Colleges and Universities

In America, Talent Must Rise

June 5, 2018  • Dan Porterfield

Dan Porterfield is honored by the Kaplan Educational Foundation at this year’s benefit gala, “Today’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Leaders.” The event took place on Tuesday, June 5th at the Harvard Club of New York.

Thank you, Tim [O’Shaughnessy] for that mendacious introduction and for your friendship, going back to Tim’s sophomore year, when it was clear what a leader you had the skills and mindset to become.

How inspiring to see that group of Kaplan Scholars at the mic earlier in the program. Their dreams and journeys enhance the lives of all who accompany them and enact in beautiful human variety the great ideals of our country.

Many thanks to Andy Rosen, proud F&M parent Melissa Mack, Executive Director Nancy Lee Sánchez and, most of all, the legendary Don Graham, who invests his sweat and blood and time and dollars in helping lower-income students, especially the school children of Washington, D.C. and, nationally, those courageous undocumented teenagers and adults brought to this country as children that we call DREAMers.

Don knows who the DREAMers are—those family-loving, law-abiding, degree-attaining, job-holding, business-creating, English-speaking, tax-paying, patriotic new Americans who most legislators say they love while they let them languish in a legal no-man’s land because some other fix is always more important.

Don stands up for these young people because he’s kind, empathetic, and fair-minded—virtues we desperately need in the public square.

As you have already seen and heard, the Kaplan Educational Foundation is an extraordinary organization that does vital work to Find, Underwrite, Educate, and Launch students who will become the future of this country. It’s no coincidence the first four letters of those four Kaplan words make up the acronym FUEL, because people—educated, trained, empowered, creative people—are the fuel of American democracy.

This Foundation and The City University of New York knows that—and sees talent and greatness within the young. I’m inspired by your belief that there is talent all across this city and all across this land, and that talents and voices from the full American mosaic must be represented in our country’s decisive spaces—from classrooms to courtrooms, from school boards to zoning boards, from innovation hubs to investment firms—in order to create the economic, social, and political strength needed for a great democracy and a good society.

The Kaplan Educational Foundation knows that effective education is the key to making this vision a reality. I love your faith in the young, and in learning, and in America. I love the way you see the assets of your students and you see the vital role of community colleges as bridges to four-year institutions and engines of upward mobility. You know how important it is to roll up your sleeves and support students, step by step, week by week, joy by joy and dream by dream. The lenses with which you see and serve humanity are ones that others in our society need to adopt.

And that is why we are here tonight: to celebrate the transformational work of the Kaplan Educational Foundation in catapulting, over 12 years, countless students to four-year degrees and beyond.

Your values also animate some of the best work of other visionary organizations. You are part of a great people-serving network of institutions that believe, with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that “education is the real safeguard of democracy” and that, in America, talent must rise.

Let me bring greetings from four of your partners.

First, The City University of New York. I don’t work for CUNY, but I’m an alum of The Graduate Center, so I know well the profound role America’s largest urban public higher education system plays in our society. The partnership of CUNY and Kaplan in supporting scholars’ transfer applications is an example of highly-effective collaboration without which our students would not realize their full promise. Thank you.

Second, the College Board, where I was honored to serve for four years as a Trustee supporting the leadership of CEO David Coleman, who is here tonight. David has transformed the College Board from a testing organization to a learning organization with his expansion of Advanced Placement, his reboot of the SAT to emphasize classroom learning and practice, his investment in new research and curricula, and his principled commitment to make the College Board’s resources free for low-income students.

I also bring greetings from the Aspen Institute—the non-profit force for good whose mission is convene change-makers of every type, established and emerging, in order to frame and then solve society’s most important problems. We work and lead on many issues with a stocked toolkit for change-making, always valuing reason, hope, drive, creativity, freedom, integrity and humanity. Our College Excellence Program —led by its dynamic Executive Director, Josh Wyner—is like a cousin to the Kaplan Educational Foundation. I think your leadership team has met with Tania LaViolet, an exceptionally knowledgeable and creative policy analyst. We’re working to strengthen community college student success, prepare the next generation of community college presidents, and send by 2025 50,000 more high-achieving Pell Grant students to the same high-graduation rate colleges and universities that your scholars attend, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

I’m just getting started at the Aspen Institute, but in the years to come you can count on seeing Aspen mobilize and concentrate our resources to make demonstrable differences in three areas: developing young people, addressing the urgent challenges of the future, and renewing the ideals of America’s democratic society.

