Latino Legislative Caucus Reception
Brief Introductory Remarks (as prepared)
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
May 10, 2021
Thank you for that kind introduction, Assembly Member Rubio. I remember it was last October shortly after I was appointed chancellor we met in Fresno, and over coffee you graciously offered to organize a reception with the caucus after I had been in my new position for a few months. And here we are today. Thank you so much for your generous offer, and for putting this wonderful event together.
Good afternoon to all of you! It's great to be with you today. I have always held the Latino Legislative Caucus in the highest possible regard and have such deep respect and gratitude for the consequential and positive impact the caucus has had on the lives of California Latinos for almost half a century, indeed enriching the lives of all working Californians. But if we can't all see eye to eye that Nopales is one of the finest and most underrated delicacies known to mankind or that grilling is the only way to prepare your jalapeños, well, we might be in for a long afternoon.
I've had close and productive working relationships with many of you for years. Others of you I have yet to meet or have only recently had the privilege of meeting. So, for those of you who don't know me well, I thought I would share just a few words about my background. As Assembly Member Rubio mentioned, I am the first Mexican American and first native Californian to serve as the CSU's chancellor. It's an honor that is simultaneously a source of great pride and extraordinarily humbling.
My great grandfather came to the United States from Mexico almost a century ago to help build California's railroad. He and his family lived in tents as they traveled up and down the state. My grandfather remembered that experience vividly and frequently told me stories of those times when I was a boy.
My family eventually settled in a small, agricultural town called Hanford, in the San Joaquin Valley. I was raised by my grandparents, who were farmworkers, and my single mother, who was a beautician. They worked hard, dreaming of a bright future for their son and grandson.
I attended the University of California, Berkeley as part of a program that provided educational opportunities to students from the valley and from modest financial means. It was at UC Berkeley as I began to see my own life transformed through my college experience that I discovered my passion for educational leadership.
And throughout my career I've seen higher education transform the lives of so many talented and diverse students. Students who grew up in circumstances similar to my own and perhaps some of yours as well.
This is why I am so humbled and inspired to now serve as the CSU's chancellor, with the opportunity to continue to positively impact lives at a scale that only the CSU can provide as the nation's largest, most diverse and, I believe, most consequential four-year public university. I consider it my life's highest professional honor. And it is certainly my life's greatest professional responsibility.
Given the magnitude of that responsibility, I am grateful that the CSU has vital and necessary partners like the caucus to help us advance our core values of inclusive excellence and equity in all its dimensions, ensuring that anyone with the intelligence and drive to succeed from any background, zip code or household income has the opportunity to achieve the security, prosperity and purpose that come with a Cal State degree as we help drive California toward its brightest future.
To achieve that mission, several of my immediate and overarching priorities include:
Achieving the ambitious goals of Graduation Initiative 2025, our flagship student-success effort to help more students earn a high-quality CSU degree in a timely fashion, and to close equity gaps between low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color and their peers. I am pleased to report that, despite the challenges of the past year, our graduation and persistence rates are now at all-time highs, for students from all backgrounds. But more must be done to completely and permanently eradicate equity gaps. And we will get there. We won't rest until we do.
Related priorities include ensuring that students are positioned for success in the field of study and career of their choosing, and that means working hard to drive diversity in the increasingly important and in-demand STEM fields. And in the STEM disciplines, and in all areas of study, we must do more to recruit, retain and advance leaders, faculty and staff who better reflect our students.
And, of course, at the system and campus levels, we continue to work toward the goal of returning the majority of courses and campus activities safely to in-person delivery this fall, while refining and expanding the great wealth of virtual instruction and support strategies that have worked so well during the pandemic, using them to enrich the CSU student experience moving forward. And I believe our recent decision, announced jointly with the University of California, to require that students, faculty and staff are vaccinated against COVID-19 represents the safest and most expedient path back to the face-to-face classes and vibrant campus life that are hallmarks of the Cal State learning and discovery experience.
I'll keep my remarks brief so that we can spend the rest of our time today in discussion. But before I close, I want to emphasize again how much I value our longstanding and productive partnership as we work toward our goals, so many of which are shared, and our missions, which are so closely aligned in the most critical respects. I thank you for your consistent support, and I hope to inspire you to uphold the CSU as a priority in the 2021-2022 state budget so that we can continue to graduate increasingly talented and diverse leaders who will strengthen California for generations to come.
Please know that I am always available to you, and that the CSU community stands ready to be a resource to you in your consequential work to advocate for Latino people, families and communities across our great state.
Thank you. Assembly Member Rubio, I'll turn the program back to you.