Chairman’s Commencement Speech at the University of San Diego

On May 25th, a gathering of 400 including faculty, administrators, students, friends and their families welcomed the chairman of the California Foundation Fund, Miguel Vasquez, at the University of San Diego for their 18th annual Chicano/Latino commencement ceremony. Miguel was the Alumni Speaker at the USD United Front/Multicultural Center. The following speech was given by Miguel Vasquez to help guide and inspire the graduating class of 2013. First majoring in visual arts, Miguel completed his bachelors in business administration from USD in 1994.

It was an honor to be selected and be accompanied by Miguel Vasquezthe Foundation’s team and supporters. It is my hope that USD continues this great tradition and seeks to help more Latinos take the path of higher education and leadership. – Miguel D. Vasquez, chairman


Thank you very much for the generous introduction. I am honored to be back on the campus of my Alma Mater. Good evening class of 2013; parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, teachers, and administrators.

I want to especially thank the USD United Front/Multicultural Center, the Latino/Chicano graduation co-chairs, Angelica Leyva and Estefania Cabrera for inviting me to join you today.

Everyone knows the University of San Diego is more than an awe-inspiring campus on the hill. It is more than a center for education; it establishes a foundation for individual and personal hope. Moreover, it is unique in that “educators on this hill” create caring leaders. I began my educational journey at USD and thanks to the knowledge, skills, and values I learned here, it continues to grow.

I am proud of being a USD Alumni and I am honored that USD staff recognized my success as its success. A few years ago, I was sitting where you are now. I was eager to conquer the business world. I was tired of only reading and discussing. In 1994 we were in the middle of what was one of the largest recessions. It would not fade me because I felt unstoppable. I was on fire.

I want to share what life has taught me. Hopefully, you will use my experiences to help you in your journey. There are many lessons I learned, but today I want to address the five key elements of success:

One: Choose your passion.

Two: Accept who you are.

Three: Continuously learn.

Four: Work rigorously.

Five: Most importantly never, ever, give up.

Choose and follow your passion because you will choose what you do for the next 25 years. Do what you love and it will reward you in ways you will not imagine. Do more than maintaining a dream job. Grow, create and lead others to their dream jobs.

Accept who you are to realize how far you are from your goals. Even if your efforts seem small recognize that small steps will sum up to great accomplishments.

Make learning a journey. Learn your culture is your greatest asset. It will help you understand your values and your purpose.

Work rigorously to outdo yourself. Every day is an opportunity to work harder and serve others.

Never ever give up as you will fail many times. When you fail, learn and keep moving forward.


When I graduated, I thought I needed to find the highest paying job. I wanted to use my newly earned USD diploma to gain a place in society. I zigzagged across the country from New Jersey, Minnesota, Texas and California. Then, I worked internationally on projects from Mexico, Argentina, and Germany. Most astonishing to me was how I was raising millions in corporate revenues and spending millions too. I managed one of the largest banks in the west coast with millions of dollars in assets. I dinned with millionaires and world leaders. However, I did not recognize who I was or what I wanted to become.


I am an immigrant from Mexico, a dairy farmer and an economic refugee. Like many immigrant children, I lived unaware of my poverty. My toys were broken brooms and the dirt roads were my playgrounds. Every summer I stayed at the family farm. I learned that work started at five and ended when the sun would set. Life’s challenges started early. My father died when I was 40 days old. In the seventies, my widowed mother immigrated our family. At age sixteen, I was ousted from my home. On my own I graduated from high school to become an auto mechanic. After losing my eyesight for several weeks in a shop accident, I went back to school. With hard work, the help of many educators, a 4.0 GPA, and some luck, I landed at USD. My educational journey took off on this campus. A journey that would help me understand what really matters.


My culture has helped me appreciate others, to be understanding and share our strengths. There are many from all walks of life driven towards common goals, with compassions and a drive to make our communities open towards inclusiveness and equality.

