The Opportunity Agenda

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Governor Deval Patrick and President Obama delivered their state addresses on Tuesday, January 28th. Both sets of remarks, delivered by great orators, included a number of similarities and common policy priorities. Raising the minimum wage, addressing health care technology challenges, economic development, expanding access to early education, improving public education and, most of all, creating access to opportunity are just a few of their goals for the upcoming fiscal year and remaining legislative sessions.

Gov. Patrick also reflected on the successes and challenges of his Administration, and centered his speech on what is likely to be part of his lasting legacy in the Commonwealth: “Creating opportunity, keeping the dream within reach is the agenda now, just as it has been for past 7 years,” the Gov. declared before legislators, constitutional officers and others crowded into the House chamber to hear what was his final State of the State.

Indeed, this agenda has been a priority that Patrick has spoken to and acted on throughout his tenure as the Commonwealth’s Executive.  As I was watching last night, I could not help but remember remarks he made last Feb. in support of expanding need-based financial aid in the state budget. Gov. Patrick, who was poor as a child and lived in a tenement home on the South Side of Chicago, remembered his Grandmother’s excitement when he called to tell her that he had been accepted to Harvard University. “Now where is that anyway,” she asked while trilled for her grandson. “What she was excited about was not the prestige, but the opportunity,” he was quoted saying in the Patriot Ledger. “It is always what matters.”

That story has stayed with me throughout the last year as I work to advocate for children and families as part of Wheelock College’s Government and External Affairs team. Like the Governor and President, we at Wheelock recognize quality education as the ultimate opportunity – one that every individual has a right to own. Wheelock works to create multiple pathways to access education beginning at birth the through elementary, middle and high school years by educating the next generation of early educators, teachers and social workers who will then prepare the next generation of students to come to our campus.  Truly, the power of education is its cyclical effect. But as Gov. Patrick reminded us last night, “…there are children here in our Commonwealth whose future is still defined by the zip code in which they are born.”

Too many children here in Massachusetts, across the nation and around the world are still in need of a systems shift that provides new and non-traditional access points to opportunity. It is our jobs as advocates, educators, social workers, juvenile justice leaders, child life specialists and the like to create new pathways to opportunity, and make the existing ones work better for not just a few, but for all. We must commit ourselves to social change and work to support these children and families to tap into their innate potential to learn and to thrive, and to claim the opportunity that can be theirs.

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