Presidential Investiture Speech

President Willie J. Hagan

Investiture Speech

May 2, 2014

Thank you Chancellor White, Trustee Farar, distinguished speakers, platform participants and honored guests. And thank all of you. This is an amazing turnout.

Let me start by saying how grateful I am for your attendance today. This investiture ceremony is an important event in the life of this university and in my life as well, and it is wonderful to share it with so many of my colleagues, dear friends and members of my family.

As many of you know, an investiture is part of a time-honored academic tradition where a new president is officially installed. It also is a time for the university and its constituents to celebrate together. A time for us to share the Dominguez Hills’ story. Because ultimately, we are here to honor this outstanding university and the critical role it plays in the lives of our students and our community.

No young child ever goes up to their parents and says, “When I grow up, I want to be a college president.” At least not the normal ones.

The route to the presidency differs for almost everyone appointed to this position, but it is never attained without the support and guidance of many individuals and groups. I would like to thank and acknowledge a few of those who played a major role in my being here today.

First, my biggest thanks goes to our faculty, staff, and students who are the heart and soul of this university; they make us who we are and embody what we do. After working with me for less than a year as interim president, their support and advocacy contributed to the ultimate decision made by Chancellor White and the Board of Trustees to appoint me as permanent president.

I also want to thank former Chancellor Charles Reed, who originally appointed me as the interim president, and former Dominguez Hills president and current president of California State University, Fullerton, Dr. Mildred García, for her support and encouragement during that period of transition.

And it goes without saying I owe so much to Chancellor Timothy White and the Board of Trustees, represented here today by Trustee Debra Farar and Trustee Stephen Stepanek, for trusting the voice of this campus and appointing me as the tenth president of California State University, Dominguez Hills.

I also would like to thank my family, especially my wife, Betty, who has borne the brunt of the logistical challenges since I accepted this position. Betty has worked as a speech pathologist and special education teacher for over 35 years.

When I became president and we relocated here to the City of Carson, Betty’s commute to her job at Katella High School in the Anaheim Unified School District went from 20 minutes to well over an hour each way. She rises at 4:30 a.m. every morning and drives well over two hours round trip on Interstate 91 in some of the worst traffic in California.

It is hard to describe how it feels to look into her eyes knowing the level of sacrifice she has made so I could accept the honor and privilege of being the president of this university. Of course, on days when she gets stuck in traffic and it takes her almost two hours just to get home, I try to avoid looking into her eyes. In fact, I try to avoid her altogether.

But I am deeply grateful for her love and sacrifice, and she knows that. But to paraphrase a line from the play, “Evita,” “Don’t cry for her, Oh Argentina, the truth is…” in less than 35 days, Betty will be retired.

I am also grateful our children could be here. My daughter, Lynea, and her boyfriend, Tom, who came down from San Francisco. My stepson Danny, who lives in Orange County, and his brother Steven and his wife Traci, and their daughter, our granddaughter, Katie, who will be 6 years old in two months, who flew in from Connecticut. Thank you all.

I also want to acknowledge and thank my colleagues, the California State University presidents able to honor us with their presence today. The California State University system, with its 23 institutions and 446,000 students, is the largest and arguably the most important system of higher education in this country, and I can attest it has some of the best presidential leaders in the nation. And I intend to learn from all of them.

And I want to welcome and thank presidents and leaders, from institutions of education outside of the California State System. Their presence reminds us, we at California State University Dominguez Hills are part of something greater than ourselves. We are part of a tradition and method of higher education, which in terms of its historical roots and longevity, is derived from and surpassed only by the world’s religious institutions.

Finally, let me thank the nine presidents of California State University, Dominguez Hills who came before me, and specifically the five who are able to join us today. These presidents reflect the strength of leadership and depth of history of this campus.

If you look at the academic programs, the corporate and community partnerships, the facilities and most of all the diversity of the students we serve, it is clear these former presidents embraced the vision that is this campus and left a legacy of accomplishment I am blessed not only to stand upon but am now challenged to build upon.

These presidents also are a reminder that I am not the permanent president of this university. I am merely the president at this point in time, and at some point that time will end. But this university will endure, for decades, a century from now.

Individuals not yet born will gather on this campus, classes will be taught, field trips taken, research conducted, graduation exercises held, and future presidents will have their own investiture ceremonies.

I have thanked only a small subset of those who played a role in my standing here today. There are so many others.

But over the past few weeks, as I thought about this day and what I would say, one person repeatedly came to mind.

My mother, Dorothy Marie Hagan.

