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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at Montclair State University Convocation for the College of Science and Mathematics, As Prepared

As prepared for delivery.

It’s wonderful to be back in New Jersey. I’m proud to join you on this special occasion, to honor all of the work you’ve done, and mark this milestone in your lives.

First, let me congratulate you as one scientist to many others. I have degrees in chemical engineering. And my mother will be proud to know that I now have a doctorate. I know how hard you worked to get here. I know that your rowdy college nights were spent with phenotypes, chemical reagents and differential equations. But I also know how the knowledge you have can serve you, and serve the world. The potential you’ve created for yourself is extraordinary.

Let me also acknowledge that none of this would have been possible without all the parents, teachers, mentors, neighbors and friends that helped along the way. We all owe them a big round of applause as well. So please join me.

I’ve been granted the privilege of welcoming you into the world as (almost) college graduates. This is your world now. That’s not just lofty, graduation rhetoric. The proof of what your generation can make possible is already evident.

Most of the people here probably never believed they would see an African American President in their lifetimes. I certainly didn’t. But young people like you stepped up and made it happen. You made it look easy.

From now on, every generation gets to live in an America where a woman, an African American, a Latino, an Asian or anyone else can become President. And all we do is shrug and say, “Well, where is she on health care? What’s his education policy? What are they going to do about social security?” Future generations will never realize how blessed they are to take something like that for granted.

And your ability to make change is orders of magnitude greater – because you chose to study science and mathematics. Nothing has altered the daily life of people all across the world so much as the advances in your fields. And the pace of innovation and exploration shows no sign of slowing, even in today’s economy. The ways we learn, the ways we cure sickness, the ways we power our homes and cars, and the ways we protect our environment have progressed faster than anyone ever expected. The political change I just mentioned wouldn’t have happened without the new tools only available in this moment in history. All of that is because of what scientists and researchers brought into the world.

You have claimed the mantle of leadership in our country. The world is watching to see what you’re going to do next. Whatever direction you decide to take this world is the direction it’s going to go. That’s a special, historical, unprecedented privilege. And with that great power comes great responsibility.

If you don’t bring change to the planet, then the planet will bring change to you. There is a possible future out there defined by economic turmoil, environmental destruction, and security threats around every corner. But those are just warning signs on a road we don’t have to go down.

I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t entirely optimistic about your future. None of us would be here if we didn’t believe in the extraordinary amount of good that you can do. You have the capacity to make change in ways that no other generation has ever known before. Your thoughts and ideas reach farther. Your technology is faster and stronger. Your world is smaller but your horizons are so much broader.

In the years ahead, where we worry over rising sea levels, we can instead celebrate rising standards of living. Concerns over widespread poverty can be transformed into the thrill of widespread opportunity. Rather than waiting anxiously for the next devastating disease, we can work passionately to find the next great cure.

We have a planet that needs saving. And you are the generation that is ready to do it. Thank you again class of 2009. Congratulations on your graduation.