Whether it was a parent, a friend, or perhaps a teacher who went out of their way to help them in a class, the Secretary of Education told the largest graduating class in Salish Kootenai College history that he was sure all of them had someone they could thank for helping them earn their diploma.
“And remember to pay it forward,” Arne Duncan told them, “that investment people made in you.”
Duncan had asked the tribal college if he could speak at last year’s ceremony, but a scheduling conflict prevented that, the Missoulian reported. SKC President Robert DePoe III said the school was honored when Duncan inquired again this year.
The secretary said he loves SKC’s motto – “Grounded in tradition, charging into the future” – and encouraged graduates to embrace the words as they leave campus.
“I’m confident you will give back to your tribal community,” Duncan told them. “Pursue your passion – get up every day doing what you love.” Wherever their lives take them, he said, “When you come over the hill and see the Mission Mountains, you will know you are home.”
Before delivering the commencement address, Duncan dropped in on a Nike-sponsored basketball camp at nearby Two Eagle River School, where he ran 30 local youngsters through dribbling and shooting drills.
The secretary has the street cred for doing so. A co-captain of the Harvard University basketball team when he was a student, Duncan is not only still active in the sport, he was MVP at this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Games.
Duncan, who says he is 6-foot-5, told the kids he was only 5-3 when he started high school in Chicago.
Several of the children raised their hands when the secretary asked if any hoped to one day play professional basketball.
“Chase that dream,” Duncan told them, “but catch an education too.”