And it wasn’t about how she made me do my homework and always stressed the importance of education, which she did.

It was the card games.

The many card games my mother and I use to play when I was kid sitting around the kitchen table. A very small number of you know I come from a family of gamblers. Serious card players and not the kind you see on the Poker Channel. So naturally, as a little boy, I wanted to gamble, to play cards. But I was just a kid, 10 or 11 years old, and we weren’t allowed to play with the adults or play with money.

But my mother understood me and she would usually give in when I was underfoot, saying, “Mom, you want to play some cards?”

So we played cards, not for money but for chores. I would want to play Tonk or Gin Rummy and she would say, “Loser does the dishes or has to mop the floor.”

I would be there in my black-rimmed glasses, studying my cards, serious. She would be sitting across from me, watching, always smiling. We would be in the middle of a game and she would ask me if I wanted to use the rubber gloves to do the dishes or remind me I had to sweep the floor before I mopped it.

The middle of the game, and my mother’s talking trash!

And I’m holding my cards, convinced this time I’m going win. And you know, it never occurred to me I was better off not playing. I almost always lost—and did the dishes or mopped the floor, after I swept.

But it was the memory of those card games, well over 50 years ago, that popped into my head when I started thinking of the influence my mother had on me.

Yes, she made me do my homework, and I know that was critical to my success. But it was her smiling at my earnestness, spending time playing countless card games with me, poking fun at me, and making me feel loved so much that even the losses were victories. Although I couldn’t have articulated that at the time.

Ultimately, it was my mother who put me here. Someone who I knew cared enough for me that whatever she said, I would do without question. When she said work hard and stay out of trouble, I did. When she said treat everybody with respect, I did. When she said, play nicely with others and have fun, I did. And when by example, she taught me to take myself less seriously, I did that as well.

And it was those lessons on how to work hard, how to play, how to lose gracefully, how to make time for others when it may seem that time could be better spent elsewhere—and to do it sincerely. And how to love what you do and who you do it with, and how to poke fun at people as a sign of affection, and to accept being poked back in return.

My mother made me who I am at my core. She made the tenth president of this university.

Focusing on my mother isn’t to ignore my father. He served in the Navy during much of my youth, on a nuclear missile carrying submarine during the Cold War. Six months out of the year he was somewhere beneath an ocean protecting our country. And I am proud of what he did.

But it is the card games I remember.

It was the history of my upbringing that prepared me for this position. But it was the history of this university that drew me here.

In 1960, Governor Pat Brown allocated funds for the development of a college, which was to be known as the South Bay State College. In 1962, the name was changed to California State College at Palos Verdes, and the first classes were taught in 1965 at the California Federal Savings Bank in Palos Verdes.

Palos Verdes is a wonderful coastal community, one of the wealthiest in California, once ranked among the 100 richest cities in the United States. The intent was to create a unique, comprehensive institution, which some referred to as the Harvard of the West.

In August of 1965 the Watts Rebellion occurred. This devastating riot caused 34 deaths, over 1,000 arrests and over $40 million in damages. In response to the rebellion, the Governor and the Board of Trustees decided to relocate the campus from Palos Verdes to its current location in Dominguez Hills to be closer to the areas impacted by the rebellion.

The leaders at that time saw a community in crisis, and they looked for a way to transform it. They looked for a way to bring opportunity, a proven route for upward mobility and a greater sense of hope to individuals and to a community.

So what did they reach for?

They reached for a college. They reached for California State University, Dominguez Hills.
They turned to higher education, because they knew an institution of higher education could be a catalyst for change.

They wanted transformation. And they got it.

Over 87,000 alums later, 57 percent of whom live within 25 miles of campus, enrollment nearing 15,000 students, over 31,000 applications for admissions, a $200 million budget, $335 million in annual economic impact, supporting over 3,000 regional jobs.

And I like to remind people that while Cal State Dominguez Hills was relocated to help transform a local community, our assigned service area includes some the wealthiest and some of the poorest communities in the nation. And our mission is to provide a quality, comprehensive university education for them all.

You probably noticed on your invitation to this ceremony the theme for this week of inaugural activities and this investiture is America Happens Here.
Historian James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book,
“The Epic of America” stated:

The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

So what do I mean when I say America happens here?

We embody Truslow’s American Dream. A place where “circumstances of birth or position” are set aside and where education, the great equalizer, does its magic.

This campus, like all campuses, but more so than many, is a place where people come not just to pursue a dream, but to discover dreams they didn’t know were possible.

