US Education Policy

A Toast to America’s Young People

January 14, 2019  • Daniel R. Porterfield

Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield delivered brief remarks and a toast at the gala celebrating the official release of the final report of the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development at the Intercontinental Washington D.C. – The Wharf on January 14, 2019. Follow him on twitter @DanPorterfield.

Thank you, Linda, for the introduction and good evening, everyone. I am honored to be here tonight for the release of this Commission’s final report, “From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope.”

Let me express my gratitude to all here who have worked on this report over many months and meetings and conference calls and research sessions, especially our three commissioners, Jackie Jodl, Ross Weiner, and all of my colleagues at the Aspen Institute.

What I love about this report is that it looks at the whole student, attending to the relationship among social, emotional, and academic learning, and that its fundamental supposition is that our young people—the future of this country—are a collection of assets and talents and cultures and drives and resilience and aspirations and hope.

That is to say, this report takes an asset-based approach to drawing out the greatness in our young people—and those assets include the students’ families, their emerging identities, their emotional makeup, and, in so many cases, the success strategies that the adults who love them use to bolster their confidence in a society that too often privileges wealth, power, and certain norms of gender or race or ability, leaving other identities to figure out on their own how to resist marginalization and invisibility.

Looking around this room, it is clear that the Commission and its work reflect the power of a diverse and inclusive process. Assembled here is a broad coalition of leaders: most importantly, students and families, and, in support of them, leaders from education, youth development, business, the military, policy arenas, and academia. Unlike so many in political life on both sides, you have all come together in service of a shared goal: to support schools and communities seeking to educate the whole student—mind, body, spirit, citizen.

Nothing could be more important for our society. We must give our children an ownership stake in this democracy. We must provide the kind of holistic education to and through college or career that propels young people into lives of meaning and purpose in the pursuit of a more perfect union.

The Commission’s portfolio of actionable reports shows what can be accomplished in a short period of time—it’s a roadmap with recommendations tailored to everyone who has a stake in excellence in American education.

This work of carving a shared path for the greater good embodies the values and mission of the Aspen Institute, which places young people and their families at the center of so much of our efforts.

I’m thinking of the work of the Aspen Institute’s Ascend program, which has pioneered a two-generation poverty prevention strategy, helping thousands of children and their parents together.

I’m thinking of the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, which has worked with communities like Harlem, Eastern Michigan, and Mobile, Alabama to increase physical activity opportunities for underserved youth.

I’m thinking of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, which has built a coalition of 100 leading colleges and universities that in just two years have sent 7,200 more lower-income students to the very finest institutions in the country.

I’m thinking of Aspen Ideas: Health, which last year brought together teen survivors of gun violence from Parkland, Chicago, and rural Colorado—giving young people a platform to challenge adults to fix our priorities and our politics.

And I’m thinking of the Aspen Institute’s Center for Native American Youth, which puts power in the hands of indigenous teenagers to take on tough issues like youth suicide and homelessness.

Recently, one young person from that program named Trenton made a comment of such moral eminence that I would like to close my remarks with his words. He said:

“I used to think that not voting was an act of rebellion. Now I know it’s an act of surrender.”

Education is the collective societal act of empowering our young people not to surrender.

Trenton knows that—and we do, too.

I would now like to ask everyone to raise their glasses for a toast:

To the fruition of this Commission’s dedicated, inclusive work over the last two years,

To the role of education in making opportunity real for all,

And to America’s young people—who represent the center of our efforts and the future of our country.

Thank you so much, and congratulations.