Remarks by Supervisor Penny Gross
at PACC Induction of Officers Dinner
December 20, 2013
Thank you. It is a pleasure to be with you this evening, and I deeply appreciate Rene’s invitation to speak at the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce holiday party. Fairfax County is proud to be the home of so many people from around the world. Whether you have been here for decades, or arrived last week, our diversity weaves a wonderful tapestry that is the envy of many of our neighboring counties and states.
The United States contains more than 3000 counties – east to west and north to south. The smallest county, population-wise, is Loving County, in west Texas. Only 71 people live in the entire county, which is nearly twice as large, geographically, as Fairfax County. They don’t have traffic congestion, I am not sure they have a grocery store, and their school district closed down years ago because the student population had fallen to two, that’s two, students!
On the other hand, Fairfax County is known as a premier county anywhere! Fairfax always makes the top ten list in almost any category – household income, quality of life, employment, percentage of college graduates, and unfortunately, traffic congestion. Unlike Loving County, our school system has about 184,000 students, and we have plenty of grocery stores and shopping areas.
Why do I bring up this comparison between Fairfax County, Virginia, and Loving County, Texas? Well, it’s easy. Our country is composed of many, many different communities – large and small, urban, suburban, and rural – but we in the metropolitan Washington area, with lots of leaders and Type A personalities, often forget that people in other places might have different opinions, beliefs, and approaches to problems. We live in the white hot global center of politics. Washington, D. C. is in the news, on TV, and on social media, almost every second of every day. We get used to seeing familiar people and locations on national news, and may tend to think that’s how it is everywhere else.
But it isn’t. A few months ago, my husband and I were in California for his high school class reunion. The civil war in Syria was on all the news programs, and there was a lot of concern here about the war and the people fleeing to Turkey. However, in California, on the Stanford campus, not a single mention was made about Syria, or war, or any of the issues that we talk about here all the time. For our friends in California, many of whom were doctors, lawyers, and other professional careers, the concern was not global, but very local. Yes, we were about 3000 miles away, but it might as well have been another planet.
So my advice, and caution, is to remember that, for all of life’s similarities, there also are great differences. Being open to learning new things, or understanding a new approach to old things, or finding a simple solution to something that seems more complex are all good things. And for communities that are welcoming family members and friends to an entirely new life in this country, learning new things is sort of a joint effort, isn’t it? You want to maintain your values, but also are ready to expand your friendships, viewpoints, and understand others.
That’s often what leadership is made of. It’s not who’s the best speaker, or who aces every test, or wears the coolest clothes. Leadership is exhibited in your openness to new ideas (question, but not necessarily reject them), explaining new concepts to others, being willing to take on the tough challenges, rolling up your sleeves and pitching in.
For the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce, the focus is on succeeding in business. Small business provides the backbone of our economic strength here in Fairfax County. Yes, we have large employers such as SACI, Northrup Grumman, Hilton Worldwide, and Volkswagen, and we were thrilled that those well-known corporations selected Fairfax County for their headquarters. But who is going to serve all those employees? Who will provide their dry cleaning services? Who will repair their vehicles? What about shoe repair? And the pediatrician? And the day care provider? CPA services during tax time? Where will the family go to celebrate a special birthday or anniversary? Most likely, they will patronize a small business, someone local, or perhaps a franchisee, but a business that needs to meet a payroll every week. Not a small order, but one that depends on succeeding in business, in a county that is friendly to business.
And so I am pleased that you have chosen Fairfax County. We in Northern Virginia are so fortunate to have the measure of success and involvement that we enjoy. Chairman Sharon Bulova often comments that, in Fairfax County, we have an engaged community. There are not wide distances between residents and their elected officials. We are constantly networking, even if we don’t call it networking. We are all connected somehow. And it seems that the larger we get, the more we seem to be a small town. There was a play called “Six Degrees of Separation” that explored the theory that everyone and everything is six steps or less from some sort of connection. In Fairfax County, it seems that sometimes that separation is only two or three. So many connections among so many people – it truly does make us a small town.
Those degrees of separation become even closer when we volunteer in the community. A wonderful example is your food bank and the monthly dinners you sponsor for needy families. The Chamber provides a wonderful service, but you also are role models for those kids and their families. They may need your help now, but success means that they will pattern what you do for the next generation, and the next. Lifelong friendships are built just by virtue of connecting with each other, sharing commonalities, and exploring differences.
And so I salute your volunteer spirit. Volunteerism builds leadership skills that you always use and never lose. You can be a volunteer, and a leader, at every age, young or old. I have one friend who is still a daily volunteer in the parks at the age of 91. Volunteering keeps her young!
Your niche is out there. Find it, nurture it, and never regret it.