But when I say America Happens Here, I mean more than just that.

Earlier this year I took two trips to Washington D.C. The first with my presidential colleagues, led by Chancellor White and representatives of our Board of Trustees, to meet with members of our congressional delegation.

The second trip was with members of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to meet with our two senators, President Obama’s educational advisers, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, and various congressional leaders.

In these meetings we talked about President Obama’s higher education initiative to increase access, affordability, quality, accountability, and student success, how to promote upward mobility for all of our students, but particularly for women, underrepresented minorities and those struggling in an ever shrinking middle-class.

We talked about job creation and the need to educate more students for careers in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics—the so called STEM fields.

We talked about healthcare reform and the scary and growing shortage of nurses and other health care professionals.

We talked about immigration reform, the political and human side of the issue, including the need to pass legislation referred to as The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, the DREAM Act.

We talked about sustainability, job creation, cyber-security, and the promise and the peril of technology, which can win a war with unprecedented stealth and invade our personal privacy with equally unprecedented stealth.

We talked about the need for more community engagement—which, by the way, through the efforts of our students, faculty and staff and programs such as our Service Learning, Internship and Community Engagement Center, California State University Dominguez Hills is consistently recognized as one of the nation’s leaders when it comes to community engagement.

But my point is this: Walk into any classroom or laboratory on this campus or the campuses of any of our sister institutions, what are the issues and realities that we deal with on a daily basis?

Immigration reform, but we’re not just talking about the DREAM Act. America happens here because we’re educating Dream Students.

They talk about access while we on this campus and throughout the CSU system turn away thousands of fully qualified applicants because we don’t have either the facilities or the resources to educate them.

And I will tell you this, every application that is turned away represents an individual, a real person knocking on the door of hope, and that knock goes unanswered.

Health care? It doesn’t matter what your position is on health care legislation, when you or a loved one are in the hospital, all you care about is the availability of a doctor or nurse to help you get better.

America Happens here because we—the California State University System, The University of California System, The California Community College System—we produce the nurses, we produce the doctors, but we are not able to produce them in sufficient numbers.

And here at Cal State Dominguez Hills, we produce the orthotics and prosthetics specialists in one of only 12 programs in the nation, and in my humble opinion, the best one.

America happens here when we engage face-to-face with the reality of income inequality.

We live with it, and see it reflected in our students and in our communities.

The issues this country grapples with are evident on this campus and on the campuses of other 22 CSU institutions; on campuses like El Camino Community College, and in the K-12 schools within the Los Angeles and Compton Unified School Districts.

So I would say this to our political friends here in the audience, in Sacramento and D.C.: When we show up on your doorstep providing you with additional opportunities to invest in education, we truly understand you are overwhelmed with critical and competing needs and limited resources.

Keep this in mind, however. We do not need the resources. America needs what we do with those resources.

And we do not see ourselves as a source of competition. We are a source of solutions, and when you invest in us, you invest in America.

More than half a century after its founding, California State University, Dominguez Hills, continues to serve as a conduit between the reality of today’s America, and the vision put forth, not just by the founders of this institution, but also the founders of this nation.

Look at our mission. Look at our ethnic and cultural diversity. Look at our opportunities and our challenges.

As John Deasy, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said “We are America…only sooner.”

So understand…when I say America happens here at California State University Dominguez Hills, an avowed place, the very intersection of hope and promise, one cannot help but be humbled by the magnitude of the role this institution plays in this community, in this nation.

I cannot help but be humbled by the small role I have been given the privilege to play.

More than half a century after its founding, California State University, Dominguez Hills, continues to serve as a conduit between the reality of today’s America, and the vision put forth, not just by the founders of this institution, but also the founders of this nation.

Look at our mission. Look at our ethnic and cultural diversity. Look at our opportunities and our challenges.

As John Deasy, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said “We are America…only sooner.”

So understand…when I say America happens here at California State University Dominguez Hills, an avowed place, the very intersection of hope and promise, one cannot help but be humbled by the magnitude of the role this institution plays in this community, in this nation.

I cannot help but be humbled by the small role I have been given the privilege to play.

I promise to do everything in my power to live up to the responsibilities of this position. To work collaboratively with the great faculty, staff and students at this university and in this outstanding community to advance our mission and to make this institution even stronger.

And I promise to live by the tenets my mother taught me. To love what I do and the people I do it with, even when we disagree. And to have fun.

From my heart, I truly appreciate all of you being here. And on behalf of the family that is California State University, Dominguez Hills, I thank you.