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Legislatively Speaking

Lena C. Taylor

Spring has always brought a renewed sense of energy, purpose and hope. It’s like Mother Nature’s way of getting her earthly house in order. The air seems fresher, the sun brighter, and the possibilities unlimited as we emerge from the cold and grey skies of winter. Ironically, many urban dwellers might disagree. For them, winter is a safe season, with fewer instances of violence and crime. Spring signals a shift and warmer days seem to invite unrest.

However, as I ready the soil, to plant fresh flowers, I know that hope springs eternal. My optimism, in part, is rooted in the ritual of high school graduations and the promise they present.

Schools and educational institutions are like soil. When comprised of competent and committed teachers, solid resources and support systems, students flourish. They become firmly rooted in education and understand the correlation between achievement and quite simply, achievement. The students who grasp the importance of completing their education, whether high school, post-secondary education, or a trade or technical school, are the front line of our future.

They will ensure that our communities grow, our tax base is supported, and that economic development blossoms. Given the recent issues involving youth and public safety, many may be worried about how many students are actually graduating. The average graduation rate among ranked schools in the 2022 U.S. News Best High Schools rankings was roughly 87% in the 2019- 2020 school year. Public school graduation rates ranged from 74% to 94%. Wisconsin listed a 90% graduation rate and Milwaukee rose to about 70%, for the same year, according to the state’s Department of Public Instruction.

There is no denying that we have work to do in raising Milwaukee Public Schools’ graduation rate. However, today I want to take a moment to smell the roses, take in the view and be proud of the students who are completing the first leg in their educational journey. I just want to sit in the garden that is the diverse and accomplished students that make up our district. I want to fuss over them and put them on display. We don’t do that enough!

Whether it is a record number of valedictorians at Rufus King High School (my alma mater), or record numbers of scholarships awarded to our students, we have reason to be hopeful. Youth today have access to resources and opportunities that we never knew existed. They are confidant in their ability to start their own business or step into fields of study that were closed to their ancestors. They are brave and outspoken. They are more accepting and willing to see others for themselves. Impressively, they are also willing to defend their right to be different or veer off the beaten path.

Due to an injury, for the first time, in my 18 years of public service, I am going to miss graduation season. I won’t be in the room to watch the parents overwhelmed with pride. I won’t get to embrace the students and encourage them to run for elected office. I won’t see the many teachers and administrators that made sure their students made it to graduation. However, I am thankful for the many social media and broadcast stories about graduation ceremonies. I am inspired and convinced, with each student that crosses the stage and moves that tassel from the right to the left that hope springs eternal.

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