Mr. President-elect, Madam Vice President-elect — thank you for this opportunity to serve.
I know just how challenging this year has been for students, for educators, and for parents.
I’ve lived those challenges alongside millions of American families — not only in my role as a state education commissioner, but as a public school parent and as a former public school classroom teacher.
For so many of our schools and far too many of our students, this unprecedented year has piled on crisis after crisis.
It has taken some of our most painful, longstanding disparities and wrenched them open even wider.
It has taxed our teachers, our leaders, our school professionals and staff who already pour so much of themselves into their work.
It has taxed families struggling to adapt to new routines as they balance the stress, pain, and loss this year has inflicted.
It has taxed young adults trying to chase their dreams to advance their education beyond high school, and carve out their place in the economy of tomorrow.
And it has stolen time from our children who have lost something sacred and irreplaceable this year despite the heroic efforts of so many of our nation’s educators.
Though we are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel, we also know that this crisis is ongoing, that we will carry its impacts for years to come, and that the problems and inequities that have plagued our education system since long before COVID will still be with us even after the virus is at bay.
And so it is our responsibility now, and our privilege to take this moment, and do the most American thing imaginable: to forge opportunity out of crisis.
To draw on our resolve, our ingenuity, and our tireless optimism as a people, and build something better than we’ve ever known before.
That’s the choice Americans make every day — it’s the choice that defines us as Americans.
It’s the choice my grandparents made, Avelino and Maria de La Paz Cardona, and Germana Muniz Rosa, when they made their way from Aguada, Puerto Rico, for new opportunities in Connecticut.
I was born in the Yale Acres housing projects. That’s where my parents, Hector and Sara Cardona, instilled early on the importance of hard work, service to community, and education.
I was blessed to attend public schools in my hometown of Meriden, Connecticut, where I was able to expand my horizons, become the first in my family to graduate college, and become a teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent in the same community that gave me so much.
That is the power of America — in two generations.
And I, being bilingual and bicultural, am as American as apple pie and rice and beans.
For me, education was the great equalizer. But for too many students, your zip code and your skin color remain the best predictor of the opportunities you’ll have in your lifetime.
We have allowed what the educational scholar Pedro Noguera calls the “normalization of failure” to hold back too many of America’s children.
For far too long, we’ve allowed students to graduate from high school without any idea of how to meaningfully engage in the workforce while good-paying high-skilled, technical, and trade jobs go unfilled.
For far too long, we’ve spent money on interventions and bandaids to address disparities instead of laying a wide, strong foundation of quality, universal early childhood education, and quality social and emotional supports for all of our learners.
For far too long, we’ve let college become inaccessible to too many Americans for reasons that have nothing to do with their aptitude or their aspirations and everything to do with cost burdens, and, unfortunately, an internalized culture of low expectations.
For far too long, we’ve worked in silos, failing to share our breakthroughs and successes in education — we need schools to be places of innovation, knowing that this country was built on innovation.
And for far too long, the teaching profession has been kicked around and not given the respect it deserves.
It should not take a pandemic for us to realize how important teachers are this country.
There are no shortage of challenges ahead, no shortage of problems for us to solve.
But by the same token, there are countless opportunities for us to seize.
We must embrace the opportunity to reimagine education — and build it back better.
We must evolve it to meet the needs of our students.
There is a saying in Spanish: En La Unión Está La Fuerza.
We gain strength from joining together.
In that spirit, I look forward to sitting at the table with educators, parents, caregivers, students, advocates, and state, local, and tribal leaders.
There is no higher duty for a nation than to build better paths, better futures for the next generation to explore.
For too many students, public education in America has been a flor pálida: a wilted rose, neglected, in need of care.
We must be the master gardeners who cultivate it, who work every day to preserve its beauty and its purpose.
I am grateful for the chance to take on this responsibility. And I’m grateful to my own children — Miguel Jr., or, as we call him, Angelito, and my daughter Celine, and to my wife and best friend, Marissa — herself a middle school Family School Liaison.
And I am grateful for the trust you’ve placed in me, Mr. President-elect and Madam Vice President-elect.
I look forward to getting to work on behalf of all America’s children — and the families, communities, and nation they will grow up to inherit and lead.