Sarah Vowell's opinion column, in today's NYTimes, talks about the effect Ted Kennedy's work in the Senate has had on her.
I like this excerpt especially:
I paid my way through Montana State University with student loans, a minimum-wage job making sandwiches at a joint called the Pickle Barrel, and — here come the waterworks — Pell Grants. Thanks to Pell Grants, I had to work only 30 hours a week up to my elbows in ham instead of 40.
Ten extra hours a week might sound negligible, but do you know what a determined, junior-Hillary type of hick with a full course load and onion-scented hands can do with the gift of 10 whole hours per week? Not flunk geology, that’s what. Take German every day at 8 a.m. — for fun! Wander into the office of the school paper on a whim and find a calling. I’m convinced that those 10 extra hours a week are the reason I graduated magna cum laude, which I think is Latin for “worst girlfriend in town.”
Twenty years after my first financial aid package came through, I have paid off my college and graduate school loans and I have paid back the federal government in income taxes what it doled out to me in Pell Grants so many, many, many, many times over it’s a wonder I’m not a Republican.
But I would like to point out that my perfectly ordinary education, received in public schools and a land grant university, is not merely the foundation on which I make a living. My education made my life. In a sometimes ugly world, my schooling opened a trap door to a bottomless pit of beauty — to Walt Whitman and Louis Armstrong and Frank Lloyd Wright, to the old movies and old masters that have been my constant companions in my unalienable pursuit of happiness.
I’m a New Yorker now. Every now and then when I have time to kill in Midtown, I duck into the Museum of Modern Art to stare at Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” I love looking at the picture, but I also love looking back on when and where and how I first saw it — on a slide in a first-year art history course in which some of my fellow students were ranchers’ sons who wore actual cowboy hats to class. It was a course I paid for, in part, with a Pell Grant, a program always and as ever championed by “my senator,” Ted Kennedy, a program so dear to Barack Obama’s heart that increasing the maximum amount of Pell Grants for needy students was the first bill he introduced upon arrival in the United States Senate.
Pell Grants are named after the 6-term Democratic senator from Rhode Island, Claiborne Pell, but Ted Kennedy worked alongside Pell to establish the original bill, called the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant, in 1972. Subsequently, Kennedy's own website notes that he was a key supporter for Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Direct Lending program in 1993. These have allowed so many, including Xtreme English and her children, to get an education.
Living in the District of Columbia means we don't have a voting representative or senator in Congress. I relied on Senator Kennedy from Massachusetts to represent my concerns, and he did so admirably. I'm happy to have contributed whatever small funds, if any, I had at the time whenever I received an email from Senator Kennedy pointing out a person or group with a particular need.
Senator Kennedy came from a wealthy, illustrious, close-knit family, whose support he was able to take for granted all his life. He was given much, and in return he gave unstintingly to others to the end. He would be the first to admit that his actions have not always been those of a perfect human being. But to his everlasting credit, he did not allow his failings to drive him from public life or stop his work on behalf of those who need the help of a community.
Today's Writers Almanac notes that it's the birthday of Molly Ivins (rest in peace, too, Molly). WA cites a biographical blurb she wrote about herself that says "Molly Ivins is a nationally syndicated political columnist who remains cheerful despite...politics. She emphasizes the more hilarious aspects of both state and national government, and consequently never has to write fiction."
addendum: Photo of Funeral procession from US Capitol to Arlington Cemetery.