Commencing A New Era As the Century Turns

Commencing  A New Era As the Century Turns

When President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton made the commencement rounds at the nation’s colleges and universities this year, they included speeches at a couple of minority-laden institutions.
The President, for the second time in three years, spoke at a historically Black university’s commencement ceremony. He used his address to the graduates of Grambling University to announce an executive-mandated change in the sick leave policy for federal workers that will allow them to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for an ailing relative (see Black Issues, June 10, 1999).
The First Lady, speaking to the graduating class at the City University of New York, talked about the damaging effects politics can have on serious attempts to raise standards and improve people’s lives.
Although Rodham Clinton is expected to make a run for a U.S. Senate seat, representing New York, she did not mention by name Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, her likely opponent for the Senate seat. Giuliani is the man most responsibile for eliminating remedial education from the system’s four-year schools by 2002 (see Black Issues, June 11, 1998).
The following are excerpts from their speeches:

Hillary Rodham Clinton
“One of the most important questions facing this university and public schools across the country is this: How do we make sure that all students, all teachers, all schools meet … high standards. How do we ensure that students receive the education that will lift them as far as their aspirations and ambition will take them? How do we make sure that we fulfill the vision of making it possible that any student, regardless of where you came from, can walk out of this and other public colleges with an education that prepares you for the challenges of the new global economy.
“No one wins, especially our children, if our schools are plagued by poor test scores and performance, by low expectations and social promotion. No one wins, especially our children, if politics takes up much-needed seats in the classroom. We have to be willing to demand high standards and accountability, but we have to pursue strategies that work, that actually lift up the performance of students, enabling all schools to do better, not just score political points.
“We can never lift up our public schools by tearing them down. We can never ensure the economic future of this city or state — or our nation — by undermining the public education system that is at the very foundation of the American dream. And we cannot succeed in educating the children of the whole people if we breech the promise of affordable, quality education. But the fact is that we have to fulfill that promise long before a student reaches this college. Even long before that student enters high school, or junior high school, there is enough responsibility to transform our public education system to go around to all of us.”

President William Jefferson Clinton
“In so many ways, the story of this institution embodies the whole 20th century experience of African Americans. In 1901, not a single public school in this part of Louisiana would welcome an African American into its classes. But the visionary farmers of this community, the children and grandchildren of slaves, were determined to give their children the education and pride and power to rise above bigotry and injustice. And so, even though they didn’t have much, they scrounged around and raised some money and wrote a letter to Booker T. Washington, asking him to send a teacher to help build a school in the piney woods….
“So you join a proud tradition and I congratulate you all….
“Now, the class of 1999 is entering an era of unparalleled opportunity and possibility with, for example, the lowest African American unemployment and poverty rates ever recorded and the highest African American homeownership in history. To give people like you a chance to participate fully in this economy, we’ve opened the doors of college to more and more Americans, with the HOPE scholarship tax credit, larger Pell grants, lower-cost student loans — tools that many of you have used to finance your education.
“Now, with your diplomas in hand, you will have the chance to reap the benefits and shape the future of this new era — your time — to lead lives of greater accomplishment and affluence than most of your parents even dreamed of. But as you form your own families, you will no doubt feel the pressure of trying to balance the demands of work and family — and doing a good job at both in a world that moves faster and faster, and often leaves parents less and less time and energy for their children….
“On the eve of the 21st century, we ought to set a goal that all working Americans can take time when they need it to care for their families without losing the income they need to support their families.
“Today, using my executive authority as President, we’re going to make an important step towards that goal. I am directing the Office of Personnel Management, whose director, Janice LaChance, came down here with me today, to allow all federal workers to use the sick leave they’ve earned to take time off to care for other sick family members…. With the new policy I propose today, federal employees will be able to take up to 12 weeks paid sick leave to nurse an ailing child or parent back to health. If every company in America that offers sick leave to its workers adopted the same policy we’re adopting today, half of all the American workforce would have this important benefit for their families.” 



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