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LaHood sings praises of community colleges; Transportation chief shares experiences with ECC grads

Along with the automobile, community colleges are among the country's greatest creations, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Raymond H. LaHood told Erie Community College graduates Wednesday.

LaHood, a former seven-term Republican Congressman who was appointed transportation secretary by President Obama in 2008, was the commencement speaker at ECC's 64th annual commencement ceremony, held inside Buffalo State College's sports arena.

"Starting in the second half of the 20th century, no American invention has been more critical in creating better citizens, building a pathway to the middle class and preserving our democracy than institutions that we call community colleges, institutions that we call Erie Community College," LaHood said.

"We never wavered in our commitment to accessible, affordable public education, to making sure that every American has the basic tools they need to become good workers, good parents and good citizens. It's a bedrock value of our country and a bipartisan one at that," he added.

LaHood, who served in the House of Representatives with ECC President Jack Quinn, shared with the graduates that he went to community college.

"My story is very similar to your story. Forty-one years ago, I sat sat in seats similar to yours, but I never imagined that one day I'd be delivering a speech like this. I guarantee you, no one in my community [college graduating] class would have ever predicted that Ray LaHood would be the secretary of transportation, or a congressman," LaHood said.

"There are in this audience -- thanks to all of you and thanks to Erie Community College -- a [future] secretary, maybe, of state, of education, of transportation. There certainly are going to be some mighty innovative engineers, mighty good nurses, mighty good doctors and mighty good police officers," he added.

LaHood is a former junior high school teacher. He also was director of the Rock Island County Youth Services Bureau in Illinois and an administrative assistant to U.S. Rep. Tom Railsback, R-Illinois, before being appointed to fill a vacant seat in the House of Representatives for nine months in 1982. LaHood first won election to his own seat in Congress in 1994.

LaHood described community colleges as "places where young people can start their education affordably in a day when there's more student debt found than credit card debt.

"President Obama is committed to making college more affordable. He also is committed to giving community colleges the tools necessary to produce an additional 5 million graduates," said LaHood.

"Like most of you, this administration understands the training of many of our most highly skilled, high-demand occupations will happen at community colleges," he added.

Meanwhile, Donald K. Boswell, president and chief executive officer of the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association, was the commencement speaker during Canisius College's graduate ceremonies Wednesday in the Koessler Athletic Center. About 820 graduate degrees were conferred at the ceremony, and Boswell was presented with an honorary degree.