardest by the pandemic were often the ones furthest from opportunity to begin with.

I was talking about how we needed to seize the moment to raise the bar because our students deserved more.

Little did I know there was someone in the audience listening – the head of President-Elect Biden’s transition team. I was interviewing for a job I didn’t even know I was in the running for.

About a month later, still sitting in my basement, I come across an email, asking me if I had any interest in coming to Washington, D.C.

The rest is history.

Like I said, students: every day is a job interview.

Aim high, dream big, and most of all, stay young, scrappy, and hungry, and don’t throw away your shot!

Go, Knights! Charge on!

You’re going to have plenty of time to think about your careers and all that, but tonight, please party like it’s Cinco de Mayo – because it is!

Congratulations, class of 2023!

Thank you!

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