I was truly humbled by being named one of Fresno City College’s 100 Stars for 100 Years late last year, and I am once again humbled and honored to be named 2011’s Distinguished Alumnus and for being invited to speak as the 2011 commencement speaker.
As one who has experienced every level of California public education:
- John Adams Elementary (Madera, CA)
- Thomas Jefferson Jr. High (Madera, CA)
- Madera High School (Madera, CA)
- Bullard High School (Fresno, CA)
- Fresno City College (A.A.)
- California State University, Fresno (B.S. Human Physiology)
- University of California, Los Angeles (M.A., Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations; Ph.D., Near Eastern Languages and Cultures)
I can attest to the fact that the California public education system works. California public education can continue to be the premier education system in the country, but only if we continue to fund our teachers and students, and only if we do not seek to bail out our state’s fiscal mismanagement by forcing our educational system to bear the brunt of the financial burden. California’s public universities (Junior Colleges, CSUs, and UCs) should not have to pay for California’s fiscal missteps elsewhere.
Education is the magic bullet in the heart of poverty, socio-economic inequality, racial tension, social and religious intolerance, and unemployment, but we must continue to fund our public universities at all three levels or else risk mortgaging the future of our state to avoid some present discomfort.
Special thanks to President Anthony Cantú for the invitation, Vice President Christopher Villa for the warm introduction, and to Kathy Bonilla and Ernie Garcia for making the entire experience flawless. Thank you to Ray Appleton for having me on his show. Thank you again for this honor. I hope that I can continue to advocate on behalf of public education for years to come.
Below is the text of my 2011 Commencement Address:
2011 FRESNO CITY COLLEGE COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS
Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D., UCLA
President Cantú, Marshal Larson, Vice President Villa, Members of the Board of Trustees and President Smith, Parents and Relatives, Ladies and Gentlemen, and most importantly, members of the Fresno City College graduating class of 2011: thank you for the honor you’ve bestowed upon me today, and for the invitation to address this commencement ceremony this evening.
Graduates, I am you, 18 years from now.
18 years ago, I received my Associates degree from Fresno City College. And since then, my life has had its ups and downs.
I am 38 years old, married, divorced, and now married to my wife, who makes me both proud and very happy. I have a daughter, and now a son on the way. I bought a house, sold it for a profit, and used the money to buy a new house, which is now underwater.
I am you, 18 years from now.
I have experienced tremendous successes, and some terrible failures. I have gotten to meet many fascinating people throughout my young career, and I’ve watched many people dear to me die long before their time. I have done things of which I am incredibly proud, and I have made decisions I truly regret.
I am you, 18 years from now.
After receiving my AA, I enrolled at Fresno State and received my Bachelors in Human Physiology following a pre-med curriculum. Wanting to pursue matters of faith, I enrolled in Pepperdine University and completed my Master of Divinity degree. I experienced both the boom and the bust of the dot com bubble. Wanting to study biblical literature and archaeology, I enrolled in UCLA and earned an MA and PhD in these fields, and now, having taught at UCLA for the past few years, I have accepted a position to teach Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Iowa. But all of that – ALL OF IT – began right here at Fresno City College.
I am you, 18 years from now.
I enjoy the things you enjoy. I like watching the Fresno Grizzlies play ball. I love playing Angry Birds obsessively every time I pick up my phone, planking various landmarks in the Tower district, and like you, I am always quick to argue against anyone who even hints at cutting funding for education and for California’s Community Colleges.
I ask the same questions that you ask. Will she love me? Or will she leave me? Will I be rich? Will I make my parents proud? Will my children be proud of me? The only thing I possess that you do not is nearly two decades of experiences that all began with me sitting right where you are right now, because I am you 18 years from now.
So if I may, I’d like to share with you 3 things I’ve learned over the past 18 years that may help you in your next 18 years:
Number one: Be nice. Be kind. We live in an aggressive and cynical world, especially when we are young. We are taught to compete for jobs, compete for partners, and compete for goods. And yes, you have to compete in life. But while you are competing, be nice. There is nothing more comforting, nothing more disarming, and nothing more enjoyable than someone who is kind. Be kind. Be patient. Don’t go off when you’re wronged, but give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t set out to “earn respect.” Simple kindness will make far better impressions on people than any harsh words you might use. So be kind. It’s simple, it’s free, and it will do more for you than just about anything else you can possibly do.
