This year, the United States of America will celebrate its 234th birthday with fireworks, parades, BBQ’s and relaxation. I think about how this country with its rich ethnic and racial diversity has endured despite America’s troublesome history over such outrages as slavery, interment camps and the expression of xenophobic tendencies during tough economic times.

I’m convinced that John Adams was absolutely correct when he observed that, “Laws for the liberal education of youth… are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”

President Barack Obama recently said that with the changing economy, no one has lifetime employment. But community colleges provide lifetime employability.

For the young people of the East Bay, the Peralta Community Colleges provide a good, affordable education for anyone who has the desire to learn new skills. I had the opportunity to address the graduates of the College of Alameda, one of our four local community colleges.

In my remarks, I acknowledged the challenging economic times facing the nation and our recent graduates as they search for their new careers. I reminded them that despite the challenges of the current economy, “you have preserved in your personal journey to get here today.” I reminded the graduates that no one, not even the economy, can ever take away the education they received in our public schools.

A shining example of how education is tied to our collective and individual freedoms –both literally and figuratively – was provided by class Valedictorian Mali Watkins. Mali was accepted to the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley this fall.

He gave an emotional speech, pausing at times to wipe away his tears. His journey began in 2005 but he explained that he had “more than a brush with the law” and ended up being incarcerated. Out of prison, Watkins, a father of seven, returned to school, and began to work hard and embrace his education. He told us how the first semester back in school he was at first ashamed, and would sit in the back of the class and did not participate in class discussions.

His story is a shining example of the freedom we should all strives towards for our families and our communities. Watson told his classmates, “I want to thank everyone,” he said. “It’s not just me that’s standing here, I’ve had a wonderful, wonderful support system that has held me down and without them I would be nothing.”

Freedom is possible because as a society we have invested in our education system. As citizens who care about the future of Oakland, our state and our nation, we all have a responsibility to advocate for education to guarantee our values of freedom, opportunity and affordable education remain accessible for people just like Mali Watkins.

And to maintain the foundation of our system of public education, we must remember the words of another great American leader, Cesar Chavez, who admonished us that “the end of all education should surely be service to others.”