West New York, NJ - Below are remarks prepared for delivery by Senator Menendez at the dedication of the Robert Menendez Elementary School:
"Thank you. And thank you to my son, Rob, for being here and for introducing that very flattering video.
"Let me first say, with all that's been happening - or not happening-in Washington, it's good to be home in New Jersey, in Hudson County. And it's truly an honor to be here for the dedication of the Robert Menendez Elementary School in West New York.
"I can think of no better tribute than having an elementary school named in my honor. It's where it all began for me and I know my mother would have been proud.
"Thank you all very much.
"Thank you to County Executive DeGise; Mayor Roque; and Superintendent John Fauta - all of whom made this event possible. Thank you to School Principal, Claire Warnock; my good friend and colleague in Congressman, Albio Sires. President Wendell Steinhauer and Ginger Gold of the NJEA, thank you for standing-up for all the wonderful teachers in New Jersey. Let me also recognize the many community and elected officials who have taken time to be here. Thank you very much for coming today.
"And last, but certainly not least, let me especially recognize the 6th graders here at the Robert Menendez Elementary School. Give yourselves a loud shout-out! You are why we are here today. You are the future of New Jersey and the future of America-all of you! You will learn here, study here, and get the kind of education you deserve here from teachers who care and you will help change the world.
"From as young as I can remember, my mother drilled into me that "education is the key that unlocks the door." She was right. It did. I worked hard. I stayed in school. And now I'm one of one hundred United States Senators and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And it all began with a supportive family, a good education at a school like this one - and good teachers like Gail Harper - who taught me to believe in myself.
"My mother and Miss Harper made me understand the power of education what it means to put a premium on learning and working hard. They taught me that what's really cool isn't being the toughest. It's working to be the smartest-and that having the knowledge to understand the world around you can give you the power to change it-the power to make history.
"The teachers, administrators, and staff here and at every school in New Jersey are opening up a world of ideas and opportunities. They are handing you the key to a better future for you and your families and it's up to you to learn all you can learn so you can be everything you want to be.
"To all the teachers and community leaders here today, let's not forget that we have an enormous responsibility to invest in public education in every school, in every county, in every state. Nothing is more fundamental to the development of our children and to the future success of our nation than a quality education. Every community is facing challenges in providing students a full education that will give them the skills they need to succeed in the 21st Century economy.
"To achieve educational excellence, we need to work together to support critical funding for quality public education. We need to give communities the resources they need to teach and nurture New Jersey's brightest and best and help us get back to the basics of a good public education. That means good teachers, safe schools, and manageable classroom sizes. It means keeping teachers in the classroom and off the unemployment line.
"It means maintaining our schools and investing in badly needed infrastructure projects like the Fix America's Schools Today Act that I co-sponsored that would provide $30 billion for public school and community college construction projects. Here in New Jersey, it would bring more than $518 million in investments to support K-12 school infrastructure and help support and create 6,700 jobs.
"The answer is all of us working together to build on our successes- all of us working together to be part of the solution here in West New York and in every community in New Jersey and across this country. We need to stand together to make public education - and what you do every day-a national priority. We need to teach our children not only how to read and write, but to think and build a skill-set that will secure them a place in the 21st century economy as doctors, nurses, scientists, engineers, inventors, teachers, or entrepreneurs. We need to give teachers and schools and communities the tools they need to teach our children well and put a premium on being smart in a world that seems more concerned about being Shakira than being Shakespeare, more interested in Angry Birds than the Arab Spring.
"Seriously, every community faces challenges in providing every student a full education that will give them the skills they will need not only to qualify for a job in the new economy, but to have the knowledge and ability to perform any task, do any job, and create jobs themselves.
"Unfortunately, there are some who believe public education is not the answer. There are some who would rather see much-needed public funding diverted into alternate forms of education-away from public education and into schools where not every child is accepted.
"I say we cannot turn back the clock on the progress we have made in public education, nor can we place the burden of our current financial problems on the backs of our educators, on parents, and-in some cases-on the students themselves to find their own supplies and materials.
"I'm not saying that we should long for the old analog days when things seemed easier, but we need to find our way back to the basics of a fundamental education that teaches our children not only about their day-to-day world, but about the world they live in, and we have done a good job of it in New Jersey thanks to you.
"Government, parents, community leaders have worked side-by-side with school districts and educators over the years to bridge the gaps in student achievement. The truth is New Jersey has one of the best educational systems in the nation, and we have all of you to thank for that.
"Our students consistently have some of the highest scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress because of you. Our public school system is considered one of the nation's finest because of you, and I - for one -- will not stand by while teachers are unfairly attacked and unfairly criticized. I will not stand by and let the progress we've made in public education be lost to those who see only the worst and want to find someone to blame for it-those who don't believe that it actually does "take a village."
"It's true that achievement gaps among poor and minority students remain unacceptably high. The fact is-not investing in education threatens to increase class sizes and discourage the best and the brightest from entering the teaching profession. The fact is-tearing apart our educational system and tearing down those who labor in it is not the answer and never will be. The answer is all of us working together to build on our successes-all of us working together to be part of the solution so that every child here at Robert Menendez Elementary School who has an idea, a talent, a dream can pursue it.
"We want to empower them to go further. Who knows, one of the 6th graders here may one day become the next Stephen Speilberg, start the next Dreamworks, the next Pixar Studios, maybe make an Academy Award winning movie, or go on to find a cure for cancer, a cure for Alzheimer's disease, discover new treatments, a new product, become the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates and change the world.
"Public education has always given us the best and brightest and turned dreams into reality, so let it begin here in West New York.
"There's an old saying for which I've never found the source, but it goes like this...
"When you come to the edge of everything known - and ahead is only darkness - faith is knowing one of two things will happen: either there will be something solid to stand on; or you'll be taught to fly..."
"At this elementary school, let's commit ourselves to giving every student both a solid place to stand, and teach them to fly!
"Thank you for honoring me today with the dedication of this school as the Robert Menendez Elementary School.
"I could not be more proud. Thank you very much."
April 22, 2021