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News Release

Date: October 9, 2007
Media Contact: Steve Simon, 240-567-7952; Elizabeth Homan, 240-567-7970

Dr. Brian K. Johnson, President of Montgomery College, Delivers Inaugural Address
President Emphasizes Increased Communication, Social Responsibility, Workforce Creation

Montgomery College commemorated the inauguration of new president, Dr. Brian K. Johnson, on Tuesday, October 9, 2007. Dr. Johnson is the seventh chief executive officer in the college’s 61-year history.

Themed “Learning Locally, Transforming Globally,” the inaugural festivities celebrated the diversity of the College’s offerings and of the college community, which includes students from more than 170 different countries. The ceremony included speakers from visiting colleges and universities, and the college and greater community; musical performances; and an inaugural address by Dr. Johnson. The program for the inauguration ceremony and photos of the event can be found at: www.montgomerycollege.edu/inauguration.

Following is the full text of the October 9, 2007, inaugural address delivered by Dr. Brian K. Johnson, president of Montgomery College:

“Forty-four years ago, on a day much like this one, on a college campus not far from where we now meet, a young man gave what was perhaps the finest speech of his brief and brilliant career. He spoke of hope, and he spoke of peace. He spoke of change and of resistance to change. But mostly, he spoke of responsibility. My responsibility and yours. The nation’s responsibility.

Our challenge, he said, is to make the world safe for diversity.

The site of that speech was American University, just down the road. And the speaker was President John F. Kennedy.

A few months later, the president was dead. And since that awful day, so many years ago, I think our nation has sometimes forgotten President Kennedy’s call to action. We have, too often, forgotten our responsibility to make the world safe for diversity.

But Montgomery College has not forgotten. Our faculty has not forgotten. Our staff has not forgotten. And this administration will not forget.

Every day, we are helping to make the world safe for diversity. Every day, we are creating a place where all these beautiful flags, the flags of nations old and young, can be held high and held with pride and held without fear.

We learn locally. We transform globally.

Our students are black and white and brown and red and yellow. They are able-bodied and physically challenged. They are rich and poor, old and young. They speak English and Farsi and Mandarin and Bengali. Their Ipods carry the music of Tchaikovsky … and the music of Shakira. They appreciate the poetry of Dante … and they appreciate the poetry of India Irie. And when they pray, they pray to Jesus and Allah and Yahweh and Brahman.

They come to us from more than 170 different countries. We welcome them all. And we say to them: Let us help you. Let us help you help yourself.

I am not, admittedly, the first to say that Montgomery College is “the Ellis Island of Maryland.” But I like that statement. Because the lady in New York harbor — the lady who holds aloft the torch of liberty — has always represented the best of our national character. And let me remind you, this icon in the harbor, this abiding symbol of the land we love, is a woman. And she is an immigrant. She arrived here, a gift from France, in 1886.

Lady Liberty. Through the decades, she has spoken on our behalf. And through her, we have said — our nation has said — Come in, we will give you a chance.

We do that, too. But there is a fundamental difference between Montgomery College and Ellis Island. The difference is this: The folks who came through Ellis Island did not leave prepared for the University of Maryland or M.I.T. They did not leave prepared for the workforce or for the rights and the responsibilities of citizenship. Most critically, the folks who came through Ellis Island did not have, at their service, what we offer every student: a faculty of consummate professionals, a faculty whose superb qualifications are matched by quiet dedication to their noble — and ennobling — work.

Like Ellis Island, Montgomery College welcomes everyone. We, too, say — Come in. Join us.

But we also say: You will not leave Montgomery College unprepared. We are Ellis Island with a twist. Like the Lady in the harbor, we hold aloft the torch of liberty. But we add a condition.

We tell our students that if they are to know the blessings of liberty, they must first know the blessings of literacy. And we do not define literacy in any minimalist sense. Literate citizens do not just know how to read — they know how to read between the lines. Numerate citizens do not just know how to count — they know what counts.

We offer literacy for all, the necessary prelude to liberty for all.

This is the right thing to do, and it is the smart thing to do. Ensuring access to affordable higher education is an ethical imperative. But it is also an economic imperative. Every time we educate a student, we add another shoulder to the wheel of economic progress. Every student we educate drives our county — and our state — toward greater prosperity.

Since 1990, just 17 years ago, Montgomery County’s Hispanic population has grown by 81 percent. Our foreign-born population has increased 65 percent. We have seen a 73 percent increase in the number of residents who do not speak English at home.

These are our neighbors. This is our future. And for the sake of our neighbors and on behalf of the future, Montgomery College will make good on the promise of access. Because we know that by offering students’ access today, we offer our county and our state access to a more prosperous tomorrow.

Our county understands this. Our state understands this. Our governor and our lieutenant governor have called on our state’s community colleges to lead the way in developing the workforce we need to thrive in the 21st century. They have called on us to begin producing the workforce that will sharpen Maryland’s competitive edge.

Lieutenant Governor Brown, please carry this message back to Annapolis: Montgomery College will answer your call.

Montgomery College will work as one with our colleagues, with the other 15 great community colleges in our state, and together we will get the job done.

Montgomery College will work as one with the Montgomery County Public Schools, and together we will get the job done.

Montgomery College will work as one with County Executive Ike Leggett and the Montgomery County Council. We will work with our county’s faith-based community, with the non-profit sector, with our

business community, with every minority community. And together we will get the job done.

