Below are the remarks as prepared for delivery by President Porterfield upon accepting the Eugene M. Lang Lifetime Achievement Award at the "I Have A Dream" Foundation "Spirit of the Dream" Spring Gala held at 583 Park Avenue in New York on June 10, 2014.
Thank you, Art, and my deepest gratitude to Ron Terwilliger, Jere Lucey, and the “I Have A Dream” Foundation for the chance to celebrate with you the living legacy of Dr. King.
It’s a great honor to introduce you to the Pennsylvania version of 1927 Yankees -- the Franklin & Marshall College Board Chair Dr. Larry Bonchek -- our Babe Ruth -- and fellow Trustees Art Taylor, Barry Lafer, Patti Harris, Ray Sanseverino, and Susan and Lenny Klehr.
And it’s inspiring to gather here some of our greatest partners, including the President of the College Board David Coleman; Curemark Founder and CEO Joan Fallon; Senator Booker’s chief political advisor Modia Butler; Cristo Rey-NY President Fr. Joe Parkes; Megan Fraker and Cesar Delacruz of Achievement First; and F&M’s own extraordinary Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Daniel Lugo.
And I’m proud to be joined by my wife Karen Herrling, an attorney who works with vulnerable immigrants, and our bold, idea-creating, change-making, take-no-prisoners teenage daughters Lizzie and Caroline.
I’d like to thank Iris Chen and Eugena Oh for their leadership of this extraordinary organization and congratulate Donna Lawrence, your incoming President and CEO, here this evening, who begins her tenure in July. And I’m delighted to have met Kendall Farley, winner of the Spirit of the Dream Award, and to have heard the lovely stories written by the East Harlem Dreamers.
Of course, we all are here because of one man -- the incomparable Eugene Lang -- an educator, a philanthropist, and a visionary. I am so grateful for his presence in my our shared sensibility as an example, a beacon, a touchstone -- and I’m so sorry he’s not able to join us tonight. Let’s put our hands together for Mr. Lang and see if we can make a noise loud enough to bring a smile to his face where he’s resting not far from here….
I was in college -- like some of our guests tonight -- back in 1981, when Mr. Lang walked into a 6th grade graduation at his alma mater, PS 121 here in the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of.”
Upon hearing from the principal that this was the last graduation many of those 11 year-olds would attend, and with the image of Dr. King lodged in his conscience, Mr. Lang assigned himself the responsibility of giving those students hope and help toward a college degree.
He told them that if they did their job and applied themselves all the way to the high school finish line, he‘d make sure they had a ticket to college and the upward moving escalator of life. Three of those lucky children are here today as successful, college educated adults – how spectacular it is to have met you!
Let’s be clear, this spontaneous, impetuous, and eminently moral response in the presence of human need was the humanitarian equivalent of the Big Bang. Gene Lang burst open the conscience of the nation -- and America’s philanthropic universe has been expanding for three decades as a result.
Everyone took notice. Not just because its unpremeditated grandeur. Not just because of the students’ smiles and their parents’ tears of joy. Not just because of the practical social benefits of this wise investment.
It was the power of his idea -- his bold notion -- so simple, so profound, so authentic to democracy -- that each of us can make a difference and all of us should try.
The schools must take responsibility for excellent teaching, the students for sustained effort, the families for structure and for love, and our society for sustaining the freedom, jobs, and justice for which a learning mind strives.
It is awesome to learn that, so far, this foundation has raised the funds to put more than 15,000 talented young people onto the college pipeline.
And it is beyond awesome to realize that the “I Have a Dream” model of early, deep, unyielding engagement in children’s development has now been imitated and adopted many times over throughout this land.
It is an enormous honor for F&M to receive this award. Thank you. Tonight, let me say explicitly what this award represents: Franklin & Marshall College -- an iconic American college known for academic seriousness and launching young people into lives of impact -- stands with you in the national imperative of dramatically enhancing college access and success.
It’s not right, it’s not smart, and it’s not American that only 5 percent of the students in America’s top 200 colleges come from the lowest quartile of our households economically.
That’s why in a few years ago, our Board made the decision to double the need-based financial aid budget of the College -- and with that increase we made the decision to actively seek out and partner with innovative change-making schools and access programs so that talented well-prepared students would know that this top college was swinging its doors wide open to them, in the Gene Lang tradition of opportunity and high expectations.
And now the early results are in, and they shine.
In 2008, before we increased aid, five percent of F&M’s incoming students came from households eligible for federal Pell Grants. The last three years, we’ve raised that figure to 17 percent. I don’t think any college has climbed that fast -- and our average SAT scores climbed too -- but it’s the students’ academic achievement at F&M that will really knock your socks off.
Take our Pell-eligible students who enrolled in 2012 -- almost all of them first gen college goers as well. I’m proud to tell you that their sophomore retention rate was 98 percent. And their composite GPA was 3.05 – compared to 3.08 for domestic students as a whole. The ten STEM scholars we recruited as a Posse from Miami earned a composite 3.3 GPA in a science heavy curriculum.
We’re so proud of our students -- some of them are here tonight – New Yorkers Darrius Moore, Ashley Ceron, Kat Ortiz, Fatou Keita, Avril Gordon.... They are the future of a city and country that never sleeps, and their presence in our school is enhancing the education of all 2,400 students and the academic strength of the College as a whole.
If you remember one thing about what I said tonight, please remember that F&M is executing an ambitious talent strategy. We view financial aid and partnering with great K-12 educators as investments in our academic strength. Although we love diversity, this is not a diversity strategy. It is not a social justice strategy. It is not a revenue strategy. It is a talent strategy.
And our goal isn’t only to strengthen F&M’s place at the very top echelon of national liberal arts colleges, and it isn’t only to propel Darrius and Avril and Ashley and Kat and Fatou into the opportunity they have earned -- though it is certainly both of those things.
It is also, in the Gene Lang spirit, to move minds and hearts and inspire other great colleges to invest in need-based aid so that our country can dramatically increase the number of strong, well-qualified low-income students at our very top institutions. That’s what it’s going to take for America to compete and win in today’s lightning-fast, science- and tech-drive global economy – where the power of your mind and your ideas and the depth of your country’s intellectual talent will determine who leads who leads and who’s left behind.
Today, on a day of celebration and renewal, let us give thanks to all who donate their time and treasure to need-based financial aid and the education programs that unlock human potential. In particular, I want to thank the F&M board members, alumni, and friends, whose vision, generosity, and can-do spirit is absolutely essential to the progress we’re making for our students and the country as a whole.
Let us say, in the Gene Lang tradition, and to modify just a touch Dr. King’s majestic message of 50 years ago, that “WE have a dream,” a dream, yes, deeply rooted in the American dream.
We have a dream that 4,000 kids a day won’t drop out of school, which is what’s happening today.
We have a dream that a cure for cancer or a novel equal to Moby Dick won’t tragically remain trapped in the mind of an illiterate teenager.
We have a dream that every child will cross the high school commencement stage college and career ready.
We have a dream that American K-12 education will be the best in the world.
We have a dream that each student will go to bed at night eager for the school day to come, knowing that this country marshals our resources to cultivate the distinction and the greatness within them.
We have a dream American higher education will enhance its excellence by reclaiming the mantle of meritocracy -- and we have a dream that higher education will start to measure ourselves based on what we give back to the common good.
Dr. King had a dream. Gene Lang has a dream. Our best schools and programs have a dream. Each of us here today has a dream -- that’s why we’re together. We have a dream. Let’s fulfill our promise as leaders so our children can fulfill theirs.