U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s 2013 Commencement Speech
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz
Northern Essex Community College 2013 Commencement Address
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Good morning! And thank you, President Glenn, members of the Board of Trustees, administrators, distinguished faculty, proud parents, family, friends, and especially the esteemed graduates of the Class of 2013! Congratulations!
It is such an honor to be here celebrating this very special achievement with you. Make no mistake about it, what you have accomplished during your time at Northern Essex Community College is truly remarkable – and this is just the beginning!
First, I would like to thank President Glenn for inviting me to attend this year’s commencement celebration and for affording me the privilege of addressing the graduates today.
I’d also like to acknowledge the family members here who partake in this shared sense of accomplishment: this is a big day for you as well! It is wonderful to see so many family members and friends here to share in the joy of this occasion. And I can tell who you are, not because you aren’t wearing silly square caps, but because you are beaming with pride and it’s written all over your faces. As a mom of a college graduate, I know how that feels!
On several occasions I have had the privilege of addressing graduates at their commencement ceremony. Invariably, it is a tremendous honor and a great responsibility to bestow advice because commencement speakers typically see this occasion as an opportunity – indeed a duty – to provide some guidance to graduates as they leave the halls of academia and enter “the real world”.
When I think about the so-called “real world” and what is ahead for all of you — for all of us really — I think about challenges and hardships; both big and small, and how people overcome them. I believe when tested, people rise to the occasion, and nothing exemplifies this more than the events associated with the Boston Marathon bombings. The challenges and hardships posed for so many people were unimaginable. Yet, ordinary people chose to act and risk harm in order to help others; as well as, professionals who risked their lives to save others and to restore peace to our community. There were many examples of people coming together, when we needed it most. If there is anything I have learned from this event is that as a people living in this great country, when needed, we all come together and look out for each other.
But I think many of you already know that. Most of you have already begun – or began long ago – confronting challenges and hardships.
At some point you came to a fork in the road where you had to choose between two, or three, or many options. You were faced with a choice, and you made the decision to endeavor down the path of higher education. You are here today because you know that through hard work and education, you will achieve the success you strive for. Now, you are blazing your trail and the legacy that you are creating is, I am sure, an inspiration to your friends and family. I know it is for me!
So what does that mean: to create your legacy? I can’t tell you what it means for each of you individually, but determining the path of your legacy is up to you to decide!
And in fact, one of your classmates, Omar Anagam, can tell you that from his own experience. Omar and his wife immigrated in 2000. To support his growing family, he worked a series of jobs in car sales, hospitality, and banking. In 2006 he enrolled at Northern Essex part-time, studying at night while working full-time.
Omar’s ‘fork in the road’ came in 2010 when he was laid-off . With encouragement from his wife, whom he calls his “big motivator”, Omar went back to school, full-time, to earn an Associate’s Degree in respiratory care, a health care program in high-demand.
Today, Omar is graduating with high honors. In the meantime, he is capitalizing on this momentum, making plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in health and wellness promotion.
Omar is living his legacy. His resolve, and the unyielding support of his wife, personifies one of the principles on which I have come to live by. I have learned, through the ups and downs of my personal and professional life, how important it is to surround yourself with people who believe in you, encourage you, and support your career and ambitions.
What many people don’t know is that I served as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for 12 years before I even considered applying for the position of U.S. Attorney. When I decided to make a move and apply for this job under the Obama Administration, I began to have doubts. There were others who were being touted as favorites for the job. I second-guessed myself, thinking, “How could I overcome those odds?” It was my close friends, colleagues and family who encouraged me. They said, “Go for it. What do you have to lose?!” I am certain that without their support, I wouldn’t be here today.
So I urge all of you, graduates, to surround yourself with mentors, colleagues, friends and family who will help motivate you to keep moving forward. Looking around here, today, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve already found a few…hundred people that support you. From President Glenn to academic advisors, and support staff to faculty, the Northern Essex Community College family will always believe in you.
Each one of you came to this college at a different stage of life. I know that many of you were working while you attended school, or worked for several years before returning to school. I know the tremendous dedication, perseverance, and even sacrifice that this requires. I assure you that the rewards of earning an education will far outweigh those sacrifices, and Alice Beauchamp’s story serves as a great example.
Alice didn’t have a college degree, but she served in a variety of positions in corporate finance. When she was laid-off during the recent recession, she thought she would easily find a new job. But she quickly realized that in the struggling job market, her lack of a degree posed difficulties in her search.
