Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you, Angie, for your kind introduction. I always say that I admire my students and you are a perfect example of some of the amazing people who not only choose community college, but excel there.
First of all: Congratulations to all the Aspen Prize finalists! Today is a celebration of all of you and of the important role your schools play in our country.
On behalf of everyone who believes in the promise of education to change lives, thank you for what you do.
I would like to thank Secretary Duncan for his leadership and my friend Martha Kanter for all her work. We couldn't have stronger community college advocates in the Department of Education than Arne and Martha. It was just over a year ago that we gathered at the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges to share ideas about improving student outcomes.
That summit showed what we all already knew: that community colleges are the best kept secret in America. That morning, we announced the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Each of us in this room—students, educators, administrators, experts—knows that excellence happens every day in community college classrooms and campuses across this country. Student by student...classroom by classroom...paper by paper...you educate...you inspire...you change lives.
The Aspen Prize gives us an opportunity to celebrate community college excellence on a grand scale. So, thank you to the Aspen Institute, the supporters, and the many people who worked so hard to get to this day. You have helped these institutions get the recognition they deserve. As I said in October, the summit was an important step in our efforts to meet the President's goal of having the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world. But, I said then that we still had a lot of work to do. So much has been done since then. On Summit Day, we announced Skills for America's Future, an initiative to create industry-led partnerships with community colleges.
Since then, Skills for America's Future has partnered with companies and community colleges across the country to help students acquire important job skills. Together, these partners are training hundreds of thousands of community college students for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
Immediately after the summit, the Aspen team began its rigorous process culminating in today's announcement. The work you have done has the potential to shape policy in the years to come.
As a teacher, I am fortunate to be in the classroom every week and able to see firsthand the tremendous impact community colleges have on so many students.
These schools represent an idea that is uniquely ours—if you work hard and get a good education, you can build a better life for you and your family. And community colleges make that happen, every day.
We see it in the moms who go back to school for more specific training ... in the military veterans returning from service who come back to complete their degrees ... and in the high school graduates who continue their education.
We see it in students like Angie—who never thought college was an option. But, since she found a home at a community college, she hasn't let anything stop her.
She's not just changing her own life, but she is giving back to her community—serving in student government, tutoring other students, and pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher.
I know all the prize finalists represented here today are as inspired by their students as I am by mine.
Congratulations to Valencia College—and to all the finalists—on this tremendous achievement. Your commitment to your students is an inspiration to all of us.
Early next year, I look forward to touring a number of community colleges. I will highlight more of the innovative job partnerships and student support programs that are really making a difference in peoples' lives. We will keep our eyes on the important work of community college innovators across the country.
Because as we look to the future, something is becoming more and more clear: community colleges aren't just changing lives; they're changing America. Community colleges have taken their place alongside our great four-year universities in the battle to compete and win in the 21st century.
So we need to be ready for this challenge. Because the future we want isn't going to be built without us. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you in the coming months. Thank you again for all of your hard work, and congratulations.