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October 6, 2008    DOL Home > Newsroom > Speeches & Remarks   

Speeches by Secretary Elaine L. Chao

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Remarks Prepared for Delivered by
U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao
Murray State University Commencement
Murray, Kentucky
Saturday, May 10, 2008

Thank you!

It's great to be back home! Seeing all of you here today makes me so proud to be a Kentuckian!

To the Board of Directors, faculty, and Administration: thank you for nurturing and cultivating our next generation of leaders. To the parents in the audience, let me be the first to welcome your sons and daughters to America's workforce. As Chair Alan Stout says, you're getting a salary, as well.

To the graduates — congratulations! Today you are taking the first step towards a future filled with hope and opportunity. According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers plan to hire 8 percent more graduates from the Class of 2008 than from the Class of 2007 and their salaries are expected to rise 5.3 percent, again as compared to the Class of 2007. So, despite the short term challenges facing our economy, you can be assured that opportunities abound for those who have invested in themselves through higher education. That's so important today because, as our country becomes part of an increasingly worldwide economy, the education and skill level of our workforce will determine our country's future.

In the coming years, close to two-thirds of the estimated 15.6 million new jobs created will be in occupations that require post-secondary education or considerable on-the-job training. For example, out country is experiencing an explosion in health care related professions. I am especially aware of this because on the first Friday of every month, when the Department of Labor releases employment data for the previous month, the number of health care jobs always increases. In fact, our country will need to train nearly 3 million more healthcare professionals in this decade. We will also need over 950,000 engineers, including aerospace, biomedical, civil, computer software, and environmental engineers. And our country will need skilled professionals in other high growth industries including geospatial technology, nanotechnology and the life sciences, to name a few. Nanotechnology, in fact, is widely considered one of the leading industries of the future. And, the U.S. has issued more patents for nanotechnology than the rest of the world combined. These patents and the many to come are going to revolutionize science, technology, and medicine worldwide.

Now, not all of you may have settled on a chosen career path. And that's OK. Today, it is very common for young people to try several different paths, before deciding what they want to do. And there are great resources available to help you identify where the opportunities are. One of them is the "Occupational Outlook Handbook." This is a useful guide published by the Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics that identifies the areas of job growth in our economy and what these opportunities pay.

If you haven't had an opportunity to look through it, just go to and click on "Occupational Outlook Handbook." I know that many of the colleges at Murray State have already incorporated the great information that BLS provides into their programs. This is a wonderful resource!

As Americans, we should have confidence in the future because our country and our economy are so dynamic and resilient. Our country has seen many unprecedented challenges over the past seven years, and yet we have managed to overcome them and move forward. And despite the short term challenges our country is currently experiencing, it is easy to forget the remarkable strength of our labor market, which is the envy of the world. The unemployment rate today — 5.0 percent — is actually lower than it was in the decade of the 1990s, which some point to as a period of golden growth. And key economic indicators continue to highlight the resiliency of our economy and give us hope for the immediate future. GDP growth for the first quarter of this year was positive and productivity is also strong. That's so important, because the productivity of our nation's workforce is essential to maintaining a high standard of living.

Today, one of the key competitive advantages of our country is a culture that encourages critical thinking, creativity and risk taking. As Americans, who live in this culture everyday, it's difficult to appreciate just how unique and special these qualities are. But to someone like myself, who is an immigrant to this country, the American genius for taking abstract ideas and concepts and turning them into creative products and services is nothing short of miraculous. Perhaps that's why some countries in Asia, where students are rigorously trained to study technical subjects by rote, have sent educators to the United States to learn how to teach their students creativity. As with everything close to home, sometimes we need reminders from abroad to help us appreciate just how unique and special our country is.

As you take your first steps on the path to your dreams, I hope you will remember to look back and give back to the communities that have supported you. As former Director of the Peace Corps and President of the United Way of America, I have seen firsthand how much one person can make a difference. I promise you — you will gain as much from the experience of helping others as they will!

You know, at the beginning of my career, my family could never have dreamed that I would be where I am today. As a young immigrant to this country, I spoke no English, and my family and I had very modest expectations.

I remember how difficult those early years were, as we transitioned to a new culture, a new language, and a new country. My father worked three jobs and my mother scrimped and saved to make a warm, secure, and comfortable home for us on a limited budget — no easy feat! Looking back, I don't know how she managed. Yet, she did so without complaint.

My childhood memories are filled with scenes and incidents of the many sacrifices made by my parents. And, I'm sure the parents in this room have done the same, offering the best of everything you have to your children.

My sisters and I were sustained by the love of our parents, their determination to build a better life, and their faith in the basic decency of the American people. Our lifelines to mainstream America included church and community organizations. They helped us to realize that if you work hard, invest in yourself, and never give up, you can achieve your dreams.

My life is living proof that the promise of America is as real today, as it was forty years ago, when my family and I sailed past the Statue of Liberty and embarked on the great adventure that brought me home to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

God bless you, your families, and all of those in the Murray State community who have made this day possible. And thank you for inviting me to share this very special day with you.

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