We at the National Center would like to work with you on accessibility, affordability,
and quality in higher education. We want public policy to focus on these issues more.
We want to get more people into your institutions and help them do a better job getting
their degrees. And we want to do this for young people and older adults all over
this country, wherever they come from, whoever they are, whatever their race or religion
or family background. Higher education should be available to them.
I would like to close my comments today by speaking as a person who grew up in
the rural South. As a boy I picked cotton by hand, I grew peanuts, I helped harvest
tobacco, and I milked cows. But when I looked around my community I saw there were
very few good jobs. And frankly, some of the big businesses didn’t want many, they
didn’t want competition. I have seen higher education in my state and in this great
nation help to pull us up, prompting us to learn where we came from, and inspiring
us to find out how far we could go. I thank you today for all that you have done
in this effort. And I thank this organization for taking learning seriously. But
we can do better and we can go further.
I’m reminded of a story that the Irish playwright Frank O’Connor used to tell
about growing up in a village in Ireland. He said that every once in a while he and
his friends would get fed up with being yelled at by their mamas, and they’d just
take off, get out of the house, get out of the village. They wouldn’t go down a road
or a tarmac, they’d just strike off across the fields and pastures. Pretty soon they’d
come to one of those stone walls that separate the farms from the granges. Looking
at that stone wall they could see it was too high to climb. When that happened, they
would take off their caps and toss them over that wall, and then they had no choice
but to follow them.
My friends, you may have thought that opening the doors to college, keeping the
price affordable, and bringing millions more Americans into higher education are
walls too high to climb. But I say to you we can do it. We have to work together,
we need to help each other, we have to find the right public policies and commitments
to make it happen. This is America. We have done great things in our history, we
have great things ahead, and we look forward to working with you at the National
Center to make them happen in the years and the decades to come. Thank you.