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‘Serving as mayor is the best job I’ve had’

First Lady Michelle Obamlast month visits Harper High School Chicago's Englewood neighborhood talk with students about plague violence their area.

First Lady Michelle Obama last month visits Harper High School in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood to talk with students about the plague of violence in their area. Two students from Harper are Gates scholars this year.. | Nancy Stone~Pool Photo

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Updated: June 13, 2013 6:47PM

What makes serving as mayor of Chicago the best job I have ever had is seeing what is possible when the people of the world’s greatest city come together. I saw one more example of that on Tuesday, when I congratulated Chicago’s 35 Gates scholars, the largest number of any city in the country.

These young men and women came from neighborhoods across Chicago, but with full scholarships to some of the best schools across the country they are headed toward the same bright future. They are a symbol of our city’s strength and what is possible when we come together to put Chicago’s children first.

Chicago should take as much pride in these young scholars as we do in the athletes that we send on to play in college and in the professional ranks. I want the names of Brittney Knight and Deonte Tanner, two Gates Scholars from Harper High School, to be honored in the same way as the names Jabari Parker and Derrick Rose.

The common future we must build together is one where every child in every community can aspire to be a Gates Scholar. But for our children to live up that potential, we must live up to our responsibilities to them. Whether we are public servants or private citizens, everyone has a role and no one gets a pass.

Over the past two years we have begun to forge a different path from other cities around the country with the commitment we are making to our children’s future.

So while other cities are cutting seats and options for early learning, we are expanding early childhood education by more than 5,000 seats and with wraparound services for 6,000 children. We have made investments to ensure that starting next fall, every child in Chicago will have full-day kindergarten. We need our children to be ready to succeed on the first day of first grade and that means investing in the critical early years of their development.

We also know that the most important door a child walks through is the door to their home. That is why we are investing in early learning centers across the city that engage parents to become strong partners in their child’s education from the earliest years. While children learn their numbers and letters in the classroom, they learn the values at home.

In this year’s budget we have expanded eye care for children who need it, tripling the number of CPS students who receive free eye exams and glasses to a total of 30,000 children. Making sure our children can seize a bright future in our city also depends on their ability to see the chalk board and computer screen in their classrooms.

Today, our city can clearly see the progress we are making. Over the past two years we have made difficult changes to improve education, from pre-k to college. When I entered office, our community colleges had some of the lowest graduation rates in the country. Today, our plan to modernize our community colleges and provide students skills for a modern economy has already become a model for organizations like the World Bank. Two years ago, our students had the shortest school day of any major city. Today, they have not only the time they need to succeed but an unprecedented number of opportunities to pursue their passions after school and during the summer.

To introduce these essential changes to our education system and throughout the city has not been easy. But over the past two years we have shown that it is not Chicago’s challenges that define our character, it is our ability to confront them together. Just as every resident has a responsibility to our children and their future, government has a responsibility to keep with every resident. We need to ensure that everyone has a stake, and everyone has a shot at a middle class standard of living.

Serving the city of Chicago as mayor has been the greatest privilege of my life in public service. Every day, I see the diversity of our neighborhoods and the dynamism of our people. But when I see our city at its best, we are one city striving to achieve one future for our children.

Rahm Emanuel marks his second anniversary as Chicago’s mayor on May 16.

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