Finally, I bring greetings from the private college where I just completed my service of more than seven years as president: Franklin & Marshall College, which has become a leader in the national imperative of identifying and supporting talent from every community and zip code, and whose newly-named 16th president—Barbara Altmann, Provost of Bucknell University—will surely deepen that work.

Joining me tonight are two members of F&M’s Board of Trustees: Shawn Jenkins, Class of 2010, who founded two incredible summer college prep programs and is the youngest member of the F&M board; and Joan Fallon, Class of 1979, a researcher, entrepreneur, and innovator whose groundbreaking discoveries may improve the way childhood autism is understood and treated.

Thank you both for being here.

I mention these generous education leaders because while I very much appreciate the recognition of this honor, the truth is that I don’t deserve it.

Now, it is true that Franklin & Marshall College gained national recognition over the past several years for its talent strategy. It is true that since 2008 F&M has tripled the proportion of lower income students in its incoming classes while simultaneously enhancing the academic quality and reputation of the College. It is true that F&M’s lower-income students have earned the same grades and have the same or higher retention and graduation rates as the student body as a whole on a year to year basis. And it is true that we have successfully scaled our impacts by, on the one hand, partnering with pre-college education leaders like KIPP, Posse, and the College Advising Corps and, on the other hand, collaboratively sharing our strategies with dozens of top colleges.

But these successes are the work of many, not one. F&M’s faculty, board, funders, career center, high school partners, and, most importantly, its students and their families are the reason that we now stand as an example to the entire higher education landscape of how top colleges can open their doors to this country’s full breadth of talent. It’s an aligned multitude that deserves this award.

When we celebrate the Kaplan Educational Foundation and when we celebrate Franklin & Marshall College, we are celebrating the big and deep American idea that every person in our country has something to offer and that each person who has created his or her education is empowered to live a choice-filled life and contribute to the greater good.

As an educator, I saw the human faces of those ideals every day of the last seven years. In fact, some of Franklin & Marshall’s talent is here in the room tonight.

Here is Darrius Moore, a Posse Scholar from New York from the Class of 2014 now working with youth in Brooklyn.

Here is Abby Morenigbade, also a Posse Scholar from New York, to whom I handed an F&M degree just three weeks ago—an honors student, and the recipient of a 2018 Princeton in Africa fellowship which she will take to Uganda next year.

Here is Karolina Heleno who also just graduated, who attended KIPP Infinity in the Bronx and became an ABC Scholar, came to F&M, graduated in four years, and just started her new job last Friday as a program assistant at Bloomberg Philanthropies.

And here’s Fatou Keita who came to America from Guinea as a teenager, whose education was supported by the Opportunity Network, who graduated from F&M in 2016, who just finished working for two years at Bloomberg Philanthropies, and who is one of eight recipients nationwide of the prestigious George J. Mitchell Scholarship to study peace studies in Ireland next year.

This, my friends, is why F&M celebrates our talent strategy as a resource for every student in the college and a beacon for the country. We are a much more diverse institution than seven years ago, but to say it directly, we carried out our work not as a diversity strategy but as a talent strategy.

Like the Kaplan Scholars, Abby, Darrius, Fatou, and Karolina are the future of this city, this country, and this planet—right here in this room. Because they know they were recruited for their talent, they know they have earned their place on a trajectory of both increasing opportunity and increasing responsibility for our society, their impacts will resonate and grow for decades to come.

There is so much talent all across this country. So many women and men who bring to the table intelligence, drive, commitment, passion, faith, trust, vision, hard work, hope and integrity. And when we invest in these young people—as the Kaplan Educational Foundation does—we are investing in the future of our country and our world. Thank you.