REMARKS AS PREPARED
Albina Rotary Scholarship Luncheon
May 29, 2015
Hello, and thank you for inviting me to share in this wonderful celebration of young people.
If there’s one thing I like more than spending time with young, talented students, it’s spending time with young, talented students who are about to receive money to go to college.
To today’s recipients – Calvin, Erika, Lupita, and Victoria – and your loved ones with you, congratulations on this recognition. I know this is just one of the many indicators of how hard you’ve worked in school to reach this moment.
These days I’m sure that you can’t go a week without someone asking you what your plans are after high school. You may not know what lies ahead, but know this – your futures are full of promise.
That’s what Neil Kelly had when he began his business with a dream, a $100 investment, and a basement for a workspace. He poured himself into his craft spending countless hours learning from others, asking questions, and honing his skills.
Neil Kelly’s hard work led to a company that is thriving today. But his focus and determination are not the only ways in which your stories intersect with his.
You believe in serving a greater purpose than yourselves. Neil Kelly did too.
In addition to his successful business, Neil Kelly cared deeply about his community in North and Northeast Portland, and made sure that through his work with the Albina Rotary Club, that he found ways to help strengthen his community.
His motivation for community service wasn’t about him, or, in many cases, the people he knew personally.
Neil Kelly’s tireless work behind-the-scenes was an effort to ensure that his neighbors were as stable and supported as they could be.
That is no different from what you do in this community.
Combined, you four have contributed a whopping 3,100 hours of service to our community.
The world is in need of creative and dedicated leaders, and each of you has demonstrated these qualities:
Calvin, your goal is to combine your passion for art and computers into designing shoes and athletic gear. I look forward to wearing your products one day.
Erika, you’re already thinking about how to serve children with special needs using design and biology in the biomedical engineering field.
Lupita, we may see you in Salem in no time. As a budding lawyer with political aspirations, I want to see you leading the state one day.
Victoria, experiencing poverty firsthand in Vietnam has inspired you to want to develop high-quality medical devices that are affordable to those who need them.
You are an impressive collection of students who demonstrate your intentions to live meaningful lives. You represent the best of your generation, the future leaders of Oregon, our innovators and problem-solvers. Our state is undoubtedly in good hands.
You all – and Neil Kelly, whose many achievements and contributions we honor today, embody the philosophy, “Lift as you climb.”
It is important to me that current leaders ensure that the next generation is well poised and prepared to take the helm.
Part of our job as leaders will always be to keep our eyes on the road ahead. But it is also our responsibility to look behind and see who is coming up after us. Every leader striving forward within their professions and communities is responsible to cultivate the next generation of leaders; to give them a leg up.
That is why the work of policy makers in Salem is so important.
We have known for many years now that the most critical time of brain development for our children is ages 0-5. We have the opportunity and the resources to make significant investments in early childhood education in order to close the opportunity gaps for students before they develop.
In the current legislative session, I am championing greater investments in early childhood to ensure that all of our children are ready to learn when they get to kindergarten. Please help me get this done. Let your legislators know you support additional funding for early childhood education.
Our public schools should not only foster academic success, they should also ensure that we support the stability and health of all of our students and families. And we must remove barriers to learning for students and families where languages other than English are spoken at home.
I know from my experience in Portland that as many as 70 different languages are spoken in our public schools.
Economic equity and educational equity go hand in hand. Persistent opportunity gaps and long-standing inequalities for communities of color and low-income Oregonians continue to stand in the way of prosperity.
We need to focus on student graduation and retention, including strategies to tackle chronic absenteeism, and actively re-engaging students who leave school before earning a diploma. Oregon graduation rates – in 2013, the worst in the nation – are a sobering reminder of how far we need to go to ensure opportunity for every student, especially among students of color.
Today, 52% of Native American, 57% of Black, and 61% of Latino students drop out of high school, as do 60% of economically disadvantaged students. This dropout rate is due, in part, to our inability to meet the educational needs of these diverse students.
Better still would be to find ways to close the opportunity gap and keep students from dropping out in the first place.
And on that front, there is good news.
Middle school is a critical time in student development, and through a focused and collaborative effort by the state and local districts, nearly 40 middle schools are successfully closing opportunity gaps in math or reading.
A great example is Walker Middle School, a Title I school in Salem. At Walker, the educators start with the premise that all of their students should be prepared to go to college, a process that starts with success in high school. Outside each classroom is a placard saying where the teacher graduated from college.
Educators work in teams to tackle issues they are having in the classroom or with particular students. Consequently it creates a warm supportive learning and teaching environment. The educators I met with described it as feeling much like a family.
I met two amazing students at Walker. Victoria wants to be President of the United States. Caeleun wants to be a doctor. I asked Caeleun whether she wanted to be the president’s doctor. She said, “No. I want to be Surgeon General.”
Not every child wants to run for president, but every student should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
For many, an important step in that pursuit is a college education. The question is, can they afford it? The cost of college is one of the biggest barriers to closing the opportunity gap and breaking the cycle of poverty.
There is absolutely no question that education is the key to a better life. College graduates have greater earning power over the course of their careers, and more career options.
I am working for a seamless education system that spans birth to career. Thanks to Oregon’s burgeoning economy, we will invest a record-breaking $7.3 billion in K-12 education this biennium, including fully funding all-day kindergarten for the first time.
That said, I have separately proposed additional investments in early childhood programs and higher education, including the largest investment in community colleges since 2008. My budget also includes new investments in career technical and STEM education.
It is the most important investment we can make in our future. Let your senator and representative know that Oregon needs a seamless education system that prepares all Oregon students to succeed.
Encourage them to ‘lift as they climb’, to the benefit of all. Thank you.