July 20, 2010
I’m not sure how to peg the slowest day of the year every year, but the middle Wednesday in July seems like it should normally be a decent bet.
That fell last week. And it had all the makings of a quiet day – mid-way through the summer break, rampant vacations, sports world getting ready to watch an awards show about itself . . .
Slow goings, all around – even at the Capitol, which on Wednesday was moving with all the speed, power and purpose of a three-legged turtle.
Then, all of the sudden, there was buzz. There was energy. There were rumors, hushed conversations, hurried phone calls and text messages, and bold-faced blog posts.
And then . . . there were committee assignments.
Yeah, the Lieutenant Governor moved senators on, off and around various committees last week. And there were some big changes on some big committees that will be taking up some very big issues.
As for me, I’m really encouraged because one of the changes landed me on the Senate Higher Education Committee.
This committee, as you might suspect, handles bills and issues affecting Texas colleges, universities, medical schools, and other higher education institutions. It’s going to be a fun, rewarding panel to serve on.
First of all, I represent a district with a number of important institutions of higher learning. And no one who’s paying attention can serve as Mayor of Austin or Chair of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce without appreciating the huge role that those schools generally, and the University of Texas specifically, play in this region.
But more than that, higher ed’s been a focus and a passion of mine since long before I was elected to the Senate. I’m proud of my higher education experience, which includes education from a junior college, a degree and a graduate degree. Plus, higher ed plays a huge role in my economic development philosophy – preparing Texans to be the creative, skilled workers who will help the region and state prosper in the 21st Century.
In that, every college, university and higher education institution in Texas has a role to play in bolstering our economy. (And I’ll also maintain that focus on building the future by continuing to serve on the Senate’s Business and Commerce, Economic Development, Nominations, and Transportation & Homeland Security Committees.)
So I’ll close with part of a speech I delivered a couple of years ago to the Hispanic Scholarship Consortium where I talked about Daddy. It’s an important part of who I am, and it helps explain why I’m so looking forward to this new assignment.
Daddy did finish high school, but there was no incentive, no encouragement, no “reason” to pursue a higher education. So, in the end, there was hardly any decision at all. He simply didn’t go to college. And life rolled past him.
As you all know well, that decision my father never made could have determined his life. It nearly did. In his late 20s, almost a decade after leaving school for what he figured would be the last time, knee-deep in work and marriage and kids and bills, Daddy looked around and saw doors starting to close on him. On us.
I can only imagine what a hopeless feeling that was, to think that a 10-year-old decision – and hardly even a conscious one – could keep him from setting his own path and achieving all of the things he was capable of.
Lucky for us, Don Watson took what must have been a tough, scary step. He went to college. For years, he worked full time, raised kids, juggled the virtually non-existent money, and went to school at night to get a degree.
I often wonder what his life would have been like – or, for that matter, what my life would be like today – if he hadn’t done that.
I’m even luckier in that I never doubted, or questioned the possibility, of going to college. In fact, Daddy made it pretty clear to me that I didn’t have much choice in the matter. He was determined that I would have the options he almost lost and walk through doors that almost closed to him.
That fundamental truth – that it’s worthy to invest in children and in education – was coded into my DNA along with everything else my father gave me.
Imagine how great the Great State of Texas would be if all children shared that fundamental certainty. No matter what they look like. No matter where their parents are from. No matter where they live – whether in the ‘burbs or in the barrio; in the gated community or in the ghetto. No matter how much money their families have. No matter what world they know or think they know. No matter, even, what they expect for themselves and their own children.
Imagine what would happen, and what we could become, if every last one of Texas’ children knew in their bones that they had the talents and could find the means to get a college degree.
Some would choose not to, certainly, and some of those folks will succeed with or without a higher education.
But even more, I think, would choose college. Even more would make a run at the enrichment and prosperity that higher education offers. Even more would become entrepreneurs and innovators who could help us live better, cleaner, richer lives than we would have imagined possible without their success. Even more would enliven and enrich every corner of this state, from The Valley to The Gulf to The Panhandle to El Paso.
Some dismiss this vision too easily. They say, “Not everyone needs to go to college.” They note that for most of their lifetimes, Texans haven’t necessarily needed a degree to find a foothold in the middle class or to add to our state’s prosperity.
And, perhaps in the past, that was true. But Texas can no longer afford to treat higher education the way it has for decades. We can’t continue to slash budgets, allow tuition and fees to rise, and try to get by with whatever previous generations gave us, particularly as our economy grows around college-educated workers.
Nor can we continue to ignore our fastest-growing demographic group, not with a wave of young Hispanic men and women preparing to crest into the workforce.
So I believe it’s in our best interests to help these students succeed. But even more than that, I believe they deserve the same choice that Don Watson discovered and that I grew up with. They deserve to have confidence in their own abilities and trust that they can spend four years in class without bankrupting themselves or their families.
That combination of self-assurance and faith – that is hope. Hope carried my Daddy and his children and grandchildren to a new or different life. Hope is what you give to students and families with every scholarship, tutoring program, and counseling session.
Hope matters. Hope is your mission. And hope must become our state’s mission, as well.