Photo: Kianna CarterI’d like to introduce you to Kianna Carter. She graduates from Lakes High School near Tacoma on June 18. Next fall, Kianna will attend Washington State University Vancouver. She plans to major in human development and then pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW). She wants to make a positive difference—to give something back. It’s part of her value set, learned and modeled at home. Kianna is poised beyond her years. She is centered and focused. She has a dream and a plan.

Achieving this dream carries a special meaning for Kianna. Her mother—my sister Kim—passed away from cancer in May. She was 45. Kim was one quarter away from completing her MSW at the University of Washington prior to her death. My family was proud of her—both for the way she courageously fought her cancer and for the character with which she, as a single parent, raised her daughter. Kianna possesses the same strength. It’s why, in part, she has persevered—through senior projects, finals, prom, and high school graduation. For her, high school commencement will be bittersweet.

KiannaEvery year, our nation’s public schools graduate approximately three million students, each possessing their own hopes and dreams for the future. Some head off to college, attend a technical school, serve our country in the military, or begin a career. This June, 1,350 graduates from Vancouver Public Schools face the same choices. We’ve helped them develop the skills needed to be productive and compassionate citizens. As we celebrate their achievements, we do so by “mutually pledging our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” to the children we serve. Public schools are the foundation of our democracy. They are the great equalizer that seeds the American dream.

Kianna always was a great “kid.” She made good grades, cheered for her school, and participated in student activities. She worked hard and followed her mom’s advice: getting a good education is the key to unlocking new possibilities.

After graduation, Kianna will move in with our family. Tess and Levi are giddy that they get a big sister. For Lisa and me, this graduation season is bittersweet, too. We’ve lost a sister, but have gained a daughter. And we feel so blessed.

In the next few weeks, our high school seniors will gather for commencement ceremonies. Some have experienced poverty or homelessness. Some have overcome illnesses or deaths in the family. Others have faced personal tragedies and obstacles we can only imagine. But, similar to Kianna, these students have persevered and reached a great milestone in their lives.

Kianna’s brave response, and the heroic efforts of other young people faced with difficult situations, gives me hope for our country in the future. I have no doubt that our nation’s high school graduates possess the character and the strength to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Have a terrific summer!

Take care,


Image: Steve's signature