The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, Dr. Miguel A. Cardona, began his remarks on March 22 at COE’s annual Policy Seminar in Washington, D.C. with a smile, saying, “I bring greetings from la Casa Blanca!” to enthusiastic cheers and applause of the assembled crowd.
He opened his speech by speaking about a Stockton, California boy named José, who, along with his Mexican-born parents, was a migrant farmworker. As a senior in high school, the young man heard about Franklin Chang-Diaz, the first Hispanic-American astronaut. Young José dreamed of going to space himself and obtained two college degrees. But he applied to the astronaut program 11 times before NASA finally accepted José Moreno Hernández into the program. He went into space in 2008. Hernández, an Upward Bound alumnus, is a former recipient of COE’s National TRIO Achiever Award. (Incidentally, Dr. Chang-Diaz, is also a TRIO alumnus of the Student Support Services program at the University of Connecticut and a 1996 National TRIO Achiever.)
“Persistence,” like Hernández showed, Cardona said, “is about choices, developed by our decisions to relentlessly pursue our dreams. Persistence has been at the heart of TRIO programs for 58 years. It is at the heart of what you do at the Council for Opportunity in Education. You serve countless TRIO students, those most underserved in higher education, and help them get to, and through, college,” Cardona said.
The Secretary said that the Biden Administration was committed to the staunch support of TRIO programs. “Every eligible student should have access to the wealth of resources that TRIO programs offer,” Cardona said. He noted that only a tiny percentage of eligible students have access to TRIO programs. “We need to change that,” Cardona said. In addition to boosting funding for TRIO, he said the White House has called on Congress to dramatically increase grants to historically Black higher educational institutions, Tribal colleges, and those that serve Hispanic students.
Cardona said that the pandemic has been especially challenging for TRIO students and that students of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic’s health and economic impact.
“That has the potential to set us back,” he said. “I am committed to leveling the playing field, as is the entire Biden-Harris administration. We are supporting TRIO programs to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion is at the heart of our efforts.”
While Cardona is not a TRIO alum, he has a particularly close association with one special TRIO grad – his wife, Marissa. The couple will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary this summer.
Cardona noted that, as a student who showed up for the first day of kindergarten in Meriden, CT, unable to speak English, “I didn’t fit the profile of a future Secretary of Education.
So, I need to be here and say: There will be a TRIO graduate serving as president in the future.”
Cardona ended his remarks by mentioning that astronaut Hernández sent the first Spanish-language tweet from outer space. Translated, it said, “I hope that the harvest of my dream serves as an inspiration for everyone.” Cardona concluded, “We will empower all of our students to ensure that they reap the full harvest of their dreams. There is no limit to what we can accomplish together.”