The Catholic University of America

"Education as Community"
Address by Rod Paige
U.S. Secretary of Education at the
25th Anniversary Convocation Celebration of Metropolitan College
Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center
Oct. 28, 2004

"Thank you, Dean (Sarah) Thompson.

Father (David) O'Connell, Provost (John) Convey, Dean Thompson, Mr. (Victor) Nakas, members of the faculty, ladies and gentlemen, congratulations!

On behalf of President Bush and the American people, I congratulate the administration, faculty, staff, and students of Metropolitan College and the Catholic University of America.

For twenty-five years you have provided an important outreach to the Washington, D.C. community.

You have embraced a new generation of students who are older and have already begun their careers.

You have shown that learning is life-long, and recognized that the passion for learning remains regardless of age, circumstance or situation.

The Washington, D.C. community and the nation are stronger, nobler, wiser and better because of your extraordinary efforts to educate.

Tonight we celebrate a vision in action, a commitment that transcends tradition. I congratulate all of you - the entire Catholic University family - for achieving this remarkable milestone.

I also want to mention another anniversary. One hundred years ago, in 1904, you offered the first undergraduate courses here: a century of education in the nation's capital.

That is another milestone of which you must be very proud. May I also congratulate Vincent Sheehy, the newest graduate of Metropolitan College. Your honorary degree is well deserved.

And unlike many recent degree recipients, you know what you are doing after graduation!

And may I offer my deepest sympathies to the entire Catholic University family on the death of Cardinal James Hickey. He was a remarkable man, an educator and a scholar, a good friend of this university, and an inspirational voice for social justice. He will be greatly missed.

Tonight we celebrate service and scholarship, a quest for excellence and achievement within a community of scholars.

I want to stress the concept of "community," because from the earliest establishment of colleges hundreds of years ago in places like Paris, Oxford, Cambridge and Prague, the pursuit of knowledge happened in a community.

That has been a hallmark of education, whether the college has existed 25 years or a millennium.

And a community is created, crafted, nurtured and cultivated.

It is a labor of love, of patience, of resolve and of mission.

And it extends far beyond a campus or a city.

It is a gift to all people, a statement of the value of knowledge, a belief in humanity and a willingness to strive to make the world itself safer, more compassionate and more just.

That is why a community of scholars is such a positive achievement throughout history, why we continue to maintain and enrich such a community in this historical moment, and why we will always strive for such communities.

That is why you and I must work to foster that sense of community every day, strengthen it and make it more inclusive.

This is how we will continue to make education successful in the 21st Century and in the centuries to come.

As long as we educate, there will be a need for community, for sharing ideas, for learning together, from each other. And for making such a community inclusive, open-minded and tolerant.

Let me explain: Fifty-four years ago, Michael Oakeshott, the British philosopher and educator, published an article entitled "The Idea of the University."

For him, this idea - the idea of a university - which stretched back more than a thousand years, was to create a community of educators and students. The educators were dedicated to the service of teaching. It was a choice of lifestyle and vocation. The students were engaged in a quest for knowledge.

This search was not simply for facts or skills, but a formative sojourn of the mind and soul, shaping character, values, judgment and thought. It was a humbling experience, as we viewed the vast canyon between what we know and what we will never know, standing on our peninsula of knowledge, gazing into the deep and wide unknown.

And knowledge would lead us to see ourselves anew, and see the many needs, strengths, and faults of others. Knowledge would bring the student a measure of wisdom, and, if properly focused, into a closer relationship with others and with the divine. For Professor Oakeshott, the university was an indispensable institution, and the scholar as important to a nation as the statesman, soldier or businessman. The university was a community that represented "a civilized way of life." It was a model for the world. As scholars joined together as a community, the university became a paradigm of respect, regard, good character, ethical action, inclusion and progress.

With Metropolitan College, you have expanded education to mature students from the surrounding community.

This hasn't been limited to the successful or the driven.

You have also reached out to those who have encountered difficulties in life or been initially driven away from education. I am particularly mindful of your work to attract low-income and minority students from the immediate neighborhood in Northeast or from the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. Your mission to serve mature students has been inclusive and pro-active.

You know that education is the road to freedom, to economic stability, to expanded opportunities and to personal and spiritual growth.

You have been helping our nation to redress the shockingly low number of African American students in college, and have urged these students to think of graduate school in law, medicine, engineering or science. You have also offered these students a quality, world-class education, often working to supplement poor skills with remedial programs.

Your efforts are certainly helpful for my own work. As you know, the President and the Congress have passed legislation to dramatically improve American education. The No Child Left Behind Act is a major landmark to increase the quality, inclusivity and fairness of education in this country. The President saw an intolerable achievement gap in American education, where minority and low-income students were often passed on and passed out, without receiving a quality education. They were unprepared for college, unprepared for life.

So we have been implementing a law that makes education more accountable and successful.

It requires states to set standards for achievement, to test students to see if they achieve those standards, and, if not, to provide additional resources to close the gap.

These resources include supplemental services, like tutoring; after school programs; and other efforts that may include faith-based groups. We also provide parents with more information and more options, such as transferring students from broken schools to schools that work.

As we improve the quality of education for all students, Catholic University and other institutions will have a better-prepared incoming freshman class.

In addition to the programs under No Child Left Behind, the President and the Congress have passed the D.C. Choice legislation, which benefits low-income students in the District, allowing them to transfer to participating private schools.

This program can become a model for other cities, especially in concert with the impressive data coming out of Milwaukee and elsewhere. We have learned that opportunity scholarships improve achievement and quickly address gaps in education. For those cities or states that want to move to a voucher system, this data is compelling.

I am hopeful that D.C. Choice will prove to be advantageous for students here and a striking example for communities across the country.

Education is a gift of men and women, doing their best to pass along the wisdom and civilization of our intellectual heritage. It is not a perfect enterprise.

Education is a very human activity, often fraught with mistakes, errors, falsehoods or ignorance.

And it has very human lessons to teach us, such as the importance of each person, the need for forgiveness and compassion, the powerful calling of service and altruism, and the desperate demand for wisdom and good judgment.

Tonight we celebrate the 25th anniversary of a great enterprise. Metropolitan College represents all that is good and important about education. For two-and-a-half decades, teachers have shared their knowledge and students have left more prepared for their own calling, for a life of accomplishment, service and life-long learning.

Excellence in education: this is what you have given to your students.

Congratulations. God bless you on this wonderful, memorable evening.