On Tuesday more than 300 colleagues and supporters united in Washington, D.C. to salute Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis on her official last day at the U.S. Department of Labor. Her mother, sisters, and husband accompanied her, and more than 2,000 attended virtually.
“Wow! What a turn out!,” exclaimed Solis as she began her farewell speech.
After a shout out to her “amigo,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and staff from other agencies, the Hill and the White House, Solis said she reflected a great deal on what she wanted to say in her farewell.
“There is a lot that I want to say…but I’ve been advised that my remarks shouldn’t be longer than my tenure as Labor Secretary,” she joked. “And after struggling all morning trying to put how I feel into words, I decided I wanted to share my experience with journeys, with beginnings and endings…because when you come right down to it, that reflects what’s in my mind, and more importantly, what is in my heart, at this present moment.”
She recalled back to when she was in graduate school. She said she filled out dozens of applications for internship positions in every level of government she could find — even one to the White House.
“A staffer for President Carter read my résumé and called my parents’ home in La Puente, Calif.,” said Solis. “I was out in our vegetable garden and my father hollered out to me: ‘Phone call for you. Someone who claims he’s from the Casa Blanca.’ I ran so fast to get to the phone that I knocked over a table lamp and shattered it.”
She explained she recounted this memory not because it’s about her coming to Washington for the first time, but rather because it reflects her “continuous, lifelong passion — and obvious excitement — for public service.”
For Solis, she didn’t do her job for the money or glory; she explained it was for the same reason as the other employees at the Department of Labor.
“We do it because public service is the very best way to make your own, unique contribution to the world,” she said. “The coming and going isn’t what matters…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.”
She went on to mention that President Obama gave us a map for our individual journeys of service in his recent inaugural speech.
“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…every single American,’” she reflected.
She said although all paths are confronted with challenges, she thought back to her path the past four years at the Department of Labor — from funding job training programs that enhanced the skills of more than 1.7 million people to conducting more wage and hour investigations and collecting more back wages for more than 300,000 people.
“Our record of achievement has been remarkable,” she said. “But there is still so much more we have to do, and I’m counting on you to do it, and to do more.”
She said she struggled with the decision to leave her position for a long time, and although it’s hard to say goodbye, for her it’s a new beginning.
“God bless each and every one of you,” ended Solis. “God bless the work of the U.S. Department of Labor. It has been an honor to be your Secretary. And know that I will miss you.”