Together, we will demonstrate the power of togetherness.

What will keep us together is the understanding that the ideals that unite us are far more important than the details that sometimes divide us. Let us promise each other this: We will not be distracted. We will not be divided. We will keep the faith by keeping in touch. Starting now, I am committing Montgomery College to a communications offensive: We will communicate more often, more clearly, more candidly, and with better technology than ever before. Better communication will mean a better community. Better communication will remind us of our interdependence. And that is critical — because Interdependence is the defining fact of our time.

I believe Montgomery County understands this. I believe the State of Maryland understands this. I think we get it. I think we know that we can never be like the two guys out in a rowboat in the middle of a big lake. The boat springs a leak and begins to take on water. And the one guy says to the other — Your end is sinking.

That’s not Montgomery County. And that’s not Montgomery College.

I promise you this: Montgomery College will be guided by the understanding that we all need each other. And we will lead the way toward the day when no group, no constituency, no institution in this county will ever look at another and say — Your end is sinking.

We are all in the same boat. We will sail together.

Can we navigate the rough seas? Can we get the job done? Of course we can. The reason for my confidence is simple: We have done it before.

With the G.I. Bill, we took a population that was considered uneducable and turned it into the skilled, imaginative, driven, and determined workforce that took our nation to economic heights never before seen and produced a quality of life never before imagined.

The greatest generation was also the world’s most educated generation. Now that generation is retiring.

Montgomery College will not join the chorus of voices saying that the sky is falling. Where others see adversity, we see opportunity — the opportunity to demonstrate, once again, that America has what it takes, now as always, to confound expectations and come out on top. We will get the workforce we need to excel in the global marketplace.

But let me make this clear: While this college works to meet our state’s workforce shortages in nursing, in engineering, in the hospitality industry, and in biotechnology. We will sustain and we will enrich our legacy of excellence in the liberal arts. We will demonstrate one more time what this faculty has proved again and again: Expanding access does not mean diluting quality.

It is our joint commitment to access and excellence that brought Montgomery College recognition from the New York Times. It is our joint commitment to access and excellence that gives us a national reputation few can match. And it is by sustaining this joint commitment that we will get the State Of Maryland the workforce it deserves — a workforce of lifelong learners.

But we will also do something else, something a little old-fashioned and absolutely essential. We will remember that life is more than an economic quest. It is a quest for moral clarity and spiritual satisfaction. It is a quest for love that is unconditional and friendships that are unbreakable.

This we know. And because we know this, we will prepare our students not just for global competition but for global collaboration. We will help them learn locally and transform globally. We will help them understand that it falls to them to find the common ground on which we can celebrate our common humanity.

It falls to them to make the world safe for diversity.

Because we know we must prepare our students for this essential task, we go far beyond the traditional mission of community colleges. Yes, we prepare our students for the nobility of hard work. but we also help them understand that the poet, the sculptor, the painter, the actor, the musician, the dancer — these, too, are workers.

They work to open our minds and open our hearts. They work to make us part of what the Iranian author Azar Nafisi calls the “Republic of the Imagination.”

By helping our students become citizens of the Republic of the Imagination, this republic without borders, we introduce them to the abiding truth that William Faulkner long ago articulated. Faulkner told us that the poet helps us endure, the poet helps us prevail, by “reminding us that we have a soul . . . a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance and courage and honor.”

The poet, by reminding us that we have a soul, reminds us of our responsibility to the most vulnerable among us. At Montgomery College, we intend to meet this responsibility.

Beginning today, Montgomery College will create and sustain a culture of social responsibility. We will do more to take our community college into the community. We will dig into our souls, and we will reach out to the most vulnerable among us. We will make it our mission to lift up those who have been left out.

This college is one of the few institutions in this county that can do something — something meaningful — about the economic polarization that is the enemy of social cohesion. Our county ranks near the top nationally in the number of PhDs per capita. But our state is also home to 683,000 adults who do not have a high school diploma.

This is not acceptable. All these PhD’s and all these folks without a high school education: This is a prescription for even more severe economic polarization. And this, too, is unacceptable.

We must help. With new and bold workforce creation strategies. With more outreach so we get more people into our Adult Basic Education programs. With more service learning. With a new commitment to our social justice mission.

Martin Luther King Jr. went to the heart of the matter when he said that “everyone can lead because everyone can serve.”

All of us who are privileged to work at Montgomery College take pride in our service. But we can do better. We will do better. We will deliver.

The goals I have set before us today are ambitious. But let there be no mistake: These are realistic goals. I know this in my heart. I know this because I know the faculty, staff, and administrators of this college. These are the men and women who will lead us. These are the men and women I will stand beside with pride, arm in arm, embracing responsibility, defining the future, creating hope.

You are the companions I will look to for strength in the tough times and for laughter all along the way. I will always speak with pride when I say, these are my colleagues; this is Montgomery College.

The journey before us will be long. But we will deliver.

Let us begin. Let us begin today to shape a better tomorrow. Let us begin today to finish the unfinished work of making the world safe for diversity.

I thank you all very much.”

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Montgomery College is a public, open admissions community college with campuses in Germantown, Rockville, and Takoma Park/Silver Spring, plus workforce development/continuing education centers and off-site programs throughout Montgomery County, Md. The College serves nearly 60,000 students a year, through both credit and noncredit programs, in more than 100 areas of study.

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