Service Bill Signing a Tribute to Kennedy
By Hamil R. Harris
The event was attended by Republican and Democratic leaders, former president Bill Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden and his wife Jill and former first lady Rosalynn Carter.
But the signing ceremony for the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act this afternoon was really meant as a living tribute to the senior senator from Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy (D).
"Now, Ted's story and the story of his family is known to all," said President Obama during his remarks before signing the $5.7 billion national service bill. "It's a story of service. And it's also the story of America -- of hard work and sacrifice of generation after generation. Some called upon to give more than others, but each committed to the idea that we can make tomorrow better than today. I wouldn't be standing here today if not for the service of others, or for the purpose that service gave my own life."
Kennedy spoke enthusiastically about the act as he introduced Obama. "This is a wonderful day," Kennedy said, "when all of our country and all Americans will now have a chance to, and the opportunity to, give back to their community, the nation that we love so much."
Former secretary of State Colin Powell, who was seated down on the front row during the ceremony, said, "Senator Ted Kennedy deserves all of the credit for this, but it also reflects President Obama's commitment to service, getting more and more Americans involved in solving these problems."
The event took place at the SEED School, a District high school where students live on campus that is located at Burns and C street SE. At one time the corner was a perilous intersection filled with gun fire from drug dealers roaming in old sedans. Parents kept their kids off the playground in 1992 when a 5-year-old child was killed in a hail of bullets meant for others.
But in 2001, Rajiv Vinnakota brokered a deal with the District to build the SEED School for college-bound District teenagers.
Obama, flanked by Kennedy and Clinton, said the school was an inspiration. The headmaster, Charles Adams, is a former AmeriCorps worker. "This school is a true success story -- a place where for four of the last five years, every graduate from the SEED School was admitted to college -- every graduate," Obama said.
School officials recounted the school's impact proudly. "In 1992 on this campus a five year old girl was shot by stray gunfire," Vinnakota said. "In 1997, the school building was set on fire, there were 25 other fires and the building was closed. In 2001, we started the SEED School and since that time 98 percent of our students have gone onto college."
Dressed in his blue blazer and khaki trousers, Cordell Mimms, a 10th grader at the SEED School, said the event was "reinforcement that somebody really believes in you."
But the dignitaries said it was the students who were inspiring. In addition to a host of lawmakers from Capitol Hill, the event brought out R&B sensation Usher, who drew more attention than the politicians.
"The fact that every child that leaves this school at least makes it to college is exceptional," Usher said. "Service has been important part of many of our presidents' agenda and the fact that President Barack Obama signed this bill into law is only part of the process."
Posted at 8:06 PM ET on Apr 21, 2009
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