Executive Perspective

A Commencement Address

by DANIEL A. DOMENECH

Congratulations. Here to help you celebrate this memorable occasion are your family and friends and the people who supported you through this long journey, your teachers and administrators. This is that moment in time when it is appropriate to think of what happens next.

You are part of one of the largest graduating classes in the history of American education, and you are going on to higher education in record numbers. Yes, the president of the United States has set a goal that we will lead the world in the percentage of college graduates by 2020, and you are part of the group that will be leading us toward the fulfillment of that goal.

Daniel DomenechDaniel A. Domenech


Many of you have already set your sights on careers in medicine, engineering and other scientific fields. That is good. We need you, and our country is depending on many more students going into the sciences. Others of you are interested in the arts, and you will be pursuing careers in that field. That is good, as well, because we rely on the creativity of our artists to provide the spark of innovation that separates us from many of our global competitors.

Nothing More Noble
Today I want to appeal to you to consider yet another career if you have not thought about it already. Think about becoming an educator.

Consider a career that will give your life a purpose, that will give your life meaning. Can there be a career nobler than one that allows you to shape the life of our youth? Think about your last 13 years in school and the many educators you had the opportunity to interact with. Remember the ones whose classes you couldn’t wait to get to? The ones you hung around with after class was over waiting for that acknowledging smile or that pat on the back? How about that coach who pushed you to the limits of your endurance and made you a better player? Or the teacher who involved you in community service so you could discover the fulfillment that comes from helping others?

Chances are that most of the time you dreaded contact with any of your school’s administrators. Going to the principal’s office has a negative connotation. Admit, however, that there were times when those administrators became your role models in leadership. For many of the years when I was a superintendent, I very much enjoyed meeting with the many Hispanic students in our schools and seeing the obvious pride in their faces when they came up to me and said, “You’re the superintendent of schools and you are a Latino!”

I have had a long and rewarding career in education. For years after I left the classroom, I received letters from former students who were pleased to share their accomplishments with me. A favorite incident occurred to my father one day when he was walking the streets of New York City. My father is a large man who weighs in at the 240-lb. range. Imagine his surprise when suddenly arms wrapped around him from behind and he was cleanly lifted off the sidewalk! When that happens to you in New York City, you put up your dukes and you get ready for a fight.

Fortunately, that’s not what happened. My father was released to thunderous laughter. As he turned around to get a look at his jovial assailant, the well-dressed large man said to my father, “Hey, Mr. Domenech, don’t you recognize me? I’m one of your son’s former students. Tell him that Marty is now a successful Madison Avenue attorney, and thank him for all he did for me.”

During my stint as a young 6th-grade teacher in the Cambria Heights section of Queens in New York City, I lived with my parents within walking distance of the school where I taught. During lunch I often would bring some of my more “challenged” students home, where my mother would make us sandwiches while we shot some hoops in the backyard. Marty had been one of my most challenging students.

Far-Reaching Impact
When you leave the classroom you don’t have the same opportunities to have that direct impact on the lives of individual students, but you make decisions that affect entire schools and communities. As a superintendent in Fairfax County, Va., I was responsible for the well-being of 168,000 students.

Education is a vocation, a calling. You don’t go into it to make money. It’s not just a job. You do it because you truly care about kids and you recognize that, more than any other career, you can truly shape the future of those with whom you come in contact.

Nowadays, criticizing educators has become a sport. The economy is weak, and resources are scarce. Politicians want to attack educators and their salaries and benefits, readily ignoring that the vast majority are underpaid. Rest assured, however, that educators will rise to the challenge and will do more with less. Students will continue to thrive, and next year there will be more of you graduating and going on to college or career. It’s what we do. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Come join us.

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org