Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro – March 7, 2021

California Higher Education Student Summit 2021
Dr. Joseph I. Castro
Chancellor, the California State University
Welcome Remarks (as prepared)
March 7, 2021

Thank you, Zahraa, for that kind introduction and for your outstanding leadership of CSSA.

Welcome, everyone, to the 26th CHESS Conference and to what is sure to be a productive, exciting and consequential week of advocacy. I am excited to be with you this morning.

Leadership in general – and educational leadership in particular – is much more than a job for me. It's been one of my life's great passions for decades – it's one that I discovered when I was a student like all of you and it was the focus of my doctoral studies before it became my career. So it is great to be among so many like-minded people who share that passion.

I have a few more thoughts regarding leadership I will share with you in a moment, but – since I am new to most of you – I thought I would begin by sharing a bit about my background.

As Zahraa mentioned, I am the first person of color and first native Californian to serve as chancellor – it's an honor that is 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 – a Dreamer – 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. Certainly, they had the intelligence and drive to succeed in college, but they never had the opportunity.

But because of their hard work and resolve, I did.

I attended the University of California, Berkeley thanks to 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 that passion for educational leadership I mentioned earlier.

And throughout my career, and especially the last going-on-eight years that I have been at the CSU – first as president of Fresno State and now as chancellor – I've seen higher education transform the lives of so many talented and diverse students. Students like you. So many of whom grew up in circumstances similar to my own.

This is why I am so humbled and inspired to serve you as chancellor, with the opportunity to positively impact lives at a scale that the CSU alone can provide as the nation's largest and most ethnically and economically diverse four-year public university. I consider it my life's highest professional honor and responsibility.

I tell you my story by way of introduction, but also because I suspect that it might be your story, as well. Sure, the facts and the circumstances, may be very different, but I bet our stories are similar: folks who experience the uniquely transformative power of higher education in our own lives – and who are then driven to provide that same opportunity – or an even better opportunity – to others – current and future students who will be the next generation of bold leaders to make our communities, state and nation stronger for generations to come.

Our stories – your stories – are important. Your stories matter.

I urge you to share your stories when you meet with your elected officials and their staffs this week. Tell them about your lived experience and the challenges you have overcome to become a student leader. What are your dreams for your future? Your family's future, your community's future. How has your educational journey inspired those dreams and put you on a path to achieving them? And, importantly, what can the CSU do better to support your success and that of your peers and those students who will follow in your footsteps? And how can your elected leaders help?

About a month ago, the CSU conducted its own advocacy week – many of you participated on campus delegations. It was a great success, and we have made a compelling case for our budget ask – and how it will help the university advance our mission. But you are our mission – and it's your stories that most powerfully demonstrate the undeniable fact that investment in the CSU pays dividends in the form of transformed lives and a brighter future for all of California.

While students and university leaders will never be in agreement on every issue, at the California State University, we are unified on what matters most – our mission to provide students from all backgrounds with the lifelong and life-changing benefits of a college degree – and, together, to drive California to its most prosperous future. This unity is one of the CSU's greatest strengths and – when we speak with one, powerful voice to our partners in Sacramento – they take note. In fact, legislative leaders have shared with me and other university leaders that the collaborative, coordinated and aligned advocacy by the CSU's various constituencies has been a critical and influential factor leading to positive budget outcomes in the past.

And I am confident that our united advocacy will be just as powerful this year.

Just last month, Governor Newsom announced that he and our legislative leaders have reached an agreement to fully restore recent cuts to the CSU budget – an agreement that underscores our leaders' belief in our mission and their belief in you. In just a few minutes Assistant Vice Chancellor Ryan Storm will walk you through the specifics of our budget ask, and we look forward to this agreement being included in this year's final Budget Act and we will continue to aggressively advocate for additional funds – every dollar of which will help enhance the student experience.

I will keep my remarks brief today, because I want to hear from you and answer any questions you might have. But I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment to thank you for your leadership. Our state and nation need bold, informed and compassionate leaders like never before. We are deeply and bitterly divided along political and ideological lines. We continue to be plagued by intolerable instances of racial injustice. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought incalculable suffering and great economic uncertainty – disproportionately impacting people of low income and people of color.

But still, I am optimistic. I wholeheartedly believe that our nation is at an inflection point, marking a turn toward healing and recovery. What an opportunity this presents for leaders like you. As student leaders, you have the opportunity to help the CSU use all that we've learned through the past year to make us an even more effective, equitable and consequential university in the post-pandemic world – leveraging high-tech, high-touch solutions as we reimagine the ways we teach, learn and holistically support our students. Those will be exciting discussions, and I invite your input.

And, ultimately, in your communities and in the workforce, you will help lead the state's recovery and drive California's sustained economic vitality.

Again, what an opportunity. What a responsibility. We need – and are grateful for – your leadership.

And as you continue to develop as leaders, I urge you to never stop listening. Never stop learning. The very fact that you are attending this conference – taking time out of your busy schedules to seek out new perspectives, consider new ideas and sharpen your skills – tells me you already understand this.

But I need to warn you: there's a trap out there that we all need to avoid. A leadership trap. It's complacency. Self-satisfaction. The belief that we have it all figured out – and it will mark the end of our growth as leaders.

Perhaps this sounds a little obvious, but it is very real, and I have seen more than a few great leaders fall prey to it.

So be vigilant. Be intentional and be proactive about seeking out and engaging with others and authentically listening to their viewpoints, even when – and perhaps, especially when – those viewpoints are in opposition to your own. This week presents a fantastic opportunity to put this into practice. And when you do, almost invariably, you'll find some nugget, some strategy or best practice, that you can adopt and incorporate to strengthen your own leadership toolkit.

And as your leadership responsibilities increase – as students and throughout what will undoubtedly be successful careers – I hope you'll remember that leadership comes with a responsibility to give back to your communities and to future generations.

One of my favorite books is “The Road to Character" by New York Times writer David Brooks. Brooks describes two types of virtues. The first he calls “resume virtues." These include the substantive knowledge you have honed during your college journey, as well as written and oral communication skills, critical thinking, the ability to effectively collaborate with others, and various technical skills that are so important in today's workforce. Given all your successes and accomplishments, I am guessing that you all have resume virtues in abundance.

The other set of attributes can sometimes be overlooked in the pursuit of the skills I just described. Brooks calls these attributes “eulogy virtues" – characteristics like honesty, integrity, loyalty, respect for others and humility. He calls them eulogy virtues because – ultimately – they are what truly establish your legacy as a leader. A worthy eulogy requires that we conduct ourselves honorably and think about what is best for the greater good of our community and our society.

There will be times when this is easier said than done. You'll undoubtedly face temptations to focus on self-interests – or the interests of a few influential voices – that may not align with the greater good. I urge you to resist those temptations. When you are faced with them, perhaps take a moment to reflect on the eulogy virtues and on what you want your legacy to be. And consider another great blessing and responsibility of being a leader: your legacy is more than what people will remember about you – it's about your impact and influence on those who follow in your footsteps – how will they act? What will their contributions be?

Leave a legacy – a living legacy – by helping to create a new generation of capable, ethical and compassionate leaders.

And I will leave you with the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “The sign of a great leader is not how many followers you have, but how many leaders you create."

Thank you again for the opportunity to address you today and for everything you do for the CSU, your campuses and the students you represent.

Now, I am be happy to answer any questions you might have. Zahraa, would you please moderate?