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November 11, 2008
Board of Education President Scott McDaniel talks about the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, America's third presidents, during a dedication ceremony at the president's namesake school. Below are additional images.
Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, 8418 S. 107 E. Ave., was dedicated on Thursday, November 6. The school opened this school year. Following is the speech Board of Education President Scott McDaniel gave at the dedication.
Thomas Jefferson Elementary Dedication
Scott McDaniel 11/6/2008
It’s with great pride that we celebrate and dedicate this, our newest school.
On behalf of the school board I want to express our heartfelt gratitude to all those who made this day possible. To the members of our district’s long-range planning committee and the dedicated team of administrators who work tireless hours anticipating our needs so that they can bring the school board their recommendations for how we will continue to meet the needs of our growing district; to Dr. Burden for her ever thoughtful and effective leadership of this district; to the architects, engineers, construction managers and contractors who are on board with our vision, and who have delivered such a superior school for our students and staff. And to the patrons of Union school district who showed us the support to purchase this land and to build this school – we have honored your trust.
So we are proud of the brick and mortar, the tile and the glass; but we are most proud of you – the thousands of students who will experience the joy of learning here, and the many teachers and support staff who will pour out the fruits of their beings here to make the world a better place for these children over the decades to come.
The challenge we faced in selecting a name for our new school that expressed our pride proved to be easy to overcome. We wanted to name this school for a person who would bring meaning and identity to this school and for someone of whom we can all be proud. We also wanted the very name of the school to speak to its students and to provide teaching moments derived from the life of its namesake. Thomas Jefferson was the perfect choice.
The presidential election experience we all shared this week and the peaceful transition of power in the seat of our federal government that is taking place is the direct result of the democratic republic that Jefferson helped to design, create and which he defended for his entire life. Of our nation’s founding fathers that our students study, Thomas Jefferson may well be the most interesting and complicated .
He is a great American icon, yet he was full of contradictions and mystery. So much so, that he has been referred to by Author Joseph Ellis as the “American Sphinx.” Jefferson was a pioneer and inventor who became an expert in medicine, architecture, scientific farming, botany, archeology, paleontology and astronomy, yet he died nearly penniless.
Thomas Jefferson served his country for 35 years. He served in public office from the moment he graduated college. He served in the Continental Congress in 1776. He drafted the Declaration of Independence. He served as a legislator and Governor of Virginia. He served as the United States Minister to France, and served as the Secretary of State under President George Washington. He lost his bid to be the second president of the United States and served as Vice President to John Adams. He defeated Adams four years later to become the nation’s 3rd President and served two terms. When Jefferson defeated Adams it was the first peaceful transfer of power from one party to the other in the nation’s history, which has now become a hallmark of our democratic system of government.
This political life of Thomas Jefferson provides one of his greatest contradictions. Thomas Jefferson achieved public greatness, yet he was an intensely private man who sought refuge at his mountaintop Virginia home, preferring the life of a farmer to the life of a politician.
It is only right that we chose to name our newest school for Thomas Jefferson. When you look at what we do here in this building, you should think of Thomas Jefferson as he was one of our nation’s earliest and strongest proponents of public education. Through his vision, political skill and tireless effort, Jefferson founded the nation’s first public university in Virginia.
Thomas Jefferson believed, and rightly so, that every person has the right to receive an education, and that educated citizens afford our only means of protecting our society and form of government from tyranny. In 1786, he wrote to George Wythe:
I think by far the most important bill in our whole code, is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness... The tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.
Jefferson also believed that schools should be controlled by those who have the greatest stake in their success. In his view, it would be a great mistake to nationalize our public schools; rather, he was a strong proponent of local control. I think most of us would agree that we wish our state and national leaders would have listened more closely to Mr. Jefferson’s wisdom on this point, as he surely was right.
Jefferson held strong views about how education should be conducted. He believed that all children, male, female, rich and poor had the right to a free primary education, and that the wealthy should pay taxes to ensure the education of the poor. With regard to elementary schools, Jefferson wrote the following in his report to the University of Virginia in 1818. Listen closely to Jefferson to see just how well our mission at Union Public Schools fits his vision:
The objects of... primary education [which] determine its character and limits [are]: To give to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; to enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts in writing; to improve, by reading, his morals and faculties; to understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either; to know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains, to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor and judgment; and in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed.
With his words in mind, I believe Mr. Jefferson would be gratified to see what happens in this building every day. Our children are learning the fundamental skills of reading, mathematics and science to equip them for a lifetime of learning and fulfilling employment. Our children are learning about our nation, with both its bountiful privileges and duties of citizenship. And you are reinforcing the attributes of good character our kids learn at home through our Character Counts program, emphasizing their duties as neighbors and what it means to live an ethical life.
It would be simple to say that you are all fulfilling Thomas Jefferson’s legacy here each and every day. But here again is another contradiction in Thomas Jefferson’s character. By his very nature, Jefferson would reject the entire notion that his legacy should be respected or adhered to at all. You see, Jefferson’s philosophy was that each generation must liberate itself from the dead and seek its own fate and future.
Let there be no doubt that the teachers and staff at Thomas Jefferson Elementary are securing the fate and future of every student who graces these halls of this school, and those futures are looking bright. That’s why this building is here; that’s why these children are here and that’s why you administrators and staff members are here.
Thank you for all you do here in this building, for you will be blessing our community with your works for years to come.
Below are images from the day of the dedication.