Number two: Be proud of having attended Fresno City College, and of being from Fresno. We get to make fun of our hometown. Letterman can make fun of New York because he lives there. Conan can make fun of Los Angeles. And we all can certainly tease about Fresno because we’re from here. We carry the membership card. But never apologize for being from this beautiful, vibrant, diverse town. Never apologize for having to work hard to earn what you have. Apologize when you’ve wronged someone. Apologize when you’ve hurt someone’s feelings. But, be proud having attended City College. It only makes you stronger, and when you make it, it will only make those around you all the more impressed. Be proud of Fresno and be proud of Fresno City College.
Number three: Say thank you. Be gracious. There is an Arab saying which says: “Blessed is the one who can say thank you in a thousand languages.” People love to be thanked, and people love to be around grateful people. So say thank you to your parents for raising you. Say thank you to your friends for sticking up for you, and covering for you, and for supporting you. Be sincere, look people in the eye, and say thank you.
And if you’ll allow me, I’d like to practice what I preach and take this opportunity to say thank you to a few people.
First, thank you to my coaches, Ron Scott, Eric Solberg, and Mike Noakes. I played baseball for these coaches at Fresno City College and Bullard High School. These men not only taught me to play baseball, but how to compete with character and confidence in life. Thank you Coach Scott, Coach Solberg, and Coach Noakes.
Thank you to Reuben Scott, who taught me to argue both sides of every issue. I came to Fresno City College knowing how to argue my side of an issue, but Reuben Scott taught me to understand opinions other than my own, and to write and argue cogently, to the point, and on the merits of the argument. He taught me to think critically, and for this I am eternally grateful. Thank you Reuben Scott.
And finally, I would not be here this evening, and I would not be a professor today, were it not for this evening’s Faculty Marshal, and my Western Civ. professor, Mr. Don Larson. I love this man for more reasons than I can count. For one, to me, this man is Fresno City College. I took Mr. Larson for Western Civilization, and on the first day of class he said, “I can love you and give you a ‘C’ and I can not like you, and give you an ‘A’. You will get the grade that you earn, and earn the grade that you get.”
Well, Mr. Larson must have really liked me, because he gave me a ‘C’. (Oh no, I haven’t forgotten.) But Mr. Larson also invited me to talk to him whenever I needed advice, or guidance, or just someone to listen. His facilitation of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings greatly influenced me by introducing me to successful role models, and afternoons spent at his home talking about religion and politics helped to frame many of my present positions on these topics.
By the way, you must visit Mr. Larson’s home during Christmas time. If you haven’t seen it, just imagine all of Christmas Tree Lane crammed neatly inside a single house. That is Mr. Larson’s house at Christmas time.
After my days at Fresno City College, Mr. Larson became a lifelong friend and mentor, and although I have not yet mastered the art of your ever-present bow tie, you have meant more to me than you will ever know. You are the most fair, honest, upright, and faithful man I know, and I want to take this very public opportunity to say to you, “Thank you.” Thank you Mr. Larson.
By the way, if you haven’t yet come up with a name for the renovated Old Administration Building, I’ve got a suggestion: how about the “Don Larson Administration Building”? I’m pretty sure he was already teaching here in 1916 when they built it, so you might as well name it after him. Thank you again, Mr. Larson.
So when you leave tonight, hug your parents and say thank you. Find a teacher who has taught you and say thank you. Find a friend who studied with you and say thank you. Be kind to them, and always be proud of what you’ve accomplished here at Fresno City College. And while I know it is incredibly cliché, go forth from here tonight knowing that you really can be whatever you want to be. Do these things and who knows what your next 18 years will bring.
Thank you again, and congratulations to you graduates on your hard work and your graduation from Fresno City College. Thank you.
Filed under: education, robert cargill, scholarship Tagged: | 2011, Anthony Cantú, california, christmas tree lane, Christopher Villa, commencement address, csu, distinguished alumnus, don larson, eric solberg, Ernie Garcia, fresno, fresno city college, graduation, junior college, Kathy Bonilla, mike noakes, ray appleton, reuben scott, robert cargill, ron scott, state, tower district, uc, ucla, university, University of Iowa