solis obama air force oneBy Hilda Solis, U. S. Secretary of Labor

It has been an honor to be your secretary of labor. Today, as I prepared to say farewell, I decided that I wanted to share my experience through journeys, and through beginnings and endings, because that reflects what’s in my mind, and more importantly, what is in my heart at this present moment.

Thirty-two years ago—after only a year in Washington—I left my job in President Carter’s administration. Wanting to say something meaningful about what I learned as that job was ending, I wrote a letter to incoming President Regan that appeared in the Hispanic Link News Service.  I had forgotten all about it until a recent reprint by Hispanic Link.

In the letter, I told President Reagan about what I did in the White House, and why I thought it was important.  I also told him a little about myself, including the story of how I got that job.

While I was in graduate school, I filled out dozens of applications for internship positions at every level of government. Almost as a lark, I also sent a letter to the White House.  A staffer for President Carter read my résumé and called my parents’ home in La Puente, California. I was outside in our vegetable garden when my father hollered out to me: “Phone call for you. Someone who claims he’s from the Casa Blanca.”

hilda solisI ran so fast that I knocked over a table lamp and shattered it. My mother, whom I love dearly, can attest to the truth of that story, and to this day, she still tells my husband how much she liked that lamp.

I’m sharing this story not just because it is about my coming to Washington for the first time—and leaving Washington for the first time—but, rather, it reflects my continuous, lifelong passion, and obvious excitement, for public service.

It’s the same passion that I share with my colleagues at the Labor Department.  We don’t do what we do for the money, or the glory; we do it because public service is the very best way to make your own, unique contribution to the world.  Leaders may change, circumstances may change, but our service must be constant. It forms an unbreakable bond between ourselves and our communities, our country and the people we care about.

We are all on a journey of service.  Yesterday, in an outstanding inaugural speech that mentioned Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, the president gave us a map for that journey of service.  He said it is our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began and to make the values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.

We know that there will be challenges on this journey—there always are.  But there is also a true path.  And we’ve been on that path for the past four years at the U.S. Department of Labor.

During that time, we have done more for more of our nation’s working families.

  • We have funded more job training programs that have enhanced the skills of more than 1.7 million people.
  • We have conducted more wage and hour investigations and collected more back wages for more than 300,000 people.
  • We modernized Unemployment Insurance benefits so that it could provide a lifeline to more people.
  • And—quite simply—and I say this with pride, satisfaction and immense gratitude: we have saved more workers’ lives.

Our record of achievement has been remarkable.  But there is still so much more we have to do. And I’m counting on the colleagues I leave behind to do it.  And to do more.

It is incredibly hard for me to say goodbye.  I struggled with this decision for a long time, but I am guided by the words of a poem I studied in La Puente High School called “Four Quartets” by T.S. Elliot, and here’s my favorite line:

“To make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.“

Today is really a beginning for me.

This article was first published in Work in Progress, Department of Labor Blog.

[Photos by The White House,  US Department of Labor]

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