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Contact: Jim Gavin
Secretary Rokita suggests graduates could be so good at their work, they could make themselves unneeded
(Indianapolis) – Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita delivered the commencement address to outgoing graduates of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) this weekend. The graduation ceremonies were held Sunday, March 10, 2009, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.
The text of Secretary Rokita's prepared remarks follows:
Thank you Dean McSwane.
I want to add my thank you and congratulations to each of you out there who are mothers because you are very responsible in many ways for this day. On behalf of the graduates, thank you very much, and I hope this school and others across Indiana continue the tradition – as much as they can – to have these ceremonies, like this ceremony, on Mothers' Day.
I know my place in this ceremony by the way. I'm in the way of you getting your diplomas. I'm in the way of some good "eats," good festivities for sure, and some well-deserved time with your family. So, I promise not to go more than 50 minutes or so.
There are some things I do want to get out to you all as fellow public servants. And I use that term specifically today. The first is – going back to mothers – never ever let this work, this work we do together, get in the way of your family. This job isn't that important, no job is that important. I've seen it time and time again in my own staff, in my colleagues, fellow statewide officials. Because this is the kind of work we're in, serving others – we end up serving others more than we serve our own families. It's addicting. It can happen. It's real. Don't let it. No work, even that of public service, is so important that you would be better off to sacrifice your family.
I take immense joy in being your Secretary of State, mainly because I love Indiana right down to every corn field and neighborhood. And when you go to all 92 counties every year, you have to love it! But unlike other statewide office holders – maybe the governor, or maybe superintendent of public instruction – my title, "secretary of state," is like a title you may have when you use your degree. It's a little bit amorphous; it's different from state to state. It makes for some interesting moments.
I remember one time not too long ago where a lady came up to me because she heard the Secretary of State was in the room. She was very particular about telling me she was going to come to the statehouse the next week to see all of the offices. She was going to be there on a particular day and at a certain time and she intended to see the governor. Like many of you would probably do in the same situation, I nodded my head politely and smiled. She finally got so frustrated with me that she stuck what was her boney finger in my chest and said, "Young man, young man, why aren't you writing any of this down?" So, I did and I started writing it down. It wasn't until two conversations later that I realized what she was talking about: I was the secretary … of the state, as if I take notes for the governor! So I did. The next day I went to the governor's office and said, "This lady thinks she has an appointment with the governor, and I suggest he see her."
The best way to describe my job is that it's the intersection of law, business and government. Dean McSwane was nice enough to tick off several of our office's accomplishments. If it was any other group that I was speaking to, I would have jumped up and cut him off, but I wanted you to hear some of these things we have been able to do because they are not my accomplishments, they are all of ours. As graduates of SPEA, this is what drives us: effectiveness in public service, performance measures. This is what gets us out of bed everyday – the idea that we might serve others. Again, this is what drives us – that love of service for others.
But I want to be clear that today is not my day. It's not the state's day. It is Mothers' Day as we mentioned. It's your family's day to a certain extent, but mostly and especially with regard to the ceremony, this is your day. So, I offer these remarks in that spirit in complete honor of you and in complete congratulations, with the humble hope that you may use some of these remarks not only in your professional practice, but especially in your practice of life.
Note that I've called you public servants. Note that I named you fellow public servants. I said that specifically, first out of respect for each and every one of you for your work, but also to signify that we are indeed in this together and we serve the same public regardless of educational background, regardless of faith background and regardless of our philosophy of governing.
(By the way, it is true, while I studied political philosophy in the finest liberal arts fashion at the alma matter of Dean McSwane, your curriculum appears to be less esoterical, more "nuts and bolts," more practical, which means one clear and obvious thing to me: and that is, unlike me, you are employable! So, congratulations on your choice of disciplines.)
I also want to note here what SPEA stands for, and not just the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. That's easy enough. I'm thinking about your publicly stated core values: community involvement, responsibility, purposeful action, positive change. Nice words all of them, but what do they mean? What do they mean to you? Can you apply your degrees to these core values? Did you know your school had core values?
We have core values at the Secretary of State's office, but I will be the first to admit that we probably don't visit with them enough. They are posted, but how do we know they are employed on a day-to-day basis? What will guide our staffs that we manage? I want to at least focus on one of them now: responsibility.
I am pleased to see that you and your faculty recognize the role that responsibility plays in the lives of those who are part of what is supposed to be – supposed to be – a free society. I am especially encouraged to see such a core value used at an institution that prepares individuals for careers in government, because if you view government the way I view government – that is to say the correct way – it's that there is an indirect correlation to the size and scope of government and the degree of responsibility an individual has to maintain in that society.
One way of saying this is: the bigger and more controlling a government is, the less responsibility individuals need and indeed are allowed to have. And a third and final way to describe this form of government is to call it a "nanny state."
So let me say right from the beginning that our Founders intended for us to carry out a form of government that was anything but a "nanny state," the opposite of such, in essence… a very limited government, that would in turn allow, in fact promote and demand, that individuals prosper and grow because of the freedom to do so. And to bear the fruits of their own labor – without government interference.
