Former Presidential Cabinet member Donna Shalala gives advice to local graduates

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — St. Edward’s Upper School welcomed former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala as commencement speaker at its 38th Commencement ceremony Saturday honoring the Class of 2011.

“I want to assure you that my resume is longer than my speech today,” Shalala joked.

It was a return engagement, as Shalala addressed St. Ed’s graduates in 2003. Assistant Head of School Bruce Wachter read a lengthy biography of Shalala’s career in education and government service as an introduction.

A distinguished yet often controversial public servant, Shalala served under President Bill Clinton as Secretary of Health and Human Services for eight years, becoming the nation’s longest serving HHS Secretary.

In 2008, President George W. Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Shalala for her exceptional leadership of Wounded Warriors, a presidential commission that she co-chaired with former Senator and Vice Presidential candidate, Bob Dole.  The acclaimed commission established in 2007 seeks to provide care for wounded outpatient soldiers.

In addition to her political career, Shalala has studied and served at some of the nation’s finest academic institutions.  Shalala received her bachelor’s degree from the Western College for Women, which is now considered part of Miami University in Ohio, and received her Master’s from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

Shalala has taught several political science courses at CUNY and Colombia University.  She has also served as Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison and President of Hunter College in New York.

Currently, Shalala serves as President of the University of Miami where she has presided since 2001.

Familiar with the college academic discourse, Shalala offered the Class of 2011 several golden rules for “surviving and thriving” in college and in life.

Shalala urged the students to be flexible in college, and to take classes that do not necessarily apply to their major because they will prove helpful in future endeavors and the many obstacles that life presents.

Reflecting on the changing economy and the fact that today’s graduates will not likely get a job in a big corporation from which they will retire 30 or 40 years later as their grandparents might have done, Shalala emphasized the need to be forward thinking.

“College is a place not to prepare for your first job, but for your sixth,” Shalala continued, “College is the place to prepare for all the things we can’t predict.”

Finally, Shalala stressed the importance of the graduates’ generation, America’s future.

“You’re everything we want in the next generation of leaders in this country,” she said.

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