The power to choose

Project Choice captured the nation's imagination by offering four classes of Westport High School students the support they needed to access and pay for education after high school.

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The power to choose
Matthew Pozel
Senior Multimedia Writer & Producer, Public Affairs Kauffman Foundation

On June 2, 1992, Ewing Kauffman delivered the commencement address at the Westport High School graduation ceremony. Four years earlier, Mr. Kauffman had promised that his foundation's Project Choice program would offer full scholarships for college or post-secondary education along with an array of support services to help the students reach their goals. As the featured speaker, Mr. K told the graduates, "With your high school graduation, you now have the power to choose what you will make of your lives. Choose well. Choose well."

Here is the complete text of Mr. Kauffman’s message to Westport High School, Class of 1992:

Ewing Kauffman
Commencement Address
Westport High School, Kansas City, Mo.
June 2, 1992

"Ms. Carr, faculty, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, families and friends, and especially, graduates. Today is a very significant day for all of us. We are here to celebrate your triumph of graduation.

"Today is your day, and indeed, you are very special as part of a hard-working, and increasingly smaller number of youth. Last year, Missouri’s high school graduation rate dropped for the sixth year in a row. In the nation’s inner cities, more than 50 percent of today’s high school students drop out before they reach graduation.

"But dropping out is just the start of a series of other bad events. Unemployment rates for high school dropouts are double those of graduates. Dropouts are three and a half times more likely than graduates to be arrested. Dropouts are six times more likely to be unwed parents and seven and a half times more likely not to be able to make a living and to be dependent on welfare.

"But you chose to stay in school and work for something that matters to you and your family. You have taken the first vital step toward reversing those trends. The students graduating here today account for a startling achievement. Your persistence through school and your very presence accounts for cutting Westport High School’s dropout rate in half.

"Even though you are all at the same starting point today, your routes are about to go different ways. But I'd like to suggest that your final destination is ultimately the same. I hold out this challenge to all of you: Make it your goal to give back to your community."

"You, graduates, have set a historical record. You and your parents agreed to random drug tests. From the president in the White House to the Governor’s Mansion in California, they marvel and admire that out of 1,510 random drug tests, 98.4 percent of you were absolutely drug free. No school – no group of people – can equal your record. Aren’t you parents proud of every one of them?

"Receiving your diploma today is very meaningful, not only for yourselves, but for everyone who cares about you.

"This is an occasion in which we all join to celebrate. You have been given a great gift by these adults here today.

"Your teachers gave you the priceless gift of learning. Many of you also had the benefit of tutors and Saturday School. Most of you participated in Project Choice with its home / school counselors and post-secondary school advice and assistance.

"Your families gave you support, enabling you to fulfill your collective dreams. Their efforts are admirable, and their task will not be complete until you are self-sufficient members of society.

"The community gave you encouragement. And today, you have all of our hopes and aspirations.

"You are graduating not only with ability in language, math, science, and social studies, but a strong sense of your capabilities and potential. When you leave here, you will not have to rely solely on your academic literacy. You will also be able to use your emotional stability. All of you are ready to move on to another important stage of your lives, whether in the work force, at vocational / technical schools, or in college. For all of you, it is more important now than ever that you begin to draw on your own strengthened resources, to face the challenges which await. I know you will meet those challenges with dignity and honor.

"Even though you are all at the same starting point today, your routes are about to go different ways. But I’d like to suggest that your final destination is ultimately the same. I hold out this challenge to all of you: Make it your goal to give back to your community.

"Whether you return as a professional providing services or goods, or whether you remain here working and paying taxes, you will be giving back to society. Above and beyond that, each one of us here must look for ways to enhance and help develop our own community. It is your duty to search out those opportunities to help others.

"You might help a child; take him or her under your guidance toward a better life. Show them what you have achieved and show them how they might do it, too.

"You might volunteer your time and energy and efforts to a local organization, helping those in need. Turn off the television and get involved.

"For your role models, choose those who are committed. Look around at the men and women, parents and relatives, who work conscientiously at two or even three jobs. Honor those who take care of their families, keep good homes, and make sure their children go to school, and show them appreciation for their foresight and what they do. For not only have you been given an education, you have now been given the ability to help others, and it is your turn to help.

"Some of you will go to college. Most of you will go to community college locally and take vocational / technical training. Those of you who must go to work because of your family finances, I urge you to also go to night school and take technical training.

"We were born with the freedom to pursue an education and a worthwhile occupation. With your high school graduation, you now have the power to choose what you will make of your lives. Choose well. Choose well.


"Thank you."

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