A President's Reflections

Aspiration and hope

Posted on November 21, 2008

Many people much smarter than me are still trying to sort out what it means that the US elected its first African-American president.  It is an undeniably important turning point in the country’s history of racism and for much of the world it seems to have restored a sense of America as an ideal more than a place.  I heard an interview with an Algerian lawyer in Paris who said, “If America can elect Barak Obama then maybe someday France can take its example and there will be a chance for my children.”

It echoed a conversation I had on the day after the election when I joined a small group of SNHU administrators and faculty members on a visit to The Met, the amazing high school created by educational innovator Dennis Littky.  It is in the toughest neighborhood in Providence, surrounded by crack houses and poverty.  And it transforms the lives of its students and outperforms every other public school around.

My tour guides were two young Black students and when we were sitting together on a bench and had finished discussing the school, I asked them if they had watched the election the night before.  They had and stayed up late and were still eager to discuss the it.  One of them, Jamal, said to me:

You know, all my life people have been telling me I can do anything I want.  But I don’t think they really believed it even as they were saying it.  I don’t think I ever believed them either.  But when I have kids and they tell me they can’t do something, I’m going to tell them ‘You just remember Mr. Barak Obama, the 44th President of the United States.  There are no excuses.’

I toured two students from The Met around SNHU this week (one of them being Jamal) and I was reminded just how hard it is to think about college if no one around you has or is going.  If no one knows the first step in applying.  If money remains the counterbalancing anxiety to your hopes and dreams.

Jamal and Marie loved the campus.  In the recent election they found a model for their own aspirations, he to be a chef and she to study Psychology.  Id like us to be the kind of institution that provides the resources — financial, emotional, cultural — so students like these find a home with us and realize the potential they have within them and that so often gets buried for so many growing up in the grinding poverty of a South Providence.

As I introduced Jamal and Marie to people like Lisa Levy, Darlene Ratte, Richard Colfer, Bob Seidman, and other faculty and staff I was immensely proud of the warmth and welcome extended to these wide-eyed young students.  Their success will require helping hands such as those so generously extended during their visit, something our new president would say about his own rise to greatness when he evokes the memory of his mother, his grandparents, and infuential teachers.

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