The Lt. Governor delivered the keynote speech for Bellevue College’s 2017 Commencement Ceremony at Key Arena last Friday.
This year, Bellevue College, the largest of Washington’s 34 community and tech
nical colleges, awarded almost 3,000 bachelor’s and associates degrees to students aged 14 to 69.
The Lt. Governor’s speech centered on a single life lesson: the value of inclusion that he learned through what he called “the playground gospel.”
The “playground gospel” originated from what the Lt. Governor described as a formative childhood experience. The Lt. Governor lost his eyesight fully by the age of eight due to childhood cancer — after which, school authorities barred him from joining the other children on the playground equipment. After explaining this exclusion to his parents, the Lt. Governor said that his mother took him to the principal the next day to teach him “how to advocate for himself”. The Lt. Governor said that his mother told the principal that she would help her son learn the playground equipment, and that he would fully participate in recess alongside the other children – potential for injury notwithstanding. Her reasoning, the Lt. Governor said, was this:
“I can fix a broken arm – I can’t fix a broken spirit.”
The Lt. Governor encouraged students to use the privilege of their degrees to engage with the larger world around them – a value, he said, which is particularly important within today’s national political climate. The Lt. Governor noted that many people are still being excluded from “the playground of life” due to an infinite array of life barriers – whether those be ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, and so on – and that it was when he realized this, that he committed himself to a career in public service.
The Lt. Governor closed by sharing the gratitude he felt to those who had contributed to his own inclusion and success. “It would be the easiest thing for me to say that I did this all on my own,” the Lt. Governor said, “—that I overcame all obstacles by myself. But that wouldn’t be true.”
The Lt. Governor said that this graduating class, like him, was surrounded by advocates – in the form of faculty, friends, or family — who were invested in their success. The Lt. Governor urged students to celebrate that fact, too, in addition to their own personal achievements in graduating, and to return that support by making a positive impact on the world around them.