Remarks by Jamie P. Merisotis, President, Lumina Foundation for Education
Ivy Tech Commencement
May 7, 2011
Thank you, and good afternoon, graduates. I am honored to be here and to congratulate all of you on this life-changing day. It’s truly a privilege for me to join your professors and Ivy Tech’s board and administrators in acknowledging your achievement.
I’m told that Ivy Tech is set to award more than 12,000 degrees this month at 14 different commencement ceremonies. What an impressive achievement. For those of you here in Indianapolis, and indeed across our great state, those pieces of parchment represent years of hard work and sacrifice, and I commend all of you for that.
I want to take a moment here at the beginning to specifically congratulate the graduates’ families and friends. Without the patience and support of parents, spouses and other family members and friends, students simply don’t become graduates. So I salute all of you for this significant — and shared — achievement.
I don’t want to stop with congratulations, however. I also want to thank you for what you have done. You may not fully realize it now — particularly on a day like today, which is properly focused on celebrating personal victories — but the degree you’ve earned isn’t just about you, or even the loved ones who share this moment with you. It benefits all of us—as Hoosiers, and indeed as Americans. My hope is that, in my brief remarks today, I can help you see your achievement in that more expansive way.
Now I know I stand before you today as a guy who leads an organization that you may never have heard of. So, let me fill in a few blanks for you. When I do, I think you’ll find we have quite a bit in common.
First of all, we’re neighbors. Lumina Foundation is a national organization, but it’s based right here in Indianapolis — and I am very happy about that. I wasn’t born here, but this city is truly my home. My wife Colleen and I are raising two children here, and we care about what happens in this city and this state. For us — and I’m sure for many of you — living here just fits.
Like many of you, I am the first generation in my family to get a college education. More importantly, my entire career has centered on higher education. At Lumina Foundation, I’m lucky enough to lead the nation’s largest organization whose sole purpose is to extend the enormous benefits of college to millions more Americans. Our aim is to help students prepare for college, get into college and stay there until they reach a glorious day like this one: graduation day.
In a way, everything we do at Lumina points toward graduation day. We have a very clear goal — what we call “Goal 2025.” Simply stated, we want 60 percent of Americans to hold high-quality college degrees or credentials by the year 2025. Today — and really, for nearly half a century — the percentage of Americans with degrees is just 40 percent. So you can see we have our work cut out for us.
The thing is, Indiana is a wonderful base of operations for that work. You may not realize it, but this state is, in many ways, a national model for making college success a reality for more people. And Ivy Tech Community College — the place that, in just a few minutes, you’ll be able to call your alma mater — has been absolutely central to that effort. In a very short time, Ivy Tech has garnered a well-earned reputation for innovation, for collaboration and for student service. The college’s emphasis on meeting the needs of adult students, its creativity in addressing workforce needs, its ability to forge effective partnerships with other colleges and universities … all of these factors have helped make Ivy Tech a dynamic engine of progress here in Indiana.
They have also helped make Ivy Tech one of Lumina’s most highly valued partners. My colleagues and I are pleased and very proud to be working closely with Ivy Tech on a number of projects, all of them aimed at achieving that vital goal we share: Goal 2025.
And so you can see why I am thrilled to be here this afternoon to join Ivy Tech’s leaders in celebrating your milestone. Every success like yours — every degree earned, every certificate awarded — moves us closer to that ambitious goal of 60 percent.
But what excites me most about all of this has nothing to do with numbers. It has everything to do with people. Because, when I look out into this crowd today — into hundreds of proud and hopeful faces — I realize that I am looking into the face of change. I am looking into the very future of this nation, and indeed the future of the global community in which we all live.
You and your Ivy Tech classmates are part of an immensely powerful wave. You represent what many are increasingly calling the 21st century student. In short, you are the students of today and tomorrow, not those of yesterday.
You see, in many ways, American higher education wasn’t built for the 21st century student. In fact, college was originally designed to educate just a favored few.
Of course this has changed over the decades, most dramatically in the last half of the 20th century, thanks to the GI Bill and the development of the community college system that gave rise to such wonderful institutions as Ivy Tech. These and many other advances have opened the college doors much wider, to be sure. But they’re still not open wide enough. There are still far too many people who don’t go to college or who leave too early — people whose potential we need to develop, people whose talents we desperately need as a nation.
The 21st century student runs the gamut — racially, ethnically, and socially … From recent high school graduate to second-career retiree … From immigrant to native-born citizen … From part-time distance learner to full-time resident student … From GED completer to certificate seeker to evening MBA student … With roots in every country from Croatia to Cuba to China.
When we define the 21st century student, it can’t just be a semantic exercise. We must see you for who you are: our future. We must look forward and create a society in which all sectors — industry, government, education institutions, communities — see each of you as future leaders, taxpayers, and contributors to the standard of living we cherish so much.
Ivy Tech has done a truly wonderful job in reaching out and serving 21st century students. In fact, other institutions have much to learn from what is happening here — important lessons about the innovative use of technology as a teaching tool … about making a genuine commitment to serving adult students … about developing accelerated programs that allow students to earn degrees more quickly and at lower cost … about nurturing partnerships with businesses and with four-year institutions — partnerships that truly meet the needs of students, of the workforce, and of society as a whole.
As students, you have certainly benefited from Ivy Tech’s successes. But you also helped create those successes. After all, when all is said and done, without you — without your dedication and resolve and hard work — there would be no success to celebrate, whether individual or institutional.
You’ve worked hard to earn your spot in this ceremony. Today, with that piece of well-earned piece of paper in hand, every one of you is a step closer to realizing your dreams — and our society will be very much improved because of that.
I urge you to make the most of the opportunities before you. Because, my friends, the 21st century is here. And you are the 21st century. So keep striving and do great things — for your own sake, and for all of the rest of us who share this 21st century world with you.
Again, congratulations to each of you on this memorable day. And thank you for inviting me to be part of it.