Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Celebrating Opportunity and Those Who Pursue It

After watching the last two week's political conventions, I am left feeling more encouraged and optimistic than ever. It was not the soaring rhetoric, and certainly not the partisan attacks by each side. Rather, it was the speakers and their compelling life stories that uplifted me. Both political parties showcased examples of what makes America great. We saw impressive individuals from both parties, who took advantage of opportunities to make significant contributions.

Think about the common thread that we saw within both conventions. We saw examples of a great society that helps people to help themselves. Both parties celebrated the pursuit of a better life for ourselves and for our children. With assistance from families, from communities, and from government, ordinary people accomplished extraordinary things through scholarship, merit, hard work, and character.

Here are a few examples, and they are inspirational:
  • Michele Obama, a very successful attorney before becoming first lady, attended Princeton on scholarship.
  • Susana Martinez's hard-working entrepreneur parents taught her the value of education and hard work. As a top student, she continued her education through a doctorate degree, became a prosecutor, and eventually became the very effective Governor of my state of New Mexico.
  • Julian Castro & his brother Joaquin both received scholarships to attend Stanford University and Harvard Law School. Julian is the very successful Mayor of San Antonio and Joaquin serves in the Texas House of Representatives. 
  • Condoleezza Rice's rise from a segregated neighborhood in Alabama to Stanford University Professor to Secretary of State is another example of academic and individual achievement.
  • Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, rose to Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives and then on to U.S. Senator through personal achievement and education.
  • Paul Ryan's mother set the example of re-educating herself and starting a new career when Paul's father died at age 55. Paul's social security benefits and part-time work helped pay for his college education.
  • President Obama's impressive life story was made possible through the scholarships and student loans he received to attend Columbia University and Harvard Law School. 
  • Mitt Romney took advantage of his upper middle-class upbringing to build the very successful Bain Capital, and to go onto serve the 2002 Olympics and as Governor of Massachusetts.
These exceptional individuals exemplify the American dream. We should celebrate our society, the opportunities that if offers, and the culture that encourages us to pursue our dreams and potentials. We are offered help along the way, and many of us step up to take full advantage of that help. Unfortunately, there are many more who do not pursue opportunities and their potentials go unfulfilled.

Today's economic difficulties are in part due to the nature of our rapidly changing world. Much of the world has copied those things that have made us the most prosperous nation on earth, including universal access to education and opportunity. Today's global workforce and marketplace are more competitive, and we can no longer just teach our citizens to work hard and play fair. We now need to teach flexibility, lifelong learning, and new cognitive skills.

Tom Friedman's recent oped in the NY Times conveys these same ideas. He states that "if you want a decent job that will lead to a decent life today you have to work harder, regularly reinvent yourself, obtain at least some form of postsecondary education, make sure that you’re engaged in lifelong learning, and play by the rules."

As a nation, we need to find ways to expand opportunities to more of our citizens. And we need to further build a culture that encourages initiative, hard work, and continuous learning. This is the hope and promise for our future. As an entrepreneur, I often see this desire and dedication in the young people that we hire, and in the foreign-born students that come to America to pursue their dreams for a better and more prosperous future. Even more than the convention speakers, these hardworking and talented individuals inspire me and provide me with great hope for our future.

There are many good policy ideas that can guide our country in the right direction. We need to ask more of our leaders and focus them upon creating opportunity and rewarding those who take advantage of those opportunities. And if the convention speakers and today's high-tech workforce are any measure, we have good reason to be confident and optimistic about our future. We will to continue to build a great society that helps people who help themselves.

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