“The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”
— Barack Obama, 1/20/2009
As I listened to President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech, the above mentioned quote stood out more than anything else. Perhaps, when he said, “to choose our better history,” my historian ears perked up and decided to listen more closely. However, Obama had me at “all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.” I have been so happy to hear our new president talk about our obligation to take care of one another — to be our brother’s keeper. For too long, we as a society have been obsessed with taking care of “me” instead of caring about each “we.” The only way that all of us will have a “chance to pursue” our “full measure of happiness” is with the help of others.
How does all of this optimism apply to higher education, you might be asking? Here’s how: So often I see individuals, policies and systems preventing the success of students. In order to follow procedures, we ignore the individual. President Obama’s message reminds me of all the roadblocks that we put up for students, especially students of color, when we could just as easily create pathways to success. How many students have been slowed down, stopped in their tracks or derailed because they don’t fit our narrow definitions of success? Who defines success? How many future Barack Obamas are we failing to encourage and support? Obama admits to not being a strong student during his early years in college; it took him some time to get serious. Where would we be as a country right now if someone hadn’t seen his potential?
I don’t know about you, but I am on the look out for potential and hoping to find it every day! Please take the time and spend the energy taking care of those around you so that they can achieve their “full measure of happiness.”
An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).