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The Secretary’s Advice, to Go

By David J. Hoff — May 15, 2007 1 min read
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When Margaret Spellings was searching for wisdom to share with newly minted college graduates, she didn’t turn to classic works of philosophy or modern self-help books.

She found advice on her morning cup of coffee.

“In thinking on what advice to offer as you embrace this next stage in your lives,” the secretary of education told the graduating class of Golden Gate University in San Francisco on May 6, “I looked for inspiration from something every single one of us has needed or will need at some point to get through life … Starbucks.”

Holding up a cup from the ubiquitous beverage shops, Ms. Spellings proceeded to elaborate on the common-sense tips that appear on the chain’s recognizable white cardboard cup.

No. 204 says: “Remember your dreams and fight for them. There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure.”

Ms. Spellings pointed to the story of Oprah Winfrey, who considered her years-ago transfer from a TV anchor desk to a talk show a demotion. Ms. Winfrey has turned her syndicated show into an unrivaled success and is now worth $1.5 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

“If you can remain open to what life throws your way, roll with the punches, and stay focused and sure of who you are, then success can be found in the most unlikely places,” the secretary told the graduating class at Golden Gate, which was composed of working adults. It was her only scheduled commencement address this year.

In her conclusion, Ms. Spellings pointed to Starbucks’ tip No. 209: “… The only things we do in this world that count are those things that make the world a better place for those who will come behind us.”

“Education is a great place to serve,” said Ms. Spellings. “Everyone can be engaged in its improvement, as a parent, as a volunteer, as an employer. And I hope it’s an area where you’ll invest your time and talents.”

While the secretary says she often orders an extra-hot soy misto from Starbucks, she sometimes enjoys finer dining in her official capacity.

The day after her commencement address, Ms. Spellings and her husband, Robert, were among the 134 guests who dined on Dover sole, spring lamb, petit fours, and other courses at the White House state dinner honoring Queen Elizabeth II of Britain.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 2007 edition of Education Week

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