Gesture welcome, but education problems remain

USF President Judy Genshaft amazed a capacity crowd on Monday during a leadership breakfast honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

After listening to a 6-year-old boy articulate a poem from memory better than most adults, Genshaft stood at the podium, and, with the sold-out audience as her witness, offered the young child a full scholarship to the University of South Florida. “Just let us know when you want to start,” she told him.

It was one of those rare moments where I’ve been around to witness what truly powerful people will do when they follow their hearts and not their boards of advisers. It was nothing short of astonishing.

According to breakfast organizers, the boy reads on a college level. Before continuing with the remarks for which she was on the program, Genshaft made sure to tell the young man that USF has an Honors College “just for you.”

The theme of education continued throughout most of the breakfast. Social education, lessons of tolerance and acceptance, were the focus of some speakers. Others spoke about education in the more traditional sense.

Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, the keynote speaker and U.S. congresswoman from Michigan, made the plea that education remains affordable enough for anyone who wants a college degree to be able to have one. What Genshaft did on Monday is commendable.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t go around every day pulling scholarships out of her pocket on a feel-good whim, but neither do other university presidents.

While the rising tuition costs are a pain for current college students, maybe it’s just the motivation parents need to make sure their children study that much harder so they don’t have to pay a dime for college.

My 3-year-old niece, Alexandria, is probably one of the smartest under-5s that I know. She’s known how to write her name since she was two. She knows where both her parents work. The thing that blows my mind is, she answers questions with complete sentences. Ask her how she’s doing today. Instead of simply saying “fine,” she says, “I’m doing fine today.”

It may seem like no big deal. But have you spent any time in the grocery store lately? Look at how many screaming 2-year-olds yell at their parents. To meet a child who displays intelligence and demonstrates that her parents spend quality time with her is something to appreciate.

Education is more important today than ever. It will become 10 times more important in the next five years.

The world operates on a class system. Those with higher education tend to land better-paying jobs. They worry less about paying their bills.

Access to education for all ethnic groups has drastically improved over the years. USF, for example, boasts enrollment of more black students than any of Florida’s 11 state universities, with the exception of Florida A & M University, according to a recent fall survey, Genshaft said. That speaks volumes for the progress that has been made in the education system.

That does not mean the playing field is even. When businessmen and not academicians are running the universities, there’s still cause to worry about whether academics and keeping affordable education as priority No. 1 has been forgotten.

Not everyone will have his day reciting a difficult piece in front of the university’s president. If Monday was any indication, at least now we know the chance does exist. And though the powers that be in education don’t always made decisions that appeal to students and professors, Genshaft proved Monday that those who govern the university system do have a heart.

Kevin Graham is a former Oracle Editor in Chief.