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WGU Commencement Address from the Honorable Jeb Bush
WGU Commencement Address from the Honorable Jeb Bush
Western Governors University
<p>Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush addressed the graduating class of winter 2013 at online university Western Governors University's winter 2013 commencement ceremony in Atlanta's Philips Arena, February 9, 2013.</p> <p>Transcription of video:</p> <p>The Honorable Jeb Bush: Good morning everybody, it is a joy to be with you all for this milestone event. I want to thank President Bob and the leaders and faculty of Western Governors University. I want to thank the 375 graduates that are here today and the thousands of graduates that are watching online, I hope you all can see us well. It is a joy to be here.</p> <p>So kind of nervous, you know, former politicians don't get this kind of crowd, so I have to admit I'm a little nervous, and when I get nervous I always call my Chief Political Advisor, kind of the head of all things Bush, from the Bush family: My mother. And I asked my mother, "I'm speaking to this group of really talented people, they're getting a degree, they've worked really hard, the university's made it possible for them to continue to pursue their dreams. What should I talk about?" And she said, "Jeb, talk about 12 minutes and then sit down, and let the graduates enjoy their success." So let's get our watches out. I'm pretty sure I can do this.</p> <p>Normally at commencement addresses I like to say a few words about the parents of the graduates. You all may have been in ceremonies like that where you ask the parents that made it possible for the students to graduate and at most universities it gets a nice round of applause. But here, not only have most of you worked your way through school, many of you are parents yourself. So give yourself a round of applause for the incredible job that you've done. [Applause] I want to thank you and thank you for your determination, for showing your kids and your entire families the importance of lifelong learning, and also the importance of sticking with it. Dogged determination is a virtue that you all now have seen first hand.</p> <p>I also want to congratulate you for your vision. You had the wisdom to see a better life yourself, and you understood what was required of you. That is surprisingly a rare quality, sadly, in our country today. It's amazing how many people wait for life to happen to them rather than opposite. And even more amazing, these same people sometimes express shock when life disappoints them. Understanding that life requires action, that achieving great things takes hard work, that accomplishment only comes with struggle, these are valuable lessons in life, whether you're 13 or 33 or like me, 59 years old and 52 or 51, 50 seconds. In other words, next week, I'm turning the dreaded 60.</p> <p>Though I was born to what turns out to be a famous family, I didn't know it at the time, and I was fortunate in many ways, one of the greatest opportunities in my life came when I was thrown into a challenge for which I was not prepared in the slightest. I can now admit that I didn't at the time. I was 24 years old and newly married with two little kids, little kids. And I moved to Venezuela to open up a bank office for a Texas bank. It was really, really hard.</p> <p>My wife made huge sacrifices to the point where we'd have water one hour, three times a day, and Pampers cost a buck. To put it in perspective, and we didn't have a buck for Pampers that being generated for these two little kids, trust me. So we had to organize ourselves around the water to make sure that we could clean the diapers. That kind of stuff in a place. And it was hard. And we almost gave up. But eventually we figured it out. And though it was hard, I wouldn't have traded that experience for anything. I was pushing myself well beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone, and that gave me the confidence and my wife, to do even more challenging things later in life.</p> <p>So for those of you who wondered if a few years ago, whether to go forward and get your college degree, you did the right thing. Not just because having that degree will give you greater professional opportunities, you did the right thing because you challenged yourself. You didn't sit back to wait for life to happen to you.</p> <p>I want to tell you something else. By enrolling in Western Governors and by completing a degree here, you're on the leading edge of education. In fact, you're a revolutionary. Perhaps you thought by getting a college degree you were doing the opposite of rebelling, but you chose to go to a revolutionary institution. It's not just the online classwork a lot of universities and schools are doing that now. It's that it's not the education built around professional skills, which in a sense has been with us for a long time. It's not even the system of personal mentors which a time tested way to make sure people are following a path suited for their ambitions.</p> <p>These are all important ideas and they work. But there is still one more revolutionary idea at work at Western Governors University. It's the idea that learning is not something measured by time. I want you to take a second to think about that. Learning is not measured by time. It seems so obvious, right? You all have just gone through this experience, but trust me, 99 percent of all the education opportunities in our country are measured by time.