One of the top Latinos in the Biden administration told University of Connecticut graduates to "embrace" their uniqueness, even if it is having an accent, and use it to "find your purpose."Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona delivers remarks during a recorded address for University of Connecticut graduating students at Pratt & Whitney Stadium in East Hartford, Conn., on May 7, 2021. Peter Morenus / UConn Photo via APMay 10, 2021, 6:53 PM UTC / Updated May 10, 2021, 7:02 PM UTCBy Cynthia Silva
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, one of four Latinos in President Joe Biden’s Cabinet, urged college graduates to embrace their uniqueness as their “superpower” to accomplish their career and life goals.
Cardona addressed new University of Connecticut graduates in a recorded speech taped Friday and played Saturday at their virtual 2021 commencement. The ceremony took place at UConn’s football stadium where the college awarded nearly 8,200 degrees.
He praised the students for their pandemic-related work, citing the work of students from the School of Pharmacy who became contract tracers and learned to administer vaccines, as well as students from the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources’ Extension who distributed thousands of gallons of milk and dairy products to food pantries across the state.
Cardona advised graduates to power their dreams with their unique personal traits.
“Whether you have ADHD, are differently abled, moved to this country later in life, speak with an accent, grew up on poverty or are LGBTQ, embrace your uniqueness and use it to find your purpose. When you find that purpose, make the pursuit of your purpose greater than the pursuit of your position,” he said.
Cardona was confirmed as education secretary in March but previously held Connecticut’s top education post as the state’s commissioner of education — the first Latino to hold the role. Yet, when he first attended public schools in Connecticut, he only spoke Spanish.
After Cardona’s Puerto Rican parents moved to the U.S. mainland from the island, he grew up in a housing project in Meriden, Connecticut. Though the city is mostly white, over half of the public school students are Latino and more than 70 percent qualify for free or reduced meals, according to NBC Connecticut. Cardona told the graduating class that he didn’t let his background hinder his goals.
His family didn’t have a lot of money, English was his second language and the family moved seven times before he was 13. Cardona has previously shared he became the first in his family to graduate college at Central Connecticut State University; he then went on to receive a doctorate from the University of Connecticut. Prior to his recent positions, he was an elementary school teacher, school principal and assistant superintendent.
Cardona’s upbringing, he told the graduating class, has helped him as he oversees the nation’s education system. During his confirmation hearing in February, Cardona shared how “public education is still the great equalizer. It was for me.”
In his first months as education secretary, his top priority has been to get students back into schools as the administration allocates $170 billion in the American Rescue Plan to help schools get ready to reopen.
Cardona said that for educators, the last year has helped to sharpen their swords to address the real fight — the inequities in education, made worse during the pandemic. He is optimistic “the best days are ahead of us.”
Whether students choose to be in the arts or law, Cardona told the graduating class, their college experience has made them stronger.
“Go out and serve. Make the world better. Make sure in your pursuit for purpose, you help others,” he said.
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