Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Pulskamp was the keynote speaker on Tuesday for the California State University Northridge, Masters of Public Administration (MPA) program graduation. 

In his speech, “Public Service: The Architects of the Good Life,” Pulskamp provided graduates with a glimpse into the realities of being a city manager, calling public service, the noblest of professions.

“Some of you may be just entering the workforce or moving up in your present organization, many of you in the public sector.  Well, you will be pleased to know that all of those case studies you did on ‘worst-case fiscal crisis management’ won’t be going to waste,” he joked, letting graduates know that these are unprecedented financial times and they won’t be getting back to business as usual anytime soon.

Pulskamp, a 30-year public service veteran, has served as Santa Clarita’s City Manager since 2002, after serving as the Assistant City Manager and department head for every City department since he joined the City in 1988.  This year, Pulskamp is President of the League of California Cities City Manager Department, working with city managers across the state to address tough issues including various League-supported ballot initiatives that protect city funds from State takings.  The League is also working to a program called: “Preparing the Next Generation,” which seeks to train up the next generation of public servants.

“Understand that should you take the path of service, should you choose to take up one of these causes as your own, know that you’ll experience the occasional frustrations and the occasional failures.  Even your successes will be marked by imperfections and unintended consequences.  I guarantee you; there will be times when you will wish you pursued other endeavors with more tangible rewards.  However, focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition.  It asks too little of yourself.

At a time when our future as a nation and our credibility in the world economy are dependent upon winning hearts and minds, we need more people in public service.
At a time when workers in Houston must compete with workers in Hong Kong, we need an army of you to become public servants,” he said, letting the graduates know too that with the inevitable retirement of the baby boomers, their talent, skills and education would be vital for local governments.

Pulskamp also shared his experiences as a City official after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.  The quake’s epicenter was less than a mile from the college. “The thing about a disaster like that is it tests everything.  In the aftermath of the quake, I found myself drawing on my total being; my experience, my relationships, my knowledge, my physical and emotional well-being, my education, my patience and my leadership,” he told the graduates.  

Challenging the graduates to make a difference in communities, Pulskamp said: “I can tell you I have found public service to be one of the noblest professions. There are ups and downs, as with any job-there’s a reason why they call it work– but if you want to be in a position to help people, to make a difference in this world, in your communities, public service is absolutely the place where you can truly affect great change.”

As some of the graduates will be job-hunting, Pulskamp told them: “I’m convinced that the reason I have found success in my career is that I love what I do.  You’ve got to find what you love.    Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.  And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.  Confucius said:  “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

The good jobs that will remain will be those that cannot be automated or outsourced; they will be the jobs that demand or encourage some uniquely human creative flair, passion and imagination.   In other words, jobs that can only be done by people who absolutely love what they do.”