Alice decided to enroll at Northern Essex in business management, specializing in healthcare, would complement her past experience and allow her to use her career to help others. Earlier this spring, with her Associate’s Degree within reach, Alice secured a job as a business manager at the Lawrence YMCA. Already, it’s a job she loves.
I admire Alice. She never gave up on what she wanted to achieve most: a career that enabled her to help others. And that’s something that resonates with me as well.
When I was young, I wanted to be a lawyer because I believed it was a profession that I could utilize to help people. I grew up in a housing project in Spanish Harlem, the oldest of five children born to two, hardworking Puerto Rican parents. Like more than half of you, I too, was the first in my family to go to college. I saw the struggles of my neighbors and my friends. So it’s no surprise that once I became a lawyer, I was drawn time and again to a career in public service. It was a way for me to give back. I genuinely believe that a career in public service is a noble profession, one that takes commitment and sacrifice. Sometimes it means putting the needs of your community and the public before your own…and before your own family at times. Yet, serving the public can be tremendously satisfying.
I have been very fortunate in my career. My varied experiences as a state and federal prosecutor, defense attorney, and civil litigator, have prepared me for the job I now hold. Never could I have imagined that as a little girl who came from humble beginnings that I would one day become the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. I think it goes to show that you should never give up on what you want to achieve.
If nothing else, the diploma you receive today should give you the confidence to assure yourself that you have what it takes. You need confidence to take certain leaps of faith at different times in your life…to choose the path that is most challenging.
Josiery Santos clearly has what it takes. Josiery immigrated to the U.S. in pursuit of an education. But before she could enroll in college courses, she needed to improve her English and get a full-time job. Josiery woke up at 4am each day and went into work where she was a manager at a fast food restaurant. She worked from 5am until 4 in the afternoon, before going to class for several hours in the evening. When she finally returned home, she did her homework and snuck in a few hours of sleep before waking up to repeat that exhaustive routine.
But her internship in the probation department at the Lawrence Courthouse has reassured her that her hard work is paying off and that the field of Criminal Justice is a perfect fit. Josiery is well on her way to fulfilling her desire for an education: she is graduating today from the Criminal Justice
Program with honors and will transfer to UMass Lowell to continue her studies.
Josiery says that the United States is the “country of opportunity”, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t take her a lot of hard work and perseverance to achieve her dreams.
Although I highlighted just a few stories of your peers, it is without a doubt that all of you have worked hard and have overcome adversity to be here today – to walk across this stage. For some, this may feel like just the beginning of your long journey – and for others this experience
may feel like a detour, but a necessary step toward betterment of yourself, your family and your community. Regardless of the path each of you took to get here, today is an important day. It signifies your ability to forge ahead, overcome stereotypes and not let others’ perceptions define you or hold you back.
It’s been almost four years since I was sworn in as the U.S. Attorney. And, I have to tell you, there’s never been a job at which I’ve worked so hard or that I’ve loved so much. To serve in this role has been an extraordinary privilege and being the first woman and the first Hispanic U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts is certainly not lost on me. In fact, it has been, and will continue to be, a source of strength and encouragement for me and hopefully, for others as well.
I am proud to be in the company today of so many graduates from diverse backgrounds such as myself: 65% of this year’s graduates are women, 37% are minorities, and more than half are first-generation college graduates.
I think that in our society, the demands and expectations on all of us have increased exponentially in recent years – especially as we seek to do it all: to balance a demanding career with family responsibilities. It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to do our part, to help weave the nation’s fabric with the colors and texture that represent the world in which we live.
I hope that as you go forth, you make that part of your legacy. You are our future leaders. It is up to you to inspire younger generations, to push the limits of conventionalism, and to define the evolving landscape of America.
So as you drive away from campus today, drive along your path with confidence. Don’t forget where you came from and return the goodwill that you benefitted from by helping those following in your footsteps.
I leave you with one last piece of advice, handed down from President Obama: “whether it’s starting a business, or running for office, or raising an amazing family, remember that making your mark on the world is hard. It takes patience. It takes commitment. It comes with plenty of setbacks and it comes with plenty of failures. But whenever you feel that creeping cynicism, whenever you hear those voices say you can’t make a difference, whenever somebody tells you to set your sights lower – the trajectory of this country should give you hope.”
Congratulations on reaching this moment, and thank you, once again, for allowing me to celebrate it with you.