Remarks by Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
Riverside City College
2017 Commencement Remarks
June 8, 2017
Thank you, President Isaac… President Sellick… Professor Scott-Coe, President Santiago and Mr. Brita…Parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses… loved ones, family, friends, colleagues… faculty, staff, alumni, trustees…
And, most importantly, the 100th class… the Riverside City College Class of 2017!
Let me be among the first to congratulate you on this incredible and well-earned achievement.
It is indeed a great honor and joy for me to join you all this evening… here on Wheelock Field… home of the best college marching band in the country… the RCC Marching Tigers!
You know, the last time I was here at RCC was back in 2011 for the grand opening of the truly outstanding and world-class aquatics center.
I was UC Riverside chancellor at that time, and RCC invited me to come join in the festivities… and probably also to kindly remind us – your noisy neighbors to the east – who had the best facilities in the region.
So I came over… and when I saw the new aquatics center I found myself pondering that Homer Simpson line about the difference between jealousy and envy.
To be honest, I had both.
The great Olympic diver and LGBT advocate Greg Louganis was at the grand opening… as was Olympic medalist swimmer and local legend Cynthia Woodhead… and as Olympic medalists are accustomed, both Greg and Cynthia were showing off a bit for the crowd.
Now, I also have a bit of history in the pool… albeit not near the Olympic level… and decided I had to take a dive from the new diving tower.
I’m pretty sure David Almquist, the Hall of Fame swimming and diving coach here at the time, had a panic attack thinking about how they were going to have to close the brand new aquatic center on its very first day because some nut from UCR seriously hurt himself jumping off the tower.
Anyways, despite all common sense and warnings… I climbed up the tower.
Coach Almquist, not knowing or perhaps not caring about my semi-illustrious aquatic career… gave me very strict instructions:
Keep your legs and feet straight.
Hug your torso like this.
Take two steps off the tower.
And don’t move!
Uh huh, I thought. So I get to the edge and took a step off. Well actually a monster leap. Did a little half-twist into a can opener position and…
Splash! Twenty foot plume of water. A few spectators no longer dry…
Nailed it! Take that, Louganis!
Now, I don’t know if the Olympians were impressed or even aware of my achievement… but I’m pretty sure I’ve been banned from that diving tower ever since.
Maybe President Isaac can check on that for me.
That day in January 2011… and every time I have ever stepped foot on a community college campus… I am reminded of my own story… as an immigrant from Argentina… and as the first in my family to attend college… and the first one I attended was a community college.
Indeed, my entire career and life trajectory up to this point can be traced back to the year I spent at Diablo Valley College up in the San Francisco Bay Area.
I had been a good enough student in high school, but, perhaps like some of you, did not think growing up that college was in my future.
My parents, both incredibly hard working people, were supportive of the idea but really rather I get a job and were concerned with the costs of higher education… even in the 1960s.
Luckily, I had been a student-athlete in high school with an eye in coaching swimming and water polo… again, part of that illustrious aquatic career mentioned earlier… and it was a community college that provided me with the opportunity, support and eventual launch pad needed for a lifetime of success.
Most importantly, it was that experience that showed me that college was for a guy like me… and that anyone could succeed and achieve if they put in the work.
As I mentioned, my parents and my brother and I were born in Argentina… and immigrated to the United States when I was nine.
If I do the math correctly, my dad was 39. After a period of months, my dad got his first and last job in the U.S. for Hexeel Corporation. After some twenty years, he realized he could no longer compete without a degree. So did his boss, and there discussions of termination around age 60. A frightening proposition.
His boss, Mr. Sanford, offered him a position doing internal auditing but he would need new training.
So, around age 60, my father went to college for the first time... took night courses in auditing… and got his needed credential. And worked to retirement at 65.
Community college saved him.
And two of my sons, Alex and Timmy, both attended community college at very different points in their respective life paths.
I bring up my family’s stories and connections to community colleges because I know that while the facts may be different, our paths and stories are likely similar to yours.
For some, community college launches you. For others, save.
Some of you came to RCC straight out of high school… and are planning on transferring to a four-year university.
Of course, my staff was hoping to do some last-minute recruiting for outstanding transfer students… so I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that we hope that four-year university is a Cal State campus… there are 23 great ones, including San Bernardino just up the road.
Some of you came to RCC focused on a specific career path… and are graduating today with the skills, knowledge and experience to match your self-built passion, drive and love for the field you’re about to enter.
And still others here tonight came to RCC later in your career and life path… like my father… with the determination, grit and experience needed to retrain or change careers, add a skill or qualification… achieve a lifelong dream… or fulfill a parent’s promise.
All great accomplishments.
So certainly, while your individual paths to RCC… to this exact moment in time… may all be different, you will all leave here today woven together with the common thread that has bound every single Tiger alumnus together since RCC’s very first commencement ceremony back in 1918.
You have all been tested. You have all been challenged, knocked down and questioned.
Yet, as is the case with graduates of RCC, you have all overcome and vanquished every obstacle and challenge that stood in the path to your goals and dreams.
Of course, you did not overcome these obstacles alone.
Please join me in again thanking the incredible faculty and staff of this outstanding and life-changing school.
To the faculty and staff… it is through your students that you touch the future. Indeed, you touch eternity. What a privilege you have.
So, no matter your background… your path to this point, tonight… and your unique path forward as RCC alumni... coupled with your passions and ability… will drive your success in life.
Frankly, one without the other – passion or ability – is a non-starter in my view.
If you are passionate about becoming a registered nurse but don’t have good fine motor skills or bedside manner, it’s likely not going to work out.
Likewise, if you have great ability with your hands and an immense knowledge of nursing interventions, but you don’t wake up every morning with bold intent and relentless passion to help someone else… that’s not good for your patients or you.
It is when you can combine those two things… passion and ability… that you can begin to move toward your life’s greatest goals.
But if… and let’s be honest, when you do lose your footing from time to time, as I did along the way…
You’ll look back on your experiences here at Riverside City College… this inspiring community of thinkers, do-ers and dreamers, instilled with resilience and toughness… and you’ll get up and try again. And again. And again.
And when you stay at it, even when you are wholly uncertain as to what comes next… you will succeed.
The impossible will become the improbable, and then will become inevitable.
In closing, let me quote Robert F. Kennedy… who, when he came to Cal State Northridge on a beautiful spring day in 1968, told the thousands of students gathered in the quad that:
"Youthfulness is not a time of life, but a state of mind. A temper of the will, a quality of imagination. A predominance of courage over timidity… of the appetite for adventure over a life of ease.
It is the spirit which knows the difference between force and reason. It does not accept the failures of today as a reason for the failures of tomorrow. It knows that we can clasp the future, and we can hold it to our will."
Let me assure everyone here that you, regardless of your biological age… the youthful Class of 2017… are ready for all that is next.
Many people have observed that thoughts lead to words… and words to actions. So too, will your actions define your character, cast your destiny and create your legacy.
Be courageous. Be consequential. Have an appetite for imagination and adventure.
Protect and advocate for those who are marginalized, unfortunate, discriminated against, destitute and disenfranchised.
Give beyond self. Inspire and help those who will follow you into an increasingly uncertain world.
As Riverside City College alumni… as the 100th Class… I am confident that your legacy will be profound.
Thank you, and congratulations.