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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks at the Daily News Hometown Heroes in Education Awards

October 1, 2015

Mayor Bill de Blasio: … and we see it in the coverage every day in your paper, so I thank you, Colin, for your leadership. And thank you especially for choosing to honor educators.

I want to thank Pat for MC-ing today. All the folks who are here, be a part of this, thank you.

Special thanks, as we’re talking about educators, to two people who do so much for this city, our chancellor, Carmen Fariña, and of course, Chancellor Milliken of CUNY – the great work they do, upholding our teachers, and our professors, and our students every day.

When you think about it, the notion of the role of educators in our society – probably fair to say the definition we place on our educators has evolved over time. Maybe it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say, we underestimated the role of our educators for many, many years. We underestimated the role of education.

And perhaps it is that the modern world woke us up. The demands of an ever more globalized world and a more technologically advanced world brought home to us the fact that we were skipping on education in many ways as a society. We weren’t making the investments we should; we weren’t focused enough on the people doing the teaching.

So, I’m a part of the generation. I was born in 1961, so I’m in the generation that grew up with that deep admiration of the astronauts, because our nation was going to get to the moon by the end of the 1960s, and we all thought the astronauts were the heroes. And they were.

But I say, in terms of what really matters in our society today, the educators are the heroes now. They don’t get the same renown – they may not be seen as such a dramatic role. In terms of creating a strong and cohesive society – we need an opportunity for people and creating a society that actually can work – our educators are the front line. They are the soldiers. They are the people who are changing this society profoundly.

And they deserve recognition, and I’m thrilled that this Hometown Heroes Award gives it to them. I want to say that the choices of the educators have been outstanding, and I’m thrilled to watch the people who have come up already. 

I want to say a special shout out to Mariela Regalado, who I heard the story of, and had the joy of having her introduce me when we put forward our Equity and Excellence planning for our schools. And Mariela is another example of those teachers who have that incredible ability to inspire.

We’ve honored 11 today, and they have several things in common – obviously their love of children, their love of education, but that ability to inspire, that ability to leave a lasting imprint. You can hear in the stories – these teachers said things, did things that are remembered decades later. That’s the power of their work.

I’m honored to present the Special Judge’s Award. As you heard from Colin, this is an extraordinarily moving story. And it’s the story of a young man who had so much good.

And I can say, I never had the honor of meeting Patrick Wanninkhof, but he clearly had the deeper kind of calling. You don’t see many such people in our lives that have that sense of a constant calling. He was obviously a great teacher – an inspired teacher – but he wanted to do more. There was a selflessness that’s powerful.

Remember, this is a young man who graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Engineering. Again, in a modern, changing world focused on technology, if you graduate Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Engineering, you can do a lot of things. You can make a lot of money. You could be a success in very traditional senses.

But Patrick decided he wanted to teach kids – not just any kids, kids who had not had a lot of the privileges of some others. So he went to the Bronx – he left Florida, he went to the Bronx. He taught physics and computer science at Fordham High School for the Arts. And he cared so deeply for his students – he didn’t just look at them as part of his work day, he saw them as full human beings and he felt their challenges.

In fact, one time, he was profoundly shaken because he learned that a student he had come to know, a student and her mother, had become homeless. He felt that loss in their lives. He wrote at the time, “How on earth could I expect her to give her all to Newton’s Laws when she wasn’t sure where she’d be sleeping that evening?”

He had an empathy, a deep empathy, and that led him, as Colin said, to go the extra mile once again – biked across the country to raise money to build affordable housing so young people would know that security and they would be able to focus on their education and their future. 

And he said something – this is extraordinarily powerful and the kind of thing I think we need to dwell on more as we think about how to reach our children – Patrick said, “Education reform will be fruitless if we cannot guarantee that every child can return to a safe home in the evening.” What an incredibly powerful statement, and it’s one that I take to heart, and one in our administration – that’s the kind of idea that guides us. 

If we’re going to reach our children, we’re going to have to reach the whole child. We’re going to have to alleviate so many of the challenges they face. He happened to have understood that and he lived it.

As you have heard, we lost him. We lost him so early, but his life touched so many people – not just the children he taught or the family he loved, but beyond that, his story, his mission made news all over the country, all over the world, in fact, and now inspires others. His family is part of a foundation – and this is so appropriate – the foundation will share Patrick’s passion for cycling with children in under-privileged communities, teaching them to ride safely, providing them with bikes and helmets and more – carrying on his life’s mission. 

So our hearts are very heavy, but you can’t help but feel pride and joy at the life of Patrick and all he did and the inspiration he gives us today. 

We’re honored to have Patrick’s family with us, and I’d like to call up Rick and Debbie and Suzette. Please come up and accept this award. 

[Applause] 

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