Graduates, you are about to enter a new phase of your life. You are leaving behind certain comforts, habits and experiences.
But you are also taking something very valuable with you, namely a New Bedford High School diploma. That diploma has value that you will now carry with you for the rest of your lives. Employers and colleges will read the words "New Bedford High School" on it and know that you came from someplace special and did something special.
My job as mayor is, in part, to help make sure that those diplomas that you are about to receive rise in value over time. They are worth a lot now, and we want them to become worth even more as the high school's reputation for excellence grows in the years ahead.
That's why I want to use this occasion to say a few words to students, parents and teachers about what we are doing to build a stronger school system and high school.
Building a new school system that lives up to our city's expectations can be seen as a three-step process.
First, we need the right leadership. There is no substitute for far-sighted, experienced leadership.
Second, we must get the system's financial house in order. Delivering a first-rate education requires having enough money to spend in the places where it's needed most. Poor fiscal management leads to crowded classes, fewer textbooks and underpaid teachers. In the end, it drags down student performance.
And the last piece is the operation of the schools themselves. We all know that it takes motivated principals, inspiring teachers and the right curriculum to deliver an education worthy of our children.
We've taken the first step. The leadership change has taken hold. Superintendent Shea has reminded us all this year why effective leadership matters. His steadiness at the helm has restored confidence among faculty and enabled the system to avoid a damaging takeover by the state.
In the next two weeks, we will turn the district over to another first-rate educational leader, Pia Durkin, who is widely considered to be one of the finest superintendents in Massachusetts.
In time, I believe, Mike Shea will be seen as the right man in a time of need for New Bedford's Schools.
One of his legacies will be the directness with which he has taken on the task of resolving the second major hurdle in school reform: the district's financial problems that had been festering for so long.
The budget cuts contemplated now are painful. There's no two ways about it.
But for the first time in a long time in our schools, hard decisions have been confronted, not avoided. These decisions have been made for the sole purpose of restoring the financial foundation of our system through heightened transparency and attention to detail. Above all, they are meant to support the interests of our students. For the short-run pain of the cuts, whose necessity grows out of deep-seated, systemic problems, we are setting the stage for long-run success.
My intention today is not to seize on the occasion of your graduation to offer a policy speech. Far too often, elected officials at every level of government have been guilty of doing just that, talking right past the graduates themselves. I'm not here to do that to you.
Rather, there is another, more important point. As you move on in your lives and encounter challenges large and small, don't avoid them, dive right into them. Think about it. Every story that's ever moved you, every person you've ever admired, every time you've accomplished something you're proud of, has been the product of taking action.
Kicking problems down the road is easy. It is easy because it requires nothing of you. Ignoring problems can be most easily rationalized when someone else created them in the first place.
Facing up to challenges and taking action is a harder choice because it exposes you to the possibility of failure. But what's worse than failure is failing to try. When you choose action over inaction, whether you meet success or failure in the end, you may take comfort in the knowledge that, as Theodore Roosevelt once put it, you won't "take your place with the poor and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
The life of the spectator is more comfortable in the moment, but it is the men and women of action who find fulfillment in their lives.
Graduates, congratulations on your achievement today, and I hope you will return to our great city some day to take action each in your own way to make it a better place.