Claflin University
Orangeburg, South Carolina

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, good morning to everyone.  I want to thank the student leaders who have joined us today for a very important conversation.  The Secretary and I traveled here this morning from Washington, D.C., with the specific purpose of hearing from you about how you are thinking about what should be the priorities for our nation and our world.

So, I’m very much looking forward to this conversation.  I’m honored to be at Claflin University, which has a distinction of being a center of academic excellence in our country. 

And I thank the president of Claflin for joining us this morning and for the work that you do.  Proudly, he has shared with me that Claflin is among the top 10 HBCUs in the country.  And as a proud graduate of an HBCU, I understand what that means.  So, thank you all.

So, our student leaders — let’s think about this.  When people are in college, they’re usually in the age range of about 18 years old to 24 years old.  And it’s a very specific phase of life, 18 through 24.  It’s a phase of life where an individual becomes an adult in so many ways that is more than just chronological.  It is about a phase of life where people, with the blessing of being in a college environment, have the opportunity to meet people they may not have otherwise met.  They have the opportunity to expand their mind based on their interests and their curiosity and their passions. 

It is a phase of life where individuals start to develop and decide who they are in relation to the world — and certainly in relation to their nation. 

It is a phase of life where when an individual has decided to go to college, it is also about the next initiation in their birthright of leadership and the decision they have made to accelerate their leadership role, not only in their family and community but in our nation.

So for all of those reasons, I’m very happy to be here and to have this conversation.  I think about it on a number of levels.

Today, we are celebrating the national “Get Out and…” — our registration — voter registration.  And so when I think about that and I think about the last big election we had in 2020, I’m proud to report what you all know, which is that over 50 percent — over half of the people in our country, who at the time were between 18 and 24 years old, voted.  Over half.  It was a record high.

And these young voters at the time told us what they wanted.  They put in an order for what they wanted to see in their country.  They said, “We want to see college be more affordable,” which includes knowing that they can graduate from college, they can leave college not being unduly burdened by student loan debt.  So the President just signed an order that says that students will have $10,000 of their college loan debt relieved.  And if they’re a Pell Grant recipient, that would be $20,000. 

Students said when they voted, and young people said when they voted, “We want to know that you are dealing with the issue of Pell Grants, because we need more in terms of Pell Grant benefits to meet the mark of what we need so that we don’t have to struggle to pay rent or buy food or buy books and school supplies.”  And so we have increased Pell Grants by $400 per student per year, and we are — we intend to double that in the coming years.

Students said and young voters said, “We want to know that you’re going to invest in our centers of academic excellence and, in particular, our HBCUs and minority-serving institutions.”  And so we have invested over $5 billion to put the resources into these institutions that are putting the resources into the future leaders of our country.

You all said and young voters said when they voted in 2020, “This crisis that is called climate change is real, that the leaders from years before have probably sold us short in terms of taking it seriously, understanding the urgency of it.  And we want leadership that will accelerate the resources we put into saving this precious planet.”  And so we put an historic investment, the largest in history, into dealing with the climate crisis: thirty- — $370 billion.  And it includes the largest investment in environmental justice in history.

Young people said, “We are entrepreneurial, we got ideas, we are innovators, but we know that there is a real divide, in particular, a racial wealth gap in America, on many levels, including when it comes to access to capital.”  So we invested an additional $12 billion into community banks, because we know community banks are in the community and understand the needs and desires of that community as well as the talent and capacity of community, and that access to capital should not be a barrier to innovation and creativity and what we know those small businesses are, which is part of the economic lifeblood of a community and, by extension, all of society.

Young people are leading on all of these issues, including one of the biggest issues that is affecting our nation that, frankly, I think we are just not talking enough about, which is the issue of mental health.

But actually, I think in so many ways, our young leaders are leading on that in a way that some other leaders may not be, because we recognize in particular that over the last couple of years, through the pandemic, we literally told people to isolate, which means people were literally by themselves, suffering from all that that pandemic represented in terms of loss of life, loss of normalcy — for so many people, loss of a job.

And so the effects of that all still linger in a very profound way.  In fact, three in five college students has been diagnosed with some level of need for mental healthcare.

And that’s just among those who have been diagnosed.  I have long believed that when it comes to the healthcare policy in our country, we still have so much more and we still must do so much better when it comes to mental health.  And we must realize it is healthcare.  We’ve got to stop acting as though the body starts from the neck down.  We also need healthcare from the neck up.  And there should be no stigma about that.  People should not be made to silently suffer.

So all of these issues are issues that I look forward to talking with the leaders here about in terms of the work we are doing, how it is affecting you, and how we can do better — because you are our future.  And when I look at each of you, I know our future is bright. 

So, with that, I’m going to pass the microphone to the Secretary of Education, Secretary Cardona. 


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