First of all, I’m thrilled to be a part of this series of Patch blogs. I hope to give readers a better idea of the Suffolk County I grew up in, and the Suffolk County I’m working for in Congress.
Now that we’re getting closer to warm weather and sunshine, I’ve been thinking more about past summers here. One memory especially sticks out.
In the summer of 1966 — the summer I turned 16 — I worked the counter at full time. So much has changed since then. You could always find a parking spot at the beach, and there was never a traffic jam on 27 back then. And though many things have changed, what will never change are the values that were reinforced that summer. Like most kids, my parents instilled the value of hard work in me. That value became real and was strengthened working at that counter.
The promise of America has always been if you work hard and keep your nose clean, you’ll succeed. At the time I thought I was scooping ice cream to earn a little extra money to go out and have fun with my friends. But that summer was strengthening my middle class value of work.
For those in the middle class, nothing is ever handed to you. The only thing we expect is the opportunity to make something of ourselves. The opportunity to get an education and go as far as our ambition and ability will take us.
Seven years after my time at the Candy Kitchen and after working several more summers delivering groceries, I’d graduated from college and started my first real job as an admissions counselor at Southampton College. The next twenty-nine years of my life I dedicated to that work. I earned a master’s degree along the way, and eventually became the Provost. I can’t think of a better lesson to teach my grandson. Work hard. Never stop learning.
That’s what I fight for in Congress. Opportunity. More and more, the opportunity to make something of yourself gets whittled down. Grants and scholarships always end up on someone’s list of programs we can’t afford. Then those very same people say we can always afford more tax breaks for those who need them least.
Middle class families don’t want handouts. But that doesn’t mean that they want to pick up the table scraps millionaires leave behind either. The middle class wants a fair shot.
Competition makes us a better country. These days, our students don’t just have to compete against other American students. They have to compete against students across the globe. In that sense, we can’t stop the world from changing. But we can stop our values from changing. We can make sure our students have the resources to come out on top every single time. We can choose to always put opportunity first. In our hearts and in our actions, it can always be the summer of 1966.