Inez Tenenbaum, chairwoman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, urged about 200 graduates of the University of South Carolina School of Law to be open to the possibilities that their law degree will afford them.
“Looking back 26 years ago when I sat where you are sitting today, I could not have imagined how rich my work experience would be because of the opportunities that my law degree has afforded me,” Tenenbaum said during her address Friday morning on USC's Horseshoe.
“If there is one thing that I have learned, it is to be open to possibilities, believe in your potential, and do not limit your career to conventional thinking. In other words, define yourself --- don’t let others define you or your career path.”
Tenenbaum told graduates it was important to pursue their passion — their reason for living.
"Over time your venues may change, but your mission will remain your guide throughout your career," Tenenbaum said. "My passion has always been and continues to be improving the lives of children and families. This mission has guided me through many careers ..."
"It has been my experience, that most of life's opportunities and career opportunities happen by chance, not by elaborate planning. So, if you are sitting out there already planning to be on the South Carolina Supreme Court in 10 years, stop planning!"
Tenenbaum went on to discuss how her passions lead her to several careers including an elementary school teacher, State Superintendent of Education and now chairwoman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Tenenbaum, who received her law degree from USC in 1986, served as the head of education in South Carolina from 1998-2007.
She was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009 to serve as the chair of the commission.
Patch talked with Tenenbaum after the ceremony about her time as head of the agency whose duties are to protect the public from "unreasonable risks of injury or death" when using consumer products.
Last year, a Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that would cut funding for the commission's searchable online database, which Tenenbaum said is a valuable tool for consumers.
"Although we had some Republicans on the commission who attacked it and we had some people in Congress, in the end we got the budget for the online database," Tenenbaum said. "What people have learned now that we’ve had it for over a year is that it’s a really good tool for consumers to use to report their experience with a product. And industry first feared that it would be used to hurt their brands and that has not happened."
"Everyone has really embraced the database and I think all the fears have shown to not be material so we’re going forward."
The database is a resource for consumers to submit complaints about harmful or faulty products and search for products before purchasing an item.
The agency notifies a manufacturer of a complaint once one is received. The manufacturer has 10 days to respond.
Tenenbaum said the agency receives data from various sources including emergency room personnel and manufacturers themselves, and that the information provided in the database is essential for consumers.
"It’s so important for people to be able to look at the database, to tell us their experience and also to learn from other people’s use or misuse of a product so that they’ll avoid that and avoid injury," she said.
Patch also asked Tenenbaum what she thought about the state of education in South Carolina since leaving the post.
"I always say that when your time has ended you should try to be supportive of the next person so I don’t believe in disparaging people who follow me or others but I do think we made tremendous progress here during my eight years because I had the support of the General Assembly, the business community and educators, and we were altogether on one page on the reform efforts."
"We saw amazing increases in test scores, we were No. 1 in the country for our improvement on the SAT, we were ranked No. 1 in the country for our accountability system by Education Week," she said. "We made great progress and I hope that educators will continue to build on that regardless of who’s superintendent."