Beginnings and Endings: My Journey of Public Service

Filed in Secretary Solis by on January 22, 2013 20 Comments

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 Reagan 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.”

I 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.


Comments (20)

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  1. P says:

    This lady spoke good but the department of labor employees are like animals, they think they doing the public a favor. This training this lady mention is redundant cause they give training to people with accelerated degrees n they still don’t get a job and these fools gonna keep calling u to have you sign up for more training. If it didn’t work the first time wat make ya think it gonna work the second time… Like the old sayin doing one thing over n over expecting the same result is called madness. Look home many folks unemployment ran out and its been four years and they haven’t found work and have no ways to make ends meet.. Lady u collected a salary for 32 years with good benefits, u didn’t do anything cause the department of labor is one of the worst government agencies. Now go retire and live comfortable while the rest of the unemployed public struggle… Job well done…

  2. Elizabeth Pabst says:

    Dear Secretary Solis,
    Congratulations on your retirement, but I’m sorry you’re leaving! Please know I am in awe of your accomplishments and found your farewell message inspiring. Thank you for all you’ve done for the workers of this nation.
    Elizabeth Pabst
    Employment Program Representative,
    EDD, Roseville, California

  3. Secretary, thank you so much for what you have done for the workforce system and helping focus efforts on helping people get jobs, and businesses get workers! I appreciate you! Best wishes with your next journey!

    MaryAnn Lawrence

  4. Thank You Ms. Solis for everything you have done to help folks from all walks of life for many years!!! I was hoping to work with you on an entry level trade center for the Teens at “Annie’s Place Teen Center” located in The Town Boys and Girls Club in Buffalo NY. I will be reaching out to your office for help….it would have been wonderful working with you…but eveyone comes to that new door in their life….I wish only happiness and good wishes for you and your family…good luck with all your future endeavors…I know they will all be positive…that is all you strive for.
    Good Luck and Good Wishes!!!! Christine Hausrath / President Hausrath’s Landscape Mtnce. Inc, VP Bison Turf Equipment, V.P Segway of WNY, Founder of Annie’s Place Teen Center and V.P Board of Managers for the Town Boys & Girls Club Buffalo NY

  5. Celia Aguilar says:

    Thank Secretary Solis and great job. You have been a great inspiration to me as a hispanic female.

  6. Donna Cole says:

    It is with great regret that I hear you are leaving…
    I am an older person who desires nothing more than to enter public service to make some minor contribution to the society that support my family for so long. I found your post very moving and am grateful that you shared your accomplishments. So often we, as a soceity, take so much for granted. As you leave, I hope you know, that your efforts have been appreicated.

    Best of luck to you.
    Donna Cole

  7. Donna Cole says:

    It is with regret that I hear you are leaving. I found your post very moving and am grateful taht you shared your accomplishments. So often we, as a society, take for grated what others do for our benefit. As you leave, know that your efforts have been appreicated.
    Best of Luck, Donna Cole

  8. Jerome A. Moore says:

    You made an absolutely fantastic Labor Secretary, as you did a state legislator and Member of Confress before that. Thank you so much for your service. Si se puede!

  9. Belia Villarreal says:

    Secretary Hilda Solis,

    As I read your blog, I can’t stop think ing of my daughter . How someday she too would love to be a public servant. Currently, she is a 7th grade and has been attending the Lone Star Leadership Academy for last two years. This comming summer she will be attending the Lone Star Leadership Academy in Houston, where she will be a delegate where she will continue growing her leadership skills while learning about future careers and internship opportunities, visit historically, politically and environmentally significant sites, and be part of a rare academic experience.

    I am so going to share your blog with her.

    Thank you for your publice service…

    Belia Villarreal
    McAllen, TX

  10. Margaret Z. Beard says:

    It has been great to read information from the Department of Labor, your speeches, accomplishments for workers and jobs available. I wish for you the very best of health and happiness. As I end 51 years in public school administration, our occupations reflect the same–a service to the people. God Speed!

  11. Omar A. MUhammad says:

    THANK YOU So much for all your labor of love and service to our country.

  12. Santiago Lopez says:

    Thank you for your service. I am a product of your faithful services to our country.
    Your implementations along with Barack made possible for me to return to the
    work force. Indeed, better prepare for the challenges ahead in the labour market
    trough the WIA of 1998 and making sure it is being put forward in South Carolina.

    Gracias, Hilda!!!

  13. Mary E. Clutter says:

    Thank you for your service to our country.

    I will never forget the thought provoking conversation we had on a plane trip from San Diego to Washington. I did not know who you were until you gave me your business card when we arrived. Both of us were thankful for all of the opportunties of government service.

    Good luck

    Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation (retired)

  14. Denise Merrick says:

    As an employee of USDOL/Office of Workers’ Compensation, Norfolk, VA I would like to extend my best wishes as you leave our department, as well as my appreciation for your leadership these past years!

  15. Estimada Sra. Hilda Solis,
    I want to thank you for sharing your story and for your service to our country and the hard-working people who make it what it is – who we are. If you would consider a request to visit my community to share your story with our Latino families, it would be our honor to host you. There is a lack of leadership in our community and a certain apathy toward public service and the government that needs a wake-up call. I believe you could provide the jolt needed by so many to see clearly that service to others is more valuable than service to self. If you are willing to come to Central Oregon, please let me know and we will work out the details of your trip together.

    Muy atentamente,
    Sr. Bradley “Braulio” Porterfield
    Director, Latino Community Association
    Redmond, Oregon

  16. Barbara Carrasco says:

    So proud of you and all the work you have done with integrity on behalf of so many people.

  17. Dr. Frank says:

    Thanks for coming to visit United Indians of All Tribes Foundation in Seattle Secretary Solis. We will miss you and we wish you the best in the next chapter of your life.

  18. Buenas Ms. Secretary:

    Every new USDOL administration, I had hoped for the inclusion of Guam for Job Corps Center as like in Puerto Rico. A U.S. Territory like Guam.
    Over the past decades, Guam as well as other Pacific Islands have been under the Hawaii Job Corps and we have little to no success stories. We have been asking and asking to separate from Hawaii Program and establish a Job Corps Center and make it a hub for the Pacific Islanders rather than enrolled with the Hawaii program.
    For years now, we have not been recognized and I wonder whether you would be able to make some recommendations in how we can approach our desire for the Job Corps Center.
    I was very pleased when Guam Congresswoman Madeliene Bordallo said she knows you and would be glad to follow this through after the election President Obama. And when you made the announcement that you are stepping down as the USDOL SECRETARY, I was a bit disappointed.
    To close, I would like to ask for your recommendations in what needs to be done.
    Wish you best for your new endeavors.
    Incidentally, we have a good number of Guamanians living in California.


    Ruth Leon Guerrero
    Bureau of Women’s Affairs
    (xxx) xxx.xxxx (phone number removed)

  19. Online Writing Class says:

    Tank you so much for your service, Ms. Solis! You really have had quite the journey. Someday I even aspire to work as a public servant. I truly think there is no higher calling than the serve your local community. And it is so apropos of you to quote T.S. Eliot. He is one of my favorite poets! Thank you again for your service to us.

  20. Accounting Classes Online says:

    It is with regret that I hear you are leaving. I found your blog post inspiring and moving. We are grateful that you shared your accomplishments with us. It’s so often that our society take your service for grated. We have all appreciated your efforts.

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