This year I have had the honor of serving as the chair of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Community Colleges. As chair, I recently had the privilege of convening our association’s national convention in Orlando, Florida, welcoming 2,000 community college colleagues from around the country. In the spirit of the conference theme: “Our time has come,” I would like to share my opening message with you.
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Welcome to Orlando, and to the 99th convening of the American Association of Community Colleges. Next year, we become centenarians when our association turns 100. I am honored to serve as AACC Chair this year, representing over 1,100 community colleges. When I look at you I see an amazing confluence of talent, vision, energy and grit, pioneers and trail blazers hard at work creating—or better said—recreating the community college of the 21st century. Our jobs have never been more challenging but they have never been more important. This is “our time in the sun.” The ugly duckling from the wrong side of the ivory tower has indeed become the proverbial swan!
How thrilling, then, to join hands with Walter, his talented staff, and hundreds of thousands of colleagues across the country not just to press a reset button, but to engage in the hard leadership work of re-inventing the sector that serves 12 million Americans each year. Our charge: to achieve nothing less than 21st century, cutting-edge currency in everything we do.
My friends, this is the Lord’s work that we do. We are the single most important gateway to opportunity for so many, the most powerful accelerator towards college and career readiness and completion for the low income and minority students we serve; the sector best equipped to strengthen the middle class; and the only sector of higher education that can make a significant difference for families on the cost of college and the size of student debt. And the wonderful thing is we don’t need rooms full of million dollar consultants—even if we could afford them—because we have rooms—just like this one—all across the country of community colleges—filled with professionals just like us. These 12 million students are our people; they live in our communities; And I ask you, my friends, if we do not serve these students, who will? As our good colleague Martha Kantor says, “We have promises to keep.”…and I would add…to serve the students we have, not the ones we wish we had.
In the world of higher education, we are T.S. Eliot’s “practical cats,” the most resilient and the most flexible. It is we who sit right at the nexus of our state’s workforce and economic development agendas.
I salute you, my friends, for committing to do some hard thinking in a beautiful place in the company of great colleagues. I trust we will all emerge from the conference recharged and renewed in our commitment to—as Larry the Cable Guy says—“Git ‘er done!” When our Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49’ers several years ago (sorry California, but it was the only Super Bowl we ever won), our coach John Harbaugh said: “Never perfect, never pretty, but we get the job done! This is us, my friends, every community college in the country—“Never perfect. Never pretty. But we get the job done! And how glad we are you are here to help us do just that.