February 07, 2020
[ROCKFORD, IL] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) was awarded the Rockford University’s Jane Addams Medal for Distinguished Service today in recognition of her dedication to public service and advocacy for vulnerable and underrepresented communities. The Senator is the 38th recipient of Rockford University’s highest public recognition, which honors women who are pioneers in their professions, outstanding in character and recognized for their contributions to the arts, sciences and society. Duckworth was presented with the award by University President Eric Fulcomer. Photos from today’s ceremony are available here.
“I’m so proud that Illinois gets to call Jane Addams one of our own, and I’m honored to receive this medal this afternoon,” Duckworth said. “To me, part of what defines America is the belief that we are all brethren. Our lives are braided together. Our fates, like our states, united. Jane Addams was the living embodiment of this ideal, and every day, through every deed, she proved that doing well for ourselves is infinitely less important than doing good for others.”
Duckworth’s full remarks as delivered are below:
Hello, everyone! It is so great to be here. Thank you for all having me here today, and a special thank you to President Eric Fulcomer, State Representatives Maurice West and Joe Sosnowski and Mayor Tom McNamara for making me feel so welcome.
“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain […] until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”
That’s what Jane Addams wrote in 1892, three years after she opened her arms—and the doors of the Hull House—to those in need across the West Side of Chicago, proving that there’s nothing more powerful than combining action with compassion.
I’m so proud that Illinois gets to call Jane Addams one of our own, and I’m so honored to receive this medal this afternoon.
Thank you all so very, very much.
To me, part of what defines America as great is the belief that we are all brethren… that our lives are braided together… our fates, like our states, united.
As our nation’s motto says, “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one.
Jane Addams was the living embodiment of this idea… of this ideal.
And every day, through every deed, she proved that doing well for ourselves is infinitely less important than doing good for others.
You know, I was proud to serve in the military for two decades, and I’d just about give anything to be able to climb into the cockpit of my Black Hawk and fly just one more mission with our crew.
But what Jane made clear is that “American service” isn’t limited to defending our country in uniform.
And I truly believe that just as picking up a rifle and shipping off is American service, so too is picking up a soupspoon to feed the less fortunate… a piece of chalk to teach low-income kids… or a hammer to build a house for those in need.
Service comes in many forms. In fact, American exceptionalism, and what makes us great as a nation, isn’t the might of our military or the strength of our Armed Forces. It’s not measured in the number of tanks and guns and helicopters we have in our arsenal. Though I am partial to the helicopters!
Let me give you a statistic that shows you how inconsequential a measurement of the strength of our nation the might of our military is. The DoD has put out a study over multiple years that shows of all the eligible 18 to 24-year-olds in this country, they are only able to recruit from 29% of that population. 71% of young people in this country do not qualify for military service because of several factors:
The first of which is that they cannot pass a basic eighth grade-level math or English test, or do not have a diploma or GED. And even if they have that diploma or GED, they can’t pass the basic test to get into the military, which is written at the eighth-grade level because all military manuals are written at either a sixth- or an eighth-grade level. So they can’t get in because they fail that test.
Or they have an undiagnosed or untreated childhood medical condition—like asthma or ADHD—or they are obese or have diabetes—treatable conditions that went untreated to the point that they no longer qualify for service.
Or they have a felony conviction—usually it’s tied to the drug epidemic, and oftentimes it is for marijuana possession even in states where it is now legal. Those three things combined make 71% of our young people ineligible for service.
So what is the point of having F-35 fighter jets or the latest generation in armaments if you don’t have the people who can man them or who can maintain them?
So I say, let’s put some work towards ourselves and our neighbors and make sure those who are hungry get fed, and those who need to be educated get the top education no matter where they are in the nation, that those who need healthcare get access to basic healthcare – a fundamental right as a human being.
And then we can worry about the guns and the tanks and the helicopters, but truly the might of America is in the people of America. It’s in who we are and what we can do for one another.
I probably shouldn’t have survived my wounds in Iraq, but I did. And I did because some really amazing, heroic men carried me to safety: my buddies.
They carried me to safety, and I woke up in a hospital 11 days later. I knew that I owed them a debt I could never repay. And every day since then I have tried to live up to the sacrifices they made to save my life.
And the way I do that isn’t by flying helicopters again, but it is by trying to make every day a little better in this country—incremental steps, perhaps.
We can all do it, you know that old saying: “I can eat an elephant, one bite at a time.” We can make this country better, one bite at a time, one gesture at a time.
We were just at lunch with your amazing student body representatives and we were talking about the potential that there may be student body members here who may be hungry, because food insecurity is a very real problem across the country. We talked about starting a food pantry or doing a study on whether there is food insecurity within the student body here. I think that is a very noble thing to look at.
I think we should working to expand access to education… to the ballot… to job training… to healthcare… and to childcare…
We need childcare in our schools because so many of our students are non-traditional students and have children at home. Many wouldn’t even be able to come to school if they didn’t have access to childcare.
Trying to look out for those who all too often get pushed to the margins, from Veterans to students to single moms juggling jobs.
And year after year, we need to fight to pass legislation that would ensure that every young American who wants to serve their country has the ability to do so, no matter their tax bracket or background.
It’s why I’ve introduced legislation that would actually promote national service. Did you know that right now the acceptance rate to programs like Teach for America or AmeriCorps is actually lower than the rates of some Ivy League universities because there are so few slots available?
We need to make service a universal experience for young people. So when you turn 18, you should be getting something in the mail that says, “Congratulations, you’re turning 18! Now you have an opportunity to do any one of these things to serve your country:
“You can join the military, and for that you get four years of college education. You can join Teach for America, and for that you get whatever it is for your education. You can join Habitat for Humanity, and for that you get a stipend.”
Or you can choose to opt out of the letters and say, “No I don’t want to serve my country, don’t send me these letters again.” But if you don’t, then every two years, under my legislation for your entire 20s until you turn 30, you get that letter that says, “Hey happy birthday, have you thought about serving? You could go to the Peace Corps and get college funding.”
I truly believe that because I picked up a rifle I got four years of college education, and you, too, should be able to get four years of college education and be able to graduate debt-free by serving your country. We should all be able to do that. And by doing so, we make our nation better, and we serve each other. And in so doing, we serve ourselves.
So I hope that I get people to sign on, I have folks who have already signed on but I’m going to keep working.
After all, just as we need our military to protect our nation, we need civilian volunteers to make sure the country those troops are defending is strong?that its families are healthy and educated, that its children have roofs over their heads and food in their stomachs.
We need the next Jane Addams to open the next Hull House… giving back to a country that has its faults, sure… but a union whose people strive to make it more perfect strive to make it more perfect with every hour spent teaching, or feeding, or housing those in need.
Jane Addams knew that our nation’s greatness came from its people’s goodness.
So what began at Hull House continues with us here today, as it now falls on us to keep alive the work that she began.
You have my word that I’m gonna keep fighting to make our state… our country… that better, fairer place Jane Addams worked so hard to bring about.
And I know you in this audience and in this University will also. I’m so grateful to have you all as my partners in this effort. Thank you again for this honor. It means the world.
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