Our environment consists of the multicultural kinships and diverse relationships; they are life’s greatest gifts. You do not need to accept the values of others to know that everyone’s imperfect life is meaningful. Everyone stumbles with ignorance, flaws and weaknesses. They are our opportunities to do good for others and improve ourselves. The largest part of our wealth is our cultural differences and the values that we share in common.

Lets understand this about our diverse cultures; due to the advocacy of so many trailblazers, now more than ever, when we show up to work, or in our communities, we are seen as significant people, able to contribute and needed for our communities to thrive. Your backgrounds, cultures, languages, and intellect will serve you well. Never forget what has been accomplished and never allow the progress of empowerment to be undermined. You are our new leaders that will protect this progress and are responsible for the growth of our future. Use your culture to reveal your strengths and determine your purpose.


Purpose is an emotional strength and emotional intelligence that helps you understand what really matters. This emotional wisdom will help you reach your fulfillment. It will convert you into an effective and caring leader. You will realize what really matters in your life.

After I graduated from USD, It took me 20 years of accomplishments to realize what matters. Accomplishments alone, regardless of how significant, will not get you to your ultimate potential. It is your purpose not your accomplishments that will fulfill your life.

My accomplishments could have been meaningful if they were supportive of a humanitarian cause. If they had a purpose and were my causes and not incentivized goals. I asked, if I am unknown to myself; who is it that created my dreams? My largest failure was living in the dreams of others’ and living up to their expectation. My purpose has been to serve, to collaborate and bring people together to do good.


I knew my USD education would serve me, what I needed to learn was how I would serve others. It took hard work to understand and be understanding. I could not have realized my accomplishments and found success without hard work. Finally, I recognized that serving others is a privilege that gives purpose to my life.

The five elements of success; passionate goals, self-acceptance, a life of learning, working harder than yourself, and never giving up, will yield success. They will yield confidence towards selfless growth, kind leadership, and a life with purpose.


Remember, only those that fail to learn from failure, fail. My failures were simply temporary setbacks that helped me understand what is truly important.

I failed as a farmer, as an auto mechanic, as a banker and as a cook. Ask my wife and she will agree, I cannot cook. I have lost hundreds of thousands in personal wealth and millions in corporate projects. From my failures I have learned to embrace and value knowledge. Most importantly, I learned not to fear failing. That sense of confidence and assertiveness is my success.

To be fearless you must never let go of the inner strength that has gotten you this far. You must know your emotional limitations. In your strength you will recognize that service is a privilege. Our ability to confidently serve will lead to the opportunities that will enrich and fulfill our lives. And that, my fellow Toreros, is what really matters. Fulfillment. A life with purpose.


Today, the corporation that I founded, the California Foundation Fund, is helping break the cycle of poverty and helping people prosper. With the collaboration of magnificent educators, community leaders, volunteers and corporate supporters, we created sustainable, culturally competent, financial education programs across the state. Poverty is a manmade phenomena; an injustice that can be broken through empowerment. We recognize empowerment through education is the key to many of our societal problems. No one can force, or even lead another to improve. Our aim is to help others self-discover their full potential. Everyone is in a constant and unstoppable path towards change. You are not the same person you were when you graduated from high school. You are not the same person who entered the room earlier today. It is our choices towards self-improvement that will convert our changes into growth. It has been your choice to learn, grow, earn a university degree and now seek a purposeful life serving others.


I applaud you for reaching the great milestone of graduation. After today, your life will start anew, but not for the last time. It will be one of many meaningful periods in your life. It is your choice in values and character that will decide your dreams, how you use your talents, and whose lives you will improve. I urge you to realize your full potential and live a determined, meaningful life with purpose. I want to thank the University of San Diego for instilling this great value and thank all of you for your dedication to continue your educational journey of community, justice and inclusion. I am certain many of you will humbly accept your new challenges and seek the courage to fail as part of your educational success. I am hopeful that you will learn to listen to your dreams and not those of others. I know you will use your wealth of knowledge and culture to help our great communities. I leave you with one of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s shortest and most memorable speeches, he said, “Remember, Never give up. Never give up, Never.” Good luck class of 2013. God bless and thank you.

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