</p> <p>While in most schools and universities, that's how it works. You spend three hours a week in a classroom for 12 weeks, you get three credits towards graduation. It doesn't matter whether you've mastered a skill or an area of knowledge. It doesn't matter whether you got an A or a C at the exam, it doesn't matter whether there's a test at all. I remember those pass/fail courses a long, long time ago. All that matters is whether you showed up.</p> <p>Now, since many of you are in the working world already, you know kind of how idiotic that is. In the working world showing up is not good enough. You have to accomplish things. You have to be competent, and hard working, and if at all possible, creative. It's that expectation which Western Governors is trying to meet. In most colleges it's show up and get a degree. At Western Governors it's "show me what you've got" and get a degree.</p> <p>Eventually the rest of higher education will catch up. And my guess is this contagion, this beneficial contagion will also hit the K 12 system as well, creating huge opportunities for the teachers that are going to be graduating and teaching in this new environment, and hopefully continue your revolutionary spirit, but also assuring that these huge learning gaps that exist in our country begin to narrow.</p> <p>More change has to happen. I say this as someone who has a passion for school reform. I talk to educators and legislators and governors in almost all the states. We talk about how to get more out of our schools. How to give our students more, how to help them succeed at every level. And what I've learned over many years of study and reflection, and fighting the fight are three big things. First, don't ever doubt someone's ability to learn. Everyone can learn. I don't care where someone was born, what race they are, what language is spoken at home, or how much money their parents have. Every child can learn. So if they don't learn, don't give them an easy excuse.</p> <p>When I was governor, and working with committed reformers, I confronted a culture that said it's okay for students to fail. It was a culture that gave students, their parents, their teachers, and their principals many excuses, but no solutions, and no opportunities to avoid failure. So we raised standards, we rewarded success, we showed that when you give students a quality of opportunity, they could rise to the occasion, and they did.</p> <p>Second, education is a marketplace and the bigger the marketplace, the better the product. Give people many choices in their schools and you'll get better schools. Give people only one choice, and you'll get worse schools. If you didn't have the chance of attending Western Governors University, what was the choice? Something different, something more expensive I'll bet, or something that would've required far more of your time, which, when you think about it, another way of being very expensive is because it takes away your time and that time has value. A lot of value. But you had a choice and that's the way it should be.</p> <p>The thing that I don't understand is why we don't have more choices in our schools from elementary school all the way up to masters and PhD programs. Think about it, it's almost un American. Go down the aisle of any major supermarket these days and you'll find for example, an incredible selection of milk. You can get whole milk, people still drink that apparently, two percent milk, low fat milk, skim milk. You can get organic milk, milk with extra vitamin D or milk with enzymes to improve the way your brain functions. You can get flavored milk chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. They even make milk for people who can't drink milk, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk.</p> <p>I do the shopping in my house, and it is extraordinary to pause in just that one section and see the abundance of choice that we have, and yet, in the most important thing that goes on in our life, assuring that people can pursue their dreams, that they're equipped with the capacity not only to have a dream, but to pursue it, we say all too often, there's only one way that you can go. If we have that kind of choice in milk, I believe we should have it in education as well.</p> <p>And finally, I learned something else about education in America. We need to be more creative. We need to shake things up. Just look around you. Many of you are changing careers, launching new beginnings, some of you tried college when you were younger and for whatever reason it didn't work out. Maybe you couldn't afford it, maybe you weren't ready, but you didn't give up. You moved forward, you figured things out, and eventually you found a place right for you, this college. A college which recognizes and rewards life experience.</p> <p>People didn't think it was possible, but then again, people didn't think you were possible. And so you proved them wrong. That's why you're the revolutionaries. Maybe you didn't plan on being a revolutionary, and if you take offense to being called one, this is a term of endearment as far as I'm concerned, so take it for that. But the truth is, you don't have to wave a flag or shut down a city or start a revolution. You just have to show people that the status quo doesn't have to be permanent. You've lived that lesson in your own lives, you've shown yourself and your friends that you can change things for the better, and what happens next is entirely up to you. Congratulations and thanks for having me. God bless you all. [Applause]</p>
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