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Jacob Fraire Delivers National University Commencement Address

July 19, 2023

On June 9 and 10, 2023, ECMC Foundation President Jacob Fraire delivered the keynote address at the National University (NU) 2023 Commencement Ceremonies. This class of 2023 is the largest graduating class in NU’s 50+ year history with nearly 6,300 graduates from the university’s seven schools and colleges. Approximately 1,500 students walked across the stage to receive their degree in person during each of the ceremonies, which took place at Petco Park in San Diego. National University President Mark D. Milliron conferred an honorary doctoral degree to Mr. Fraire out of respect for his exemplary career of service to improve the lives of underrepresented students and affect transformational change in higher education.

Mr. Fraire’s speech focused on the graduates’ tremendous achievements and their many contributions to a more perfect union.

Watch highlights from the commencement ceremonies here.

Watch the full speech here.


President Milliron, thank you for your leadership to this exemplar university. 

Thank you also distinguished members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, administrators and staff of National University for your tireless efforts in service of this new class of critical thinkers who, individually and together, will strengthen the fabric of our young nation.

Graduates, I am thrilled to share this momentous occasion with you.

I am truly honored to join you in today’s celebration and at this pivotal moment in your learning journey. 

I am especially pleased to share this moment with you as the new president of ECMC Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving higher education outcomes for all students, with no exception.

At ECMC Foundation, we believe in the grand possibilities of higher education. Graduates, each one of you represents those grand possibilities.

Your academic achievements are invaluable! At the Foundation, we also recognize that your achievements will be transformative to your family, community, and our beloved nation.

These achievements are especially critical when you consider that many students who start college never finish. 

In fact, recent data indicate that there are now more than 40 million individuals who have earned college credit and have no degree. 

Imagine it, an adult population larger than the entire state of California who enrolled in college somewhere across the country and did not cross the finish line.

This sobering fact keeps me up at night, but today, knowing that you are amongst the largest graduating class of National University, I am more especially pleased to celebrate your academic success, to recognize your perseverance and to honor your many sacrifices. 

We also applaud your family and friends for their love and care in support of your success.

Each of you has busy a life. Many of you are holding down one or more jobs. Many of you are raising families or caring for your parents or other family members.

Many of you are military veterans or active service members.

As you worked to support your family or protect our country, you also worked hard to earn a college credential.

Graduates, I applaud all of the sacrifices you’ve made to earn your credential. I know from personal experience the many sacrifices that students make along their learning journey. 

Allow me to share a personal story. 

As a young child, I traveled with my family in search of seasonal migrant farm work. 

One spring day, we arrived at a town in Central California.

On the second day, my father drove my older brother and me to the local middle school. He stayed with us while we negotiated the registration process with the school counselor. Hours later, we said, “Papa, we can go now. The school said we had done all we could do for today.” Dad took us home and left to search for work. 

On day three, my brother and I arrived at the school and were greeted with a battery of tests. Later that morning, we were sent home. This was all we could do for today, we were told again.

On day four, we went to school and began classes. On that day, I felt like a student, rather than a stranger in a strange town.

And on the fifth day, our stay at that school would end. Unable to find work for the past four days, my parents made a decision they would make dozens of times as migrant farm workers -- we would need to move to another town, to another labor camp, in search of farm work.

I share this story to illustrate that often times the demands of life, and especially for the working poor, create real and pressing interruptions to our education. These are the harsh realities for countless families.

And yet, I learned from my parents, and Graduates, you have so beautifully demonstrated here today, that we must never lose sight of the opportunity to learn.

Graduates, inherent in your achievement is optimism about the future. It is fitting that we embrace a strong sense of optimism as you launch into the future, with a university degree in hand.

Graduates, in this future, I invite you to serve others as a means of ushering the conditions for a more perfect union and a more loving society.

Each of you already provides service to others, whether in your family, in community, or as is the case for veterans and active members of the military, for our nation. 

Today, the opportunity, indeed the responsibility, to serve others is magnified by your university education.

You also now have the heightened responsibility of preserving and strengthening our democracy. No matter your program of study, I invite you to engage in the broader policy discussions, in the kind of civic engagements that strengthen this nation. 

Our nation continues its pursuit of a more perfect union. We are engaged in a civil discourse on critical issues affecting countless people across our great nation.

As Graduates, you are now equipped with the knowledge and skills from your university learnings, which when combined with your personal experiences, positions you well to contribute to, and help lead, a civil and productive public discourse about consequential matters. 

We have ample choices of consequential matters which need our attention, like homelessness, climate change, mental health wellness, pandemic recovery, racism, and abject poverty, to name a few. 

We also have ample choices on how we might engage. While we might choose to not engage at all, to take the road of least resistance, I implore you to choose action over indifference!

Finally graduates, you are among the first cohort of college degree-holders who will shape a post-pandemic America.

The essence that is you—emboldened and sharpened by your university studies —must now be shared with our brothers and sisters across the union. 

We need your talent and your optimism for a better future. 

We need you to contribute to the shaping of a more perfect union. 

In the words of the late Honorable John Lewis, we need you to make “good trouble!”

The world is waiting for you. Charge ahead with optimism and love.

Graduates, Congratulations! ¡Felicidades!

Cherish this beautiful moment with your family and friends. You’ve earned it!

President Milliron, thank you for your service to National University, thank you for your enduring commitment to students from all walks of life, and thank you for inviting me to join you in celebrating these extraordinary graduates.

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