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Senator Murray Applauds Latino Students for Academic Excellence

May 24 2004

Murray celebrates academic success of students at Yakima Hispanic Academic Achievers Program

En Espanol

(Yakima, WA) – On Saturday, May 22, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) joined with more than 1,000 students and community leaders in Yakima to celebrate the academic success of hundreds of Latino students.

Murray spoke at the annual student recognition banquet hosted by Yakima Hispanic Academic Achievers Program (HAAP) and helped present scholarships to outstanding Hispanic seniors. The banquet honored Latino middle and high school students in the Yakima and Union Gap School Districts who are on the honor roll.

“The statistics say that only 52 percent of Latino students will graduate from high school. But tonight we are proving the statistics wrong,” Murray said. “We are sending a message to everyone that a new generation of Latino leaders is getting ready to help move our state forward. You are proving that in America every child can overcome barriers and reach their full potential.”

Murray explained that when she was growing up her family relied on food stamps, job training and Pell Grants to attend college. “I want to make sure that you get the help you need just as my family got the help we needed,” she said.

In the Senate, Murray is a cosponsor of the DREAM Act and has fought to fund programs that help Latino students such as GEAR UP, HEP-CAMP, and bilingual education.

Murray said it takes three ingredients to make sure all students can succeed: community support, believing in yourself, and a government that knocks down barriers. Murray said she is troubled by decisions in President’s budget to cut funding for programs that serve Latino students such as dropout prevention and Even Start, a family literacy program.

“That sends a terrible message to students who need help,” Murray said. “I know we can do better, and I know that if we all stand up together, we can save those programs.”

“We need to make sure that America remains a country of opportunity for all children no matter where they come from, no matter what language they speak at home, and no matter what obstacles they have to overcome,” Murray said.

Senator Murray's Remarks Follow:

Thank you, Chief Granato. I am so excited to be here with all of you, and tonight we are going to celebrate. We’re going to celebrate all the teachers, volunteers and community members behind the Hispanic Academic Achievers Program. And we are going to celebrate all of the bright and talented students who have made the honor roll.

We are also going to send a message loud and clear. The statistics say that only 52 percent of Latino students will graduate from high school. But tonight we are proving the statistics wrong. We are sending a message to everyone that a new generation of Latino leaders is getting ready to help move our state forward.

I know many of you face challenges at home and in school. Some of you have not been here as long as your classmates. You’ve had to adjust to a new community and a new school. Some of you have had very little time to learn English. Some of you have had to leave school to help your families earn a living. But despite those challenges, you’ve worked hard, and you are on track to succeed. You are proving that in America every child can overcome barriers and reach their full potential.

For me, that’s not just a principle. It’s the story of my own childhood.

I have six brothers and sisters, and when I was growing up we didn’t have much, but we took good care of each other. When I was 15 years old, my dad was diagnosed with a disease called Multiple Sclerosis. As his disease got worse, my father was unable to walk. Eventually, he was unable to work.

My mom had to go to work to support our family. But she couldn’t find a job that would pay enough to support seven children and a husband with growing medical bills. By the time I was 19, we didn’t know how my mom was going to work and take care of the younger kids. But thank God we live in a country that believes every person matters and that is there to help.

For several months, my family relied on food stamps. They weren’t much, but they kept food on the table while we figured things out. To get a better-paying job, my mom needed more training. Through a government program, she got a degree in accounting and a better job. My twin sister, my older brother and I were able to stay in college through Pell grants and student loans. As a family, we had fallen on hard times.

But we got the support we needed - whether it was food, training for a better job, or help paying for college. Because we got help, today those seven kids are: a firefighter, a lawyer, a computer programmer, a sportswriter, a homemaker, a junior high school teacher, and a United States Senator. In my book, that was a good investment.

This room is filled with young people who are all great investments for our country. I want to make sure that you get the help you need just as my family got the help we needed. We don’t have a single child to spare. We need everyone to make it. We need to make sure that America remains a country of opportunity for all children – no matter where they come from, no matter what language they speak at home, and no matter what obstacles they have to overcome.

Today, as your Senator, I get to be a voice for so many families in our state who are facing hard times – Families who are serving in our military. Families who are facing layoffs. And families who are just getting a start at the American Dream.

But today I am very concerned about the direction we are going in Washington, D.C. The DREAM Act, which helps immigrant students afford college, is stalled in Congress. We can’t lose any more students. We must get this bill passed.

