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'Good to be home' EPA head says at A&T graduation Saturday

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GREENSBORO — Michael Regan knew what he wanted to do — and kept not doing it.

“I kept resisting God’s plan and his purpose for putting me on this Earth,” Regan, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Saturday of his early days at N.C. A&T before he finally switched his major to earth and environmental science. “The truth is when you don’t listen to your passion, you just make the journey so much longer.”

Regan gave the commencement address Saturday at A&T’s fall graduation at the Greensboro Coliseum and accepted an honorary doctorate from the school.

“Alright, it’s good to be home!” he told the crowd.

Regan, a native of Goldsboro who graduated from the school in 1998, also has major family ties to the university.

His wife, sister, and brother-in-law are all Aggie alumni, as is his father. His parents, watching by livestream Saturday, aren’t ones to miss a graduation, he said.

Regan has been on the job as EPA administrator for less than a year. The U.S. Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s nomination of him to the Cabinet-level post by a vote of 66-34 in March.

Last month, Regan completed a five-day “Journey to Justice” tour that highlighted low-income, mostly minority communities adversely affected by decades of industrial pollution.

That included stops within the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor, sometimes referred to as “Cancer Alley.” The region contains several spots where cancer risks are far above levels deemed acceptable by the EPA.

“As I look at many of the folks in these communities, they look just like me,” he said during the tour. “They look just like my son, and it’s really tough to see them question the quality of their drinking water.”

On Saturday, Regan talked about the resolve of the four A&T students who launched the sit-in movement in 1960 and told the graduates they all have to decide what they will fight for in life.

“I found that something a long time ago, protecting the environment and people’s health and advancing environmental justice for Black and brown communities,” he said.

Regan previously led North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality under Gov. Roy Cooper. And he spent decades working as an environmental regulator as part of the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, as well as serving as an associate vice president for the Environmental Defense Fund advocacy group and as head of his own environmental and energy consulting firm.

But before all of that, Regan was a young student on A&T’s campus trying to figure out his life.

First, he tried on psychology, then engineering.

“I kept resisting what was in my heart all along because majoring in environmental science wasn’t popular at the time, and it wasn’t clear that it could lead to a well-paying job,” Regan said.

Regan said when he finally switched to earth and environmental science, “a part of me was awakened that I never knew existed.”

“... the power of conviction will push you harder to work than you ever thought possible,” he said. “Standing up and being counted, fighting for what you believe in, that is what makes you relevant, that is what makes you powerful beyond measure.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow

@JessiePounds on Twitter.

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