The one required ingredient for all of this is your core value: responsibility.
Limited government only works when people – individuals and small groups – are largely responsible for others, and when we are responsible, ultimately, for ourselves.
Of course, this all points to (you know where I'm heading) needing less government. And I dare say, if we need less government because we teach, encourage and demand more personal responsibility, then we might eventually come to the conclusion that we need less SPEA graduates because we've gotten our government so small – maybe even down to 1987 dollars like the budget my office just turned in.
But what a dream and what an accomplishment I would think that would be and that's why I'm so pleased to see responsibility as one of your core values.
So, I ask you graduates this question: Which ones among you would take your public service so seriously as to follow the intent of our Founders, as laid out in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitutions? – Something I don't think our government overall has done very well recently.
Which ones of you are willing to be so good at what you do, that your job won't be needed anymore because you accomplished the ultimate? Not just budget targets, not just online service, not just fair and accurate elections – that stuff is easy, I'm talking about the ultimate; being so good at what you do that your job, your career line is not needed anymore. Not needed anymore because you have given the ultimate in public service: you have reminded and showed how we can be responsible to each other, for each other and for ourselves without needing government to do it for us!
Are you up to that challenge? Because given the current state of fiscal and social affairs, I think you need to be.
In one sense, I take the time to lay some of these thoughts out so that you know exactly where I come from as your secretary of state and the philosophies I employ. I am showing you my cards in the most honest way I know how, just as I'm sure your teachers have been that honest with you when they describe problems they have taught you over the years. But mainly, I have made the descriptions to this point to make the larger point that even though you have studied very tangible subjects in a way that has given you the knowledge and the skill set to apply them to very real and pragmatic situations, it is of utmost importance to be guided by the core values and philosophies that are hard wired in your brain, that pump through your heart like your own blood itself and show evidently to the world on your shirt sleeve.
Now, it is my hope that your core philosophies in fact are the ones shared by the Founders, mainly because many that have come before you did not do that. Others have been selfish – and we only need to look at $50 trillion worth of debt and promises that this country now owes to its people and foreigners – to make my point.
But, I probably shouldn't assume that each one of you feels this way, at least not yet. So I ask: What is it that will guide you in how you use your degree? In what direction will you take your career? Who will you be with your degree? What will you do? How will you practice your trade, if not the way I just described it? What will the ultimate outcomes of your work be if not to make you less needed? And when you look back on your long career (many advise to do this) will you be satisfied with those outcomes?
Frankly, these are things that go beyond your professional work – what you've learned how to do here. These are things that will also determine what type of mother or father you will be; what type of son or daughter you will be, what type of citizen you will be, and most important to this discussion here today, what type of leader you will be to your fellow man.
And we need leadership right now. America's and Indiana's problems, the problems you will be inheriting – and I put myself in with you – the problems you will be tackling are not just ones of a trade deficit, not just ones of a budget deficit. It's a problem of a much more dangerous and larger deficit: a leadership deficit. You only get to a $50 trillion mark in debt when you don't have leadership; when there is no courage to say "no"; when there is no interest in that core value that your school now professes you have: responsibility.
In a few moments, you'll be handed a diploma – that license to practice that I have talked about today. But as I say it's much more than a license to practice a trade. It's a license to continue learning.
When you have a degree like yours, you have the ability to better or worsen the lives for all of us. Not just us, but for generations to come. And that is a very, very powerful thing.
Will it be used to grow government, make it smaller, or neither?
Will it be used to preserve God-given rights? Or will you use it to give and take away rights because you think they are the government's to give and take away? These are real debates that are happening everyday at the statehouse and other places of civic engagement, right now! And your degree has the power to put you right in the middle, right on the front lines.
Will you work for economic freedom that has historically unleashed more entrepreneurial spirit than the world has ever known, and consequently, has secured more prosperity across all demographics than the world has ever seen, or will you be part of a different way?
Will you work for individual rights that are just as important to a free spirit and country, or will you be working for another way?
Let me conclude by reminding us of a true story about Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founders I have referred to today and one of the architects of the very system of government that you and I have entered into: a system we were blessed to be born into; down right lucky if you ask me.
Benjamin Franklin was approached outside Constitution Hall in 1787, just after our constitution was written, and he was asked, (perhaps by a lady who had the same type of personality as the nice lady I mentioned earlier) "What kind of government, sir, did you give us?" And Franklin brilliantly and simply replied, "You have a republic, if you can keep it."
As you embark out into Indiana and the world as a Hoosier, as an American, or as someone who, I hope, at least appreciates the individual freedoms and personal responsibility that a free and open society promotes and requires, that you think about Benjamin Franklin's answer and about all this discussed today and decide who you will be; how you will commit; and what you will do for the rest of your professional lives,--using all the while this powerful weapon you have, this degree that you are about to get and you worked so hard for --- 'To keep this Republic'.
Thank you very much.
Media Contact: Jim Gavin: 317.233.8655 or firstname.lastname@example.org.