Betsy DeVos Speech to Department of Education Staff
February 8, 2017
Thank you for gathering, or for taking a few minutes to tune in from your offices around the Department.
And thank you for your welcome. I have been eager to get here and meet everyone!
I'm guessing you already know, but my name is Betsy, and I am here with you—alongside you— to serve our nation's students. We, here at the Department of Education, are fortunate to join an incredible array of parents, teachers, educators and school leaders to serve all of America's students.
It's such a pleasure to finally be here, and I'm so pleased that my husband Dick could join today, too. He has been an amazing partner for nearly 38 years, and in the past weeks has been unfaltering in his support and encouragement. I'm so grateful for him and for my family.
This is a humbling and exciting opportunity to serve.
Let me start simply, by saying "thank you" to each of you – those here in the Department and those across the country who work every day to make education better.
Let me specifically note and thank Mr. Phillip Rosenfelt. You all know Phil, I am sure. I have quickly learned he's a well-respected and familiar face around here. In fact, Phil's service predates our current Department of Education.
While Phil and I met just a short time ago, I know he has done an outstanding job as Acting Secretary. Phil was gracious enough to join me for a tour of two other Department of Education office buildings here in the District this morning. I am grateful for his steady leadership, and that of the entire ED transition team here on stage. The work of the Department during this transition is a testament to Phil's selfless leadership and longstanding commitment to the Department's mission. Again, thank you, Phil and the Transition team!
Americans have tremendous respect for all of those within and outside of these walls who work to make more opportunity available through better education.
So, let's turn to recent headlines. There's no need to pull punches. For me personally, this confirmation process and the drama it engendered has been a...bit of a bear.
In all, seriousness, for many, the events of the last few weeks have likely raised more questions and spawned more confusion than they have brought light and clarity. So, for starters, please know, I'm a "door open" type of person who listens more than speaks.
I am here to serve—with you. I am committed to working with everyone and anyone —from every corner of the country, from every walk of life, from every background, and with those who supported my nomination and those who did not—to protect, strengthen and create new world-class education opportunities for America's students.
Let's acknowledge: We've just come through one of the most bruising, divisive elections in modern times. And that's okay. Our republic is resilient. We as a people are resilient.
Often, the morning and evening news cycles make it hard to imagine what might unite our nation. The rhetoric and the words can get hot and heated, and the animosity often seems unending. And that's okay, too. People are passionate and moved by deeply held views. We are a pluralistic culture and we must celebrate our differences.
But all of us here can help bring unity by personally committing to being more open to, and patient toward, views different than our own.
A key to our nation's unity and future is resident in the DNA of the Department of Education – it is in who we serve - the rising generation.
Every child in America is born with innate curiosity and each is brimming with limitless potential. Sometimes, as students, they gather in classrooms, sometimes in hallowed lecture halls, sometimes in their home classroom, or sometimes in nature itself. Some are nontraditional students, and some seem traditional, but each one holds special, unique and amazing promise.
Together, we have a noble and consequential mission to serve. There is no greater achievement in the world than positively changing the life of a child by bending the arc or breaking the cycle through education. This is what motivates me. This is why education as a lifelong pursuit is my passion. I know this is a passion we share.
From students who may be struggling, to hard-working teachers who feel stifled, special needs students and families to whom we owe our full support, and leaders and administrators seeking clarity and evidence-based solutions, the Department has a complex population to champion.
Even though I'm a grandmother, since this is my first day, I know I am the newbie and I have a lot to learn. I pledge to listen and learn from you and from stakeholders around our country. I hope to earn your trust and confidence as we work together.
I firmly believe we can genuinely unite around a commitment to the rising generation. Let's make this deal: I will challenge all on how and why we've done things a certain way, but I will listen to each of you on your ideas for how we can do better for students. You are professionals whom I respect.
In building strong teams, embracing diversity and inclusion are key elements for success. Diversity may be viewed as cliché, but I believe that getting to know, working with, befriending and including people who are different from ourselves is enriching and expanding. And if we model it ourselves, how much easier will it be to encourage students to do the same?
In addition to modeling inclusion and a love of life-long learning, the Department also has a unique role in protecting students. We believe students deserve learning environments that foster innovation and curiosity, and are also free from harm. I'm committed to working with you to make this the case.
The obstacles between our nation's students and their pursuit of excellence can all be overcome. They're human problems. All too often adult issues can complicate and get in the way of a focus upon those we serve. The good news is: We can all work together to find solutions and make them happen.
I'm reminded of the ancient counsel to act justly, to love kindness and to proceed humbly. No matter your outlook, I'm betting we can all agree that acting justly, being compassionate and moving forward humbly on behalf of the future of our nation - America's students - is a good place to start.
So I ask every educator, every parent, everyone involved in educating our nation's students, and all of us here: Let us set aside any preconceived notions and let's recognize that while we may have disagreements, we can –and must—come together, find common ground and put the needs of our students first. And when we do disagree, let us set an example by being sincere and honest, passionate but civil, while never losing sight of our shared mission.
To everyone on this team, my challenge to you is simple: Be bold, think big, and act to serve students.
And I will promise you this: Together, we will find new ways in which we can positively transform education.
It's day one for me, but it is simply the next day in this Department's history to pursue its mission. I'm ready to work with you. Let's get started!