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SUNY Maritime College Commencement

Friday, January 31, 2020

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
SUNY Maritime College Commencement 
Throggs Neck, NY
Friday, January 31, 2020

Thank you, Admiral Alfultis, for the introduction.   And thank you, Father Mark, for the invocation and benediction.  Let me also acknowledge the presence of Admiral Buzby, the Maritime Administrator. 

Cadets, parents, families, friends, alumni, faculty and guests:  Today is a very special day and I am so pleased to be able to join you!  I have long wanted to attend your graduation but your Spring commencement graduation always conflicted with Kentucky Derby (I’m a Kentuckian so always have to attend) and your January commencement always conflicted with an annual major event in Washington!    But this year – perhaps because it’s a Leap Year – the schedules do not conflict.  So, I’m so delighted to be here.    

For decades, I have wanted to come visit SUNY Maritime!  Just prior to Commencement, I had a tour of this wonderful campus.  The Full Mission Bridge simulators are impressive.  And so was the engine room simulator.  Most importantly, the cadets I see are truly impressive and give me confidence for the future. 

Water transportation is important to our economy.   Annually, approximately 72 percent of U.S. – international trade by weight, worth close to $2 trillion, moves by water.  The U.S. water transportation and shipping industries directly employ more than 292,850 workers in this country, including 77,350 inland and deep-sea mariners. 

As you may know, the Maritime Administration in the U. S. Department of Transportation promotes the domestic, U.S.-flag merchant marine capability.   And as you’ve heard, I’m a strong advocate of the Ready Reserve Force fleet, the Maritime Security Program, and the Jones Act.

The website 24/7 Wall Street listed SUNY Maritime as New York’s most affordable school, with the best employment outcomes for its graduates.  You’ve already taken one of the most important steps to ensuring a bright future for yourselves by completing your college degree.  As the former Secretary of Labor, I can tell you that college graduates earn, on average, from 2 to 3 times more over their lifetimes than those without a college degree.

And there is more good news for you in that you are graduating during strong economic times!   Due to this Administration’s pro-growth tax and economic policies, our country’s economy is the best it has been in a long time.    The economy has added more than 6.7 million jobs since 2017.  The national unemployment is at 3.5 percent – nearly a 50-year low.   And the median weekly earnings of full time workers rose 4 percent over the previous year!  

This rising tide of economic activity is benefitting everyone, including the maritime industry.   So, whether you are part of the 70 percent of SUNY Maritime graduates who earn a license, or the 30 percent who do not, you are entering the job market with the wind at your back.

As you graduate, you should be confident in the firm foundation you have been given at SUNY maritime.  In graduating today, you join a close-knit industry of professionals who share an affinity for the sea.  I first learned about the sea from my father who became one of the youngest sea captains at the age of 29.  I grew up surrounded by family and friends many of whom were also mariners and seafarers, so I had a deep understanding and familiarity with a life at sea as well as the sacrifices of time away from the families.  Through these personal experiences, I came to have tremendous respect for those who serve in this industry and on the seas, helping to facilitate trade and commerce and increase the world’s standard of living. 

But, whether on land, sea, or even air, the education you received at SUNY Maritime will serve you well no matter where your life voyage takes you.  Since 1874, this Institution has provided generations with a great education and foundation in life.  The two words on the seal of SUNY Maritime are Loyalty and Valor, powerful guiding words in one’s life. 

And, you’ve been taught by inspirational leaders right here on campus:  Let me mention one of SUNY Maritime’s instructors:   Captain Hugh Stephens who at the age of 95, still maintains his U.S. Coast Guard license – the only World War II merchant mariner still sailing on his license!    As a young sailor, he served in Liberty ships during World War II, including the dangerous and vitally important run to Murmansk.  Allied ships sailed through treacherous icy seas past a gauntlet of Nazi submarines and long-range bombers.  Despite heavy losses, their brave crews carried vital supplies that helped win World War II. 

Captain Stephens is also an example of the importance of life-long learning in one’s life and career.   In the years that have elapsed since he first shipped out, maritime technology has adopted new propulsion systems, satellite navigation, computers and other technology.  Like him, you need to remain current on developments in your career and this industry.  Please join me in acknowledging Capt. Stephens’ inspiring service to our country and SUNY Maritime!   

In my previous two stints at the U. S. Department of Transportation, as Deputy Maritime Administrator and Deputy Secretary of Transportation, there were talks about replacing the training ships used at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and the state maritime schools.    

So, one of my focus as Secretary of Transportation was the replacement of the schools’ training ships.  These National Security Multi-mission Vessels as they are called are specially designed ships that will provide enhanced, modern training platforms for state maritime academy cadets.  In addition, these vessels will be able to undertake a wide variety of missions, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.  The first new ship will replace the Empire State VI! 

In closing, congratulations to you and your families!   May you always have the wind at your back.  And I hope you will always appreciate life’s most important treasures—family, friends, the respect of your peers and a life well lived.

May God bless you, and may God bless America!  

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