Sworn in by George Bush, who had promised to appoint the first Hispanic Cabinet member if elected to the White House, Lauro Cavazos took his place in history after President Reagan beat the vice president to the punch.
Cavazos, who is taking a leave of absence from his job as president of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, was confirmed Tuesday 94-0 by the Senate and, just hours later, sworn in as secretary of education by Bush at the White House.Reagan lauded Cavazos as "a sterling example of the magnificent contributions Hispanic Americans have made to our national life."
"September is the month when American education goes back to work, so now seems a perfect time to introduce a new secretary of education," Reagan said during the East Room ceremony.
Cavazos, 61, a sixth-generation Texan, was joined by his wife and 10 children for the ceremony, which took on political overtones with the presence of Bush, who has campaigned as a prospective "education president."
Cavazos, a zoologist and physiologist praised by Reagan for "a well-deserved national reputation for educational leadership and innovation," replaced William Bennett, who became a hero of conservatives for his tough advocacy of their principles during a sometimes stormy tenure.
In accepting his new job with gratitude, Cavazos promised to continue the struggle for education reform.
"The work ahead for us is truly enormous," he said. "We must awaken America to renew its commitment to education. We must all work together."
Bush has campaigned hard as an advocate of quality education. Like Democratic rival Michael Dukakis, he also has made strong overtures to Hispanic voters, who could prove critical in such major states as Texas and California.
Indeed, the swearing-in ceremony in the East Room represented the fulfillment, of sorts, of a Bush campaign promise to place a Hispanic in the Cabinet if elected. Bush and his advisers promoted Cavazos as Bennett's successor.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, responding to those "so crass" as to suggest that the selection of a Hispanic was politically motivated, said Cavazos was considered for the job at the outset of the Reagan administration, but had just become president of Texas Tech and did not feel he could renege on that commitment.