Ken Plum: The quest for education
I can remember the conversation almost word for word even though it occurred decades ago. The counselor in my high school asked me to come to her office, and there she told me it was time for me to start preparing applications to go to college. I was about to fall out of my chair. I explained to her that no one in my family had ever been to college, and there was no way that I could go. Most of my family had never finished high school. She told me that lots of people are the first in their families to go to college and that I could be such a person. I did not know what to answer; it was such a new idea that she proposed to me.
Secretly inside she had set ablaze in me a fire that would never go out. The excitement of the idea that I could go to college and learn about so many new things of which I had been curious was more than I could contain. I was skeptical, however, and I did not go to college the first year out of high school. The next year with lots of fear and trepidation I did start my education at a higher level, and I never have stopped. From my Bachelor of Arts at Old Dominion College, now University, to my master’s in education at the University of Virginia to a thirty-year career with Fairfax County Public Schools, to the Plum Center for Lifelong Learning being named in my honor, to my teaching at George Mason University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, education both formal and informal has been a fundamental part of who I am. I can still feel the excitement that I have had in being a part of so many different educational experiences.
All these reminiscences about my educational background came back last week as my grandson received his MBA from Virginia Tech. Growing up in a family where the highest educational achievement was a brother who graduated from high school, I now live in a family where I, my wife and our children and grandchildren have among us 14 college degrees with six of those degrees being beyond the bachelor’s level. I am honored to represent a district with constituents who are among the very best educated in the state.
Needless to say, education is among the highest priorities I have as a legislator. I want all students to have access to educational programs that will help them realize their highest potential. Fundamental to me is that our educational system leave all students with a quest for knowledge and the appropriate tools with which to pursue their interests. We cannot afford to have students not like school, nor can we ignore the fact that learning is a lifelong adventure. We have the institutions and the resources to make education at higher levels the best in the Nation. Virginia needs to join the states that are making community colleges free. Can we afford it? The answer is simply that we cannot afford not to!