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John Pérez Sworn In as Assembly Speaker, Reflects on Education in Inaugural Remarks

March 4, 2010

The new Speaker of the California Assembly – John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) was sworn in on Monday.  His inaugural speech as Speaker did not contain a much in the way of policy statements relating to K-12 education, but it did include some personal recollections from his experience as a teenage high school student visiting the State Capitol, and working on homework with help from his father, who had a sixth-grade education.  Here are some highlights drawn from those remarks:

* * *

"You know, the first time I was ever in this chamber I was a 16 year old delegate from the American Legion’s Boys State."

"I was one of the dozens of kids you see swarming the halls every June. "

"As a 16 year old, I stood in awe on the floor of this great chamber. I was overcome by the history of this place, where our very laws are debated and created.  It never occurred to me that I could one day stand here amongst you as a member, much less as the speaker."

"My first trip to the Capitol wasn’t that long ago, but at the time only a handful of Latinos and but one Latina had ever served in this chamber.  And there had never been an openly gay member."

"Today I am still filled with awe when I stand in this chamber, but now I have more certainty about what is really possible in California, for I am but one example of those golden possibilities."

"Possible because of people like Ed Roybal, Phil Soto and Gloria Molina whose leadership carved out a path for generations of Latinos to serve our state."

"Possible because of people like Elaine Noble, Harvey Milk and Sheila James Kuehl who blazed a trail of pride and purpose for gay and lesbian Californians to serve our state."

"Possible because of my parents, whose love, hard work and commitment guided my path."

"I first became politically active as a junior high school student and a few years later, in high school, I fought a proposed prison that was to be built in my community."

"To my young mind, that was the last thing we needed, so I got active. I registered voters. I attended rallies and handed out fliers."

"I even read through my first Environmental Impact Report.  Somehow, they seemed more exciting back then than they do today."

"I learned many lessons from that early effort.  I learned the power of community, the power of organizing and the power of perseverance."

"I learned from the example of a priest I didn’t even know who believed we deserved better and led our community’s opposition to the prison."

"That priest was Father John Moretta, and I am so honored that he could join us today to deliver the invocation."

"As I stand here among my friends, family and colleagues for this momentous occasion, this chamber does feel just a little empty to me."

"Two extraordinary people are missing and I can’t begin to tell you how keenly I feel their absence. This moment would never have been possible but for the love, hard work and support of my mother and father."

"This moment is bittersweet because my parents are no longer with us, but I am heartened by the memory that my mother was actually in this chamber before — twelve years ago, when my cousin (Antonio Villaraigosa) was sworn in as Speaker. I remember the pride she felt that day, and I pray she is again filled with pride as she looks down over us."

"Sitting in the seat my mother occupied that day is my dear friend, Lois Williams.  Lois is that wonderful loving mother or grandmother we hope every child has, and her presence and the presence of so many other special people in this room help me fill that void."

"Moments such as this fill us with a sense of vulnerability and emotion that can’t help but cause us to reminisce about our families, our childhoods, and our driving forces – the things that define the very essence of who we are."

"In 1903, my mother’s father came to California with nothing but the hope for a decent life and a better future."

"Today, the second of his grandsons has risen to one of the highest offices in government in the greatest state in our nation."

"Can you imagine what he would have said if someone back then would have suggested that possibility to him?

"In 1951, my father came to California with little more than a sixth-grade education. His opportunities were limited by his circumstances, but he was determined to make a good life."

"He worked as a sheet metal worker by day and a cook by night until an industrial accident left him permanently disabled. He always worked hard, in hard jobs, because he had a vision and an unshakeable dedication and love for his family. And that dedication did not end when he could no longer go to work."

"You don’t need to look far to see where I got my commitment to working people and their families."

"Though my father never went past the sixth grade, I can vividly remember him helping me with my trigonometry homework and challenging my analysis of the Greek classics I was studying."

"In the many generations of my father’s family, his children were the first to go to college — and he instilled in us a deep respect for that opportunity."

"I am proud to say that there are hundreds of UC students from across the state here at the capitol today. They are fighting for the same things I did as a UC student 20 years ago- and they are doing it the right way instead of the way it happened on the streets of Berkeley last Thursday night. They are fighting for the opportunity to partake of the greatest system of higher education in the world."

"I ask each of you to join with me in working to turn around an upside-down system where we demand students pay more every semester for classes they can’t get, to fulfill ever-changing requirements for their education. As Speaker I will fight for all of California’s higher education systems- the UC the CSU AND our community colleges because we need to restore common-sense to higher education and put our students’ needs first."

"Growing up there were many occasions when times were tough and my parents sat at the table talking over the painful choices they’d need to make to see us through. My parents weren’t rich with money, but our home was rich with love, encouragement, hope and opportunity."

"Our California family is going through similar times, and facing similar challenges. Helping solve this dilemma is our paramount concern right now. We don’t have sufficient resources to meet all our needs, but that cannot be an excuse to turn on each other. We must remember that our state is like a big family, and for that family to be strong, every person must have the opportunity to succeed."

"Today – across our state – too many families are sitting around too many tables making too many painful choices."

"These families must be our priority!"

"Our number one focus must be to get Californians working again!  Our economic woes and budget deficits will not be fixed until the job market recovers, the unemployment rate falls and the spirit of entrepreneurship is restored across our state."

"Californians are hurting and we’ve all heard the frustration that state government isn’t focusing on the things that will provide real help to get us out of this crisis." 

"We were sent here to do a job. We must roll up our sleeves today and do the job we were elected to do."

"We need to focus on strategies that promote high-paying, high-skilled jobs that restore the essential middle class."

"We must be innovative and seek out new ideas and opportunities. We cannot just rely on old traditional methods of job creation – this is the 21st century. Above all else, we must be open-minded and creative in setting an environment in which our economy can thrive."

"Each of you knows of innovative success stories.  Let’s share those stories and spread them widely across our state."

"Here’s an example: a community college in Massachusetts recently initiated a public-private partnership that allows students in their Nursing and Allied Health programs to shorten the time spent in school by guaranteeing access to the classes they need to graduate."

"This is a win for the students who move into good-paying jobs sooner…it’s good for the college because they can help more students enter the job market sooner…and it’s good for the state, which gets badly needed health professionals on an accelerated basis."

"In that spirit, I’m pleased to announce that I have been talking  with Chancellor Jack Scott of the Community College System to see how a similar program can be established here in California, and I have introduced AB 2385 to that effect."

"That’s the first innovation I’m personally putting into the mix."

Source:  Assembly Speaker's Office