By Wayde Marsh, Duke Divinity School Intern
On my way to work one day last week, I listened to WUNC as I usually do. I heard a lot about the state legislature during my drive to Raleigh – about how the Senate budget will cut up to 8,500 teaching assistants jobs and the stories of TAs lobbying Senators to rethink the plan, about how the House plan is much different, but both will leave the state with millions of unused funds, and about Moral Monday protesters naming the injustices of the state government in the past few years.
What I did not hear was any coverage of some other lobbying going on at the Capital at the same time. I did not hear about the “Undocugraduation” held on Halifax Mall, an event that celebrated the high school graduations of undocumented students across NC. I did not hear stories about how Representatives John Ager (Buncombe) and Graig Meyer (Durham, Orange) spoke to these young graduates and encouraged them to continuing dreaming, to continue working hard, and to be a source of hope for this state. I did not hear about the courage of these young graduates to share their stories of triumph and of pain with members of the General Assembly in order to have a chance at attending college.
“Remember who you are,” said one of the speakers, highlighting the incredible and inspiring dedication of these young men and women. “You are self-reliant, resilient, and driven.” The speakers emphasized how much they really have accomplished – that they have learned multiple languages, learned new cultures, endured violence and separation from family, and have excelled in academics, athletics, community service, and extracurricular activities.
One student speaker asked the legislature for one thing: a chance. This particular graduate earned a 4.2 GPA from her Guilford County high school, graduating near the top of her class, and yet, she will not attend college this fall because she cannot afford out-of-state tuition and she is not eligible for any financial aid from the federal government.
Despite these setbacks, the graduates were reminded that “most of those men and women in the legislature, they did not get into this business to squash the dreams of NC DREAMers, dreams of becoming professionals and making NC a better place.” Rep. Meyer encouraged the graduates to realize that most decisions in legislation are driven by fear or hope and that while many are afraid of change in America, hope is more powerful.
“Give them hope to replace fear,” Rep. Meyer said. “Share your hope with them and let it be contagious.”
As of last year, only 18 states allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition at public universities. This, coupled with the federal government not offering any financial aid to undocumented students, means that incredibly talented and gifted students are unable to go to college.
While these laws seek to snuff out their dreams, the graduates are still fighting, still looking for ways to attend college. I couldn’t agree more with the words of Rep. Ager when he thanked them for “being an example for all of us, [for] keeping the American Dream alive in North Carolina.”
It is time to remind our legislators why they entered office. Was it to put up barriers that divide us and limit our potential as a state and society? Or can we remind them that they entered politics because they wanted to create opportunities for young people to pursue their dreams?