Unfortunately, instead of providing more support, some in Washington, D.C. are trying to provide less. Earlier this year, the President presented his budget, and it had more bad news for students. It eliminated the Dropout Prevention program. It also cut funding for Even Start, which today provides $2 million to our state for family literacy.

In addition to these cuts, the President’s budget will hurt students by keeping funding for critical programs at last year’s level. More students need help, but the funding is not keeping pace. For example, the president’s budget does not increase funding for GEAR UP and for bilingual education.

For migrant students, the president’s budget limits funding for two important programs – the High School Equivalency Program (HEP) and the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP). These programs help migrant students in our state graduate from high school and go onto college.

We should be expanding these programs, but instead the President is limiting them to last year’s level. That sends a terrible message to students who need help. I know we can do better, and I know that if we all stand up together, we can save those programs. We can give students like you new opportunities.

Years ago, I got my start teaching pre-school. Later, I ran for election and served on my local school board. And I was the first mom in the history of the country to come to serve in the U.S. Senate with kids in school. So I’ve been working on education issues for a long time, and I believe it takes three ingredients to ensure all students can succeed.

First, you need to have a community that encourages and supports its young people. We certainly have that here in Yakima. Look at all the people who are here tonight -- school administrators, teachers, college representatives, elected officials, and community leaders. All of them are here supporting you. And we are lucky to have HAAP here in Yakima – supporting you by providing scholarships, mentoring and other services. So we’ve got the first ingredient – community support.

The second ingredient is belief -- believing that you can graduate and attend college. Sometimes it means overcoming the doubts we hold inside. Other times it means overcoming the limits that other people try to place on us. There are people in this world who will tell you that you can’t make it. And you have a choice. You can listen to them, or you can go out and prove them wrong.

In my life, people told me that I could never become a United States Senator. They said I didn’t have the experience. They said I couldn’t raise the money. They even said I was too short.

Well I proved them wrong. When I got to the Senate in 1993, I became the fourth-tallest woman in the United States Senate. So when people tell you that you can’t do things – go out and prove them wrong. So we’ve got the second ingredient – belief.

The third ingredient is a government that knocks down barriers. When I was growing up, our government was on our side. It helped families who were facing hard times. But today, much of that support is being taken away. We need to send a positive message that says we will be there to help you.

I recently introduced a bill to help students stay in high school. It’s called the PASS Act. It does three things. First, it makes sure you have an academic counselor starting in middle school so you’ll be ready for college. Second, it will put literacy coaches in our schools so students and teachers can get extra help with reading and writing. And finally, it helps schools that aren’t performing as well as they could be.

I am committed to making sure that our government is knocking down barriers for all students and their families. We have the three ingredients we need for everyone in this room to finish high school and graduate from college. And I know that you can rise to great heights, because last week I worked with someone who grew up here in the Yakima Valley. Today, she is one of our nation’s most influential advocates for bilingual education.

Her name is Patricia Loera. Growing up, she worked as a migrant worker with her family throughout the Yakima Valley and in Skagit County. Then, when she was 13, her father passed away. Her mother had to support five children on her own. Patricia dropped out of school twice – in 8th grade and again in 10th grade.

With help from the migrant education program, she went to night school and summer school and graduated from high school. Through the CAMP program, she attended college and graduated with honors. She went onto graduate from law school. For the past seven years, she’s worked as the Legislative Director for the National Association for Bilingual Education. She is fighting to make sure that all students have better opportunities. Now, she’s returning to our state to help the Gates Foundation improve our high schools.

Last week in Washington, D.C., I stood with Patricia and Latino legislators to call attention to the challenges facing Latino students and the need to turn my PASS Act into law. Patricia Loera faced challenges growing up -- but she believed in herself, and she had the support of our community and our government. She made it, and you can make it too.

Before I close, I want you to know that if you want more information about my PASS Act or about Latino issues, I’ve got a special section on my web page – both in English and in Spanish. The address is http://murray.senate.gov/hispanic. I also have a newsletter on Latino issues, and I want to invite you to join my email list. You can sign up on my web page or give your email address or card to a member of my staff.

So remember, some people in Washington, D.C. might not understand the great potential that our students have. They might not understand why GEAR UP or HEP-CAMP is so important. Those people in Washington, D.C. might not get it. But we do, and we are not going to stop until every child can reach their full potential.

I don’t care who I have to take on. I don’t care how many speeches I have to give in the Senate or how many bills I have to introduce. I’m not going to stop until every family gets the same opportunities that my family got to live the American Dream. You are our future. You are making us proud every day. We support you, and together, we can do anything.

More information on my website in Spanish | English.

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