President Barack Obama Holds Roundtable on Women and Economy, Shares “Opportunity Agenda” at Valencia’s West CampusShare
President of the United States of America Barack Obama visited Valencia’s West Campus on Thursday, March 20, 2014, where prior to taking the stage at the Special Events Center, he held a brief roundtable discussion on women’s economic challenges with Falecia Williams, president, West Campus; Lynn Desjarlais, career program advisor, West Campus; and Carolyn Verno, culinary student.
Amid the fanfare and heightened security, Valencia President Sandy Shugart quipped that it was “just a regular day at Valencia” before getting down to brass tacks, sharing that Valencia is widely known for its academic excellence, learning-centered initiatives, high rates of graduation and outstanding service to Central Florida businesses. Thereupon, he introduced local dignitaries that included U.S. Representative Alan Grayson (District 9), Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.
Falecia Williams, West Campus President, gave a rallying invocation, praying for “renewed ties of civic engagement as we exercise privileges of learning [while working to] eliminate poverty and prejudice so that peace may prevail.”
After which, the President was introduced by culinary student, Carolyn Verno, who shared her struggle working dead-end, minimum wage jobs and her ultimate decision to return to Valencia in 2012 in an effort to gain skills to combat low pay.
“Valencia is where people find the power to begin,” said President Obama, against a human backdrop of women comprised of a diversity of ethnicities, ages and career levels as he communicated the importance of improving economic opportunity for America’s women and working families.
A champion of community colleges, he cited Valencia’s Aspen Prize win for exceptional community colleges, saying, “Between the students’ hard work, the outstanding faculty, the administrators who are making sure everybody has what they need to succeed, Valencia graduates are leaving here ready for a career, ready to continue their education and ready to pursue their dreams wherever they may lead.”
The nation’s chief outlined a four-part opportunity agenda that includes more good jobs that pay good wages, training more Americans for skills that they need to fill current and future jobs, ensuring that every young person has access to world-class education from preschool to an affordable college education and making sure the economy rewards work with “wages you can live on, savings you can retire on and healthcare that’s there when you need it.”
“It was the best day in the history of my working life,” said Ken Carpenter, professor, journalism, and adviser to student media. “We had a very short time period to get excited about the visit, but within that four days I had to motivate my journalism students to up their game.”
As an adviser to “Valencia Voice” journalism students, he used the high-profile event as a teaching point. The students were tasked with getting the word out to the Valencia community. “It gave me a chance to teach hard, work hard and I was right there with the excitement when it all came together.”
Six of Carpenter’s students attended the President’s on-campus address, and three were at the airport when the plane landed where they received official White House press credentials. Many of them live-tweeted and posted to various social media sites using the hashtag #ObamaatValencia.
Nicole Spottke, professor, English, watched the speech via livestream. “As soon as he walked out on the stage, tears started to come. It was an incredibly beautiful speech and beautiful for women. We will have equal pay and insurance.” Nicole saved real-time screenshots that she posted to social media sites and shared with colleagues.
The President spoke for 25-minutes to a standing room-only crowd of 300-plus faculty, staff, students and special guests. The event was live-streamed from The White House.
“It is a memorable day that will be a touchstone for so many,” Shugart said.