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Message of hope at Spring Convocation

On April 28, 2016

James Cole Jr. visited Grambling to emphasize the importance of getting a historically black college education. The last convocation of the spring semester took place in the Black and Gold Room on Tuesday. The event was titled, “The President’s Spring Convocation”.

Cole currently serves as the delegated duties of deputy secretary, chief operating officer and chief legal officer for the Department of Education.  He was the first in his family to graduate from college and is very active with ensuring others, particularly minorities, graduate.  

KANESHA DOUGLAS/The Gramblinite James Cole, deputy secretary of the Department of Education, talks to Grambling State students and other audience members about the place that HBCUs hold in producing African American degree holders.

James Cole, deputy secretary of the Department of Education, talks to Grambling State students and other audience members about the place that HBCUs hold in producing African American degree holders. 

Cole began his speech by addressing some of his hardships growing up. His mother died of a heart attack and his father had Alzheimer’s disease.

“Someone made the choice to be my keeper,” said Cole. He talked about how there was no hope for him, yet with the help of his high school teacher being his motivation he was able to get a degree in higher education. 

Cole wants graduates from HBCUs to be competitive for whatever job they want to attain. “Our nation’s HBCUs make up only 3 percent of all colleges and universities. They produce 27 percent of African Americans with bachelors degrees,” said Cole.  

He touched on how HBCUs are addressing the needs of students and are essential to the advancement of the African American race. He wants HBCUs to be known for the wonderful things they have accomplished from their rich history, graduates, and contributions to STEM and society. 

Cole wants to make the education and teaching field more diverse, specifically more African American male teachers, to give a quality education to students. 

“The Obama administration has invested billions of dollars each year in HBCUs to help expand their work in institutional research, community outreach, and providing a more high quality college education to all students,” said Cole.

Not enough minorities are attending college. His message encouraged the students to stay in school so that they won’t become another statistic of going to jail or not obtaining an education. 

“I’m in public education so I am very aware of what he’s talking about,” said Willie Washington Jr., a Grambling alumnus of 1968. “I concur with everything he was saying. 

“The alarming statistics of African Americans not graduating as opposed to being incarcerated and also the importance of attending an HBCU school and receiving a degree,” Washington said.

However, Cole isn’t just talking about what should be done. He is taking action by overseeing the Department on President Obama’s My Brothers Keeper Task Force. It is a mentorship program that helps young minorities persevere despite the obstacles that may get in their way to graduate. Significant progress in America has been made concerning education. 

“... since President Obama took office the college enrollments by African American and Latino students is up by more than 1 billion. And at a high school level graduation rates are at a new record and dropout rates have reached historic lows,” said Cole. 

The speech moved freshman biology major Kira Whitaker. 

“I felt empowered by Mr. Cole as he reiterated what my parents have always taught me, that going to college isn’t enough, but that you must graduate and continue to further your education. Especially during this time of the semester when final exams are all that’s on a student’s mind, his speech added to my own personal drive to succeed,” said Whitaker.

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