Central Vermont Career Center Commencement Address
by Dan French, Secretary of Education
Good evening. It is a pleasure to be here tonight. Congratulations to the class of 2019. We are proud of your achievements. The Central Vermont Career Center has an excellent reputation for preparing its graduates for success, and I have no doubt you are all well qualified to successfully follow your interests and passions into the future.
I would like to thank the Career Center’s instructors. By sharing your expertise and experience with these students, you have made a significant contribution to not only their success but to the success of our state. Thank you for your hard work and dedication.
I am honored to serve as Vermont’s Secretary of Education. I began my career in Vermont as a principal in Canaan, Vermont up in Essex County, in the northernmost corner of the Northeast Kingdom where New Hampshire, Vermont, and Quebec share a common border.
As principal of Canaan, I was the head of its career center, what was called a “Comprehensive High School” model. Basically, the high school was its own career center. We could only offer a few programs, however, due to the small size of the student population.
When I was principal of Canaan, graduating classes were consistently about 33 students. This year’s graduating class had 15 students, however. Essex County today has far fewer students having lost over 40% of its student population in the last 10 years.
Although not all Vermont counties have been similarly affected by declining numbers of students, all counties have lost students in the last ten years. In many ways the decrease in students is just a symptom of our broader demographic challenges. We will need to grow Vermont’s economy to reverse this trend. I believe career center programs are key to our economic development and future success.
Even though Canaan’s student population has dropped, its career and technical programs are expanding. A few years ago, they started a new program in Diversified Agriculture and Natural Resources, and are now attracting students from a much larger region including many more students from New Hampshire. Later this summer the New Hampshire Commissioner of Education and I will visit the area to see what we can do to expand the programs further between the two states.
My experience as a principal of a comprehensive high school and career center has had a significant impact on my thinking as Secretary. Our career centers do so many things right by students. I think these ideas should be scaled across our entire education system.
For example, at the heart of a good career center program is personalizing student learning or understanding what motivates students and finding a way to make learning more relevant for them. Career centers have been focused on this for years and we are now replicating this approach in our high school programs through personalized learning plans.
Quite simply, if we want students to achieve at higher levels, they need to own their learning. We can raise the quality of our educational programs through standards, but at the end of the day we must engage students in their own learning, find out what their aspirations are, and help them to meet those aspirations.
This is where career centers do exceptionally good work. They help bridge the gap between student aspirations and needs of the workforce to ensure students land on their feet and hit the ground running. Even with this preparation, we know you will still change jobs throughout your career, but you are off to a good start having gained confidence and technical competence in a specific career field.
If we were to design our education system around this basic principle, meeting the personal learning aspirations of students, I have no doubt the system would look different than it does today. We need to find a way to make the system more flexible for students.
The current system has too many barriers. Greater flexibility is needed to not only to meet the needs of students, but to also meet the changing needs of society which today, are largely caused by technology.
I was principal in Canaan before the Internet, before cell phones. Yes, the Dark Ages. Things have changed dramatically since then. Just like how things have changed for me over my career, things will change for you as well. Many of the careers that you will pursue have not been invented yet. Many of you will be involved in inventing your own careers.
Technology has had a significant impact on our economy and our workforce. All entry-level positions today require basic proficiency in technology skills. The ability to problem solve and to read and comprehend highly technical materials is a necessity. Many entry-level positions require higher levels of technical literacy than managerial positions.
Career centers, with their curriculum aligned to the technological requirements of today’s workforce, ensure their graduates are ready to meet the demands of today’s jobs. By also teaching you a broader set of employment skills, career centers equip students with the ability to navigate future changes as well. You will find the skills and training you have gained here at the Central Vermont Career Center to be in great demand in Vermont and around the country.
It is our hope, of course, that you will apply these valuable skills and stay in Vermont. Vermont is a great place to live and work and to start a business. We need to make it easier and more attractive for you to do so. In a knowledge-based economy, human resources are our most important resources, and we will need every Vermonter involved. Vermont needs to ensure equal opportunity for each of its citizens.
I know many of you will pursue a career that takes you out of Vermont. That is ok too. We hope, of course, that someday you will return to share your expertise and your passions with your home state. I am confident the more you travel outside of Vermont, the more you will look back fondly on our clean air and quality of life.
But if we are successful as a state in addressing our demographic and economic challenges, it is my hope that you will think of Vermont not just in terms of its quality of life and its clean environment, but also in terms of its economic opportunities. If we are successful, you will want to return to Vermont because it is affordable and because you are excited about the professional opportunities available to you here.
Your education and experience at the Central Vermont Career Center have prepared you well to be successful no matter where you go and what you choose to do. We are proud of what you have accomplished so far, and we look forward to seeing what you will accomplish in the future.
Thank you for letting me share this special day with you, your friends, and your families. I wish you the best with your future plans. Thank you.