In conclusion, I would like to say that we have the best jobs on earth. Through our teaching, scholarship, and service we change lives every day. We change the lives of our students directly by helping them obtain and realize their dreams. We change the lives of those in our communities by asking the right questions and expecting much better from our society. Unfortunately, however, our challenges as scholars and teachers are great, which makes our responsibilities and obligations that much greater. If we do not use our skills and talents to address the ills of our society, then who will?
Today we live in a world where 3 billion people live in poverty and make less than $2 per day. Today we live in a world where 46,000 people die of hunger everyday, 37,000 of those are children under the age of 5. Even closer to home, we live in a nation that ranks among the wealthiest countries on earth, yet is increasingly bifurcated by vast disparities in income, education, health, and opportunity. In the United States, 47 million Americans do not have basic health care or insurance, and our average life expectancy now ranks 42nd worldwide, finishing behind Guam and the Cayman Islands. We live in a nation where 1 in 5 children lives in poverty and where those individuals who earn incomes in the upper 10th percentile hold 42 percent of the nation’s total wealth. Not since World War II has the top 10 percent earned such a large share of the total income. We live in a nation that, according to the Citizens for Tax Justice and the Luxembourg Income Study, ranks 29th of 30 OECD countries in federal, state and local taxes collected as a percentage of their nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). And we live in a nation where the highest court in the land recently ruled that race cannot be used as the reason to desegregate America’s public schools, despite the fact that race was the only reason used to justify 350 years of slavery, discrimination and denial of economic and educational opportunity. If we do not help address these issues, I ask you, who will? As Bill Gates recently stated during his commencement address at Harvard, “humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries – but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity – reducing inequity is the highest human achievement.”
Society depends on us in ways that often are not obvious. These are indeed our responsibilities and the tools that we have at our disposal are teaching, research and service. Although our public mission is challenging and increasingly complex, I do firmly believe that we have the best jobs in the world. We have never been needed more by society and the responsibility that we share, although vast, is incredibly rewarding and essential.
Thank you for your dedication and commitment to public education. Good luck this year and Go Beach!
F. King Alexander