Back, Madame Secretary Elaine Chao
Dr. Carole G. Hankin with Randi T. Sachs
was so pleased when U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao accepted
my invitation to return to Syosset High School and receive our
very first Alumni Award of Distinction. Secretary Chao graduated
Syosset High School with the Class of 1971. Administration, faculty,
students, and parents were all eager to meet her.
It was a wonderful visit, and Syosset Schools rolled out the red
carpet for our former student. We greeted Secretary Chao with
the requisite ruffles and flourishes and “Stars and Stripes Forever”
played by our 50-piece marching band. Yet with all the fanfare,
the strongest lesson of the day was that success comes from hard
work and the strong support of family. It’s not necessary to be
the star student in high school to achieve success as an adult.
The Secretary brought along the people who were most important
to her—her parents and three of her sisters and their families,
and it was truly a nostalgic visit for all of them to return to
The first order of the day following introductions was to show
the Secretary some of our classes in action. As Labor Secretary,
she was particularly interested in our business and technical
A lot has changed since Secretary Chao was a student at Syosset
High. When we went into a computer multi-media class, the teacher
was the same woman who had taught Elaine L. Chao shorthand when
she was a student. There were no more typewriters or steno pads
in the room, and the Secretary was delighted to see that the teacher
as well as the students had adapted to using the very latest technology.
At a luncheon reception in her honor, administration, faculty,
students, parents, and community leaders had a chance to meet
the Secretary, and she graciously expressed her admiration of
what she had seen of the present-day Syosset High School. “This
is quite a magical place,” she said. “I’ve been so impressed with
all the students and faculty I’ve met, and how you are learning
in a state-of-the-art environment here.”
After lunch, the Secretary addressed an auditorium filled with
about 700 students. She shared the truly fascinating story of
her family’s immigration to the United States when she was eight
years old. It was the quintessential American Dream success story,
and it was very real to our students, especially when she related
some of her own high school experiences, and mentioned some of
her favorite teachers who are still on the faculty today.
didn’t have to worry about dating,” she said, “as my parents wouldn’t
let me. I was kind of shy, quiet, but I joined some clubs like
yearbook and the theater club (where I worked behind the scenes),
and I worked hard.”
Chao went on to Mount Holyoke College after Syosset, and then
to Harvard where she earned an M.B.A. Her career includes serving
as Director of the Peace Corps and CEO of the United Way of America.
As Secretary of Labor, of course, she sits on President Bush’s
cabinet, an experience she described as the most exciting in her
But it is very clear that Secretary Chao has never forgotten for
a moment the two people who were most instrumental in helping
her to achieve her goals. Her parents, Dr. and Mrs. James Chao,
were her own guests of honor at her visit back to Syosset. I’m
sure that all the parents appreciated the respect and gratitude
she showed to them.
The students of Syosset High School greeted the Secretary with
unbridled enthusiasm. They were very excited to meet someone who
had moved from where they were sitting today to the White House
didn’t go to the prom when I was here,” Secretary Chao told them,
“but it really didn’t matter. With hard work all of you can achieve
anything you set out to do. Remember, don’t count out that quiet
boy or girl sitting next to you. One day they may be a cabinet
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