School Without Walls students received a unique back-to-school pep talk Tuesday from an Obama cabinet member as part of an initiative that saw government officials visit schools across the nation Tuesday.
Christina Romer, a college professor and economic adviser to President Barack Obama, appeared at the school with D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who spoke briefly at the beginning of the 45-minute discussion. The appearance was part of a nationwide “My Education, My Future” event where students watched an Obama speech on television and then discussed the importance of education with government officials. Romer recounted the role of education in her life, and expounded on the benefits of attending college from an economist’s point of view.
“A crucial fact is that education has both private and social benefits. That is, it’s good both for the individual and for society,” Romer said, citing a Harvard study that showed college graduates typically earn 81 percent more than high school graduates. “What this means is that education helps to improve living standards for individuals. Higher education is associated with greater self-reported life satisfaction. And likewise, having a job that requires special education and training is associated with higher job satisfaction.”
Romer also fielded questions from the student audience, which included social studies classes from all grades. Audience members asked the economist about the effect of the recession on the government and labor, the future of health care, and the effect of the recovery package on the budget deficit.
Principal Richard Trogisch said he thought the event was successful.
“It went very, very well, as well as we usually expect from students at Walls. There was a level of sophistication in the questions,” he said. “Students need to see this. They reacted very positively.”
Romer was introduced by Jana Curry, a School Without Walls senior and CEA intern.
“Introducing her was an honor. I feel proud because she chose this school because I’m the only high school intern [at the CEA],” Curry said. “I’m glad that people got to hear from an economist and learn more about the recession, where it’s standing, how she’s trying to work so the economy can be better.”
The speech followed Obama’s educational address at Wakefield High School in Virginia, where he talked about the importance of education and urged students to stay in school and work hard. The speech stirred plenty of controversy in the days before, after conservatives accused the president of attempting to bring politics to children.
To appease critics, the White House released a full text of his remarks on Monday, the day before the speech, and the event passed with only minor protests outside of the northern Virginia high school.
“We’re lucky enough to have heard it before from our parents and teachers, but the fact that [Obama] cared so much to say it to those who didn’t have a father figure or really important teachers in their lives meant a lot to me,” Walls senior Molly Sloss said. “That’s just a statement in itself, the fact that he made the speech. And I expected it to be a lot controversial from all the hype, but it was just a really nice, inspiring speech.”