To the graduates of Fairfax County Public Schools:
This month you will don caps and gowns to mark the end of your high school career. Your accomplishment is the product of hard work, perseverance, and the support of many. While you are reflecting on your accomplishments, consider how you will begin your new chapter. As you set off into the world, I ask you not to lose sight of your community and to seize the opportunity to be an active, engaged citizen.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) lists many responsibilities of American citizenship, perhaps the most important of which being a citizen’s obligation to "participate in the democratic process." In the 2012 election, just 38 percent of 18 through 24 year olds voted. That number is much lower for state and local elections. As real challenges face the young people graduating today, I encourage you to become educated about the election process and to vote for candidates you believe will represent you well.
A great deal of pride exists in your newly found freedom, and I hope you will be mindful of how you spend your time. Mohandas Gandhi said, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others," and that is the truth. Make time to volunteer, either as a formal commitment or once in a while on the weekend. Find service that is meaningful to you and that you enjoy, be it building houses, walking shelter dogs, or reading to children. There are a number of organizations doing great work that are always looking for enthusiastic volunteers. Each of you has gifts and talents that are vital to bettering your community, and I ask you to invest those skills in your neighborhood. You can find a variety of opportunities to get involved at Volunteer Fairfax’s website, volunteerfairfax.org.
Another responsibility of American citizenship, according to USCIS is to "participate in your local community." From watching over your elderly neighbors to staying informed about issues that confront your community, one of the most important aspects of being an engaged citizen is being a good neighbor. We like to say, "You don’t have to move to live in a better community." Take advantage of your opportunity to make our County a better place to live through your civic engagement. Be a good neighbor and take pride in your community.
You have accomplished great things already, and wherever the future takes you I encourage you to provide service to others. Look out for those around you, take care of yourself, and spend time making your community better. Congratulations again on your accomplishment and I look forward to seeing the great things you’ll achieve.