“There is much progress to report,” President Barack Obama began the 2013 State of the Union address.
“We have cleared away the rubble of crisis,” he continued, “the state of our union is stronger.”
While the president’s opening salvo consisted mostly of deficit reduction strategies and calls for comprehensive tax reform, the earlier portions of his fifth State of the Union address largely steered clear of youth-related issues.
Amid talk of returning multinational manufacturing jobs in the United States and domestic energy investments, President Obama urged lawmakers to pursue “market-based solutions” to emerging environmental issues. “For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change,” he stated.
Equipping young people with skills to fill the jobs of tomorrow, the president said, was a pressing concern. For impoverished children, he said a lack of pre-school education has the potential to shatter lives; early education access, he said, should be “available to every child in America.”
He compared he nation’s high school system to that of Germany’s, praising fusion vocational models like Brooklyn’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School for offering programs that allow students to earn associate degrees in computer sciences alongside their high school diplomas. He then called for a “redesign” of the nation’s education system, emphasizing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects to prepare young people for high tech industries.
The more education young people have, the likelier they are to have good jobs and enter the American middle class, he said.
Regarding higher education, President Obama said the time has come to hold institutes accountable for tuition pricing, suggesting affordability be taken into consideration when providing financial aid to universities and colleges. “Taxpayers can’t keep subsidizing college prices,” he said.
He urged lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform, stating that fixing many of the problems in the nation’s immigration system would attract more engineers and entrepreneurs to the country. “I will sign [reform] right away, and America will be better for it,” he said.
The president also called for changes to the nation’s minimum wage laws. Increasing minimum pay in the nation to $9 an hour, he said, could mean the “difference between scraping by or getting ahead” for many American families.
Many attendees at the address -- among them, Vice President Joseph Biden -- wore green ribbons on their lapels to commemorate the victims of last December’s Sandy Hook massacre. President Obama concluded his speech by addressing the shootings and the nation’s highly contentious gun violence debate.
In the two months since the Newtown, Conn. shootings, the president said “overwhelming majorities” of Americans have come together for “common sense reform,” such as new laws intended to prevent gun trafficking and rid city streets of military-grade weaponry.
“Each of these proposals deserve a vote in congress,” he said.
Nate and Cleopatra Pendleton, parents of slain teenager Hadiya Pendleton, were in attendance at the event. “Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country in my inauguration,” Obama said. “And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school.”
Hadiya’s parents, along with the families of victims of mass shootings in Aurora, Newtown, Oak Creek, Tucson and Blacksburg, each deserve “a simple vote,” the president stated.
“Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country,” he said in the finale of the address. “But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can.”