What made you decide to go into public service? Which do you like more, working in business or working in government? Which one is harder?
These questions were as complex and well thought out as many of the questions I have been asked by professional reporters. But these came from a much more unexpected source: A dozen kids between the ages of 9 and 16 with whom I was fortunate enough to sit and talk on Aug. 12 as part of a volunteer mentoring experience with the East Side Future Leaders Project in my hometown of Asheboro.
The kids did their homework, and they knew that I had come to Commerce as a successful private business owner. What they did not know, and what I shared with them, was that neither of my parents ever finished high school, and I was the first in my family to go to college.
I told them that when I graduated from high school, I thought, “That’s it. I’m a man now.” But I learned pretty quickly that a high school education was not enough to get me where I wanted to go professionally. So I went to college and graduated first from Pfeiffer University and then from Harvard.
“The more you learn, the easier it is to learn more,” I told them. I hope they will remember that if they find themselves struggling in school. I hope it inspires them to push on and go further.
The East Side Future Leaders Project is designed to provide at-risk youth with an opportunity to learn about government and leadership while building self-esteem and pride. This is accomplished through a series of monthly civic education seminars combined with community service. The program was created by N.C. Trees and funded with a $6,000 grant from the N.C. Civic Education Consortium.
This is such an important project, and I feel very fortunate to have had an opportunity to be part of it. I encourage every North Carolinian to heed Gov. Perdue’s call to participate in President Obama’s “United We Serve” campaign. A few hours of community service can make a tremendous difference.
Secretary of Commerce