The wife of Vice President Albert Gore arrived on Tennessee Tech's campus to demonstrate the Democratic commitment to increasing access to higher education and to stress the importance of the women's vote in Tennessee. She received an enthusiastic greeting by supporters and a standing ovation.
"This country is at a crossroads," said Gore. She pointed out that the current administration had been seeking ways to ease the fears of some Americans "who are feeling that the dream is slipping away from them - that they might not be able to go on to higher education or community college because they can't afford it.
"Education is a way to empower individuals, just as it empowered Rachel and so many others on this campus," she said, referring to Rachel Martin, a Tennessee Tech sophomore who was encouraged to attend college thanks to programs of the university's Cumberland Career Equity Center and who introduced Gore on stage.
The Cumberland Career Equity Center at Tennessee Tech encourages female, minority and financially disadvantaged students in Upper Cumberland to seek post-secondary education and explore non-traditional career options. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, it sponsors the Career Exploration Program, an ongoing program of academic, social and cultural enrichment activities for teenage girls in the Upper Cumberland.
"Tennessee Tech has got to be praised because it has been a leader for young women," Gore continued. "Here, you have the Tennessee Tech Women's Center, the President's Commission on the Status of Women and the Cumberland Career Equity Center. I think Rachel spoke eloquently about how important that can be in building a career, ... in really altering the course of somebody's future. And that's what we're talking about when we're talking about education and how it empowers. I want to say how much we appreciate all the work that has gone into the Center here at Tennessee Tech, because the Upper Cumberland is stronger for it. Our whole region is stronger for it."
Gore discussed some of the current proposals by President Clinton to enhance educational opportunities at all levels, including expanding funding for Headstart programs and creating a new program, Early Start, for younger children "so that when they come into first grade, they're more on an even playing field with children who happen to have a different beginning in life. That is American, that is important, and that is what we believe in," she said.
She also pointed out the Hope Scholarships - $1,500 scholarships for students in their first two years at a university or community college, a $1,500 tax credit for students, the continuation of direct lending programs for student loans and President Clinton's proposal for a $10,000 tuition tax credit for anyone who wants to pursue higher education.
Referring to the fact that Tennessee ranked 49th in terms of numbers of women voting in the 1992 election, Gore said, "This is a chance to turn the low ranking of women voter turnout around and make it an opportunity. We're going to be number one in the nation. Women can provide, I'm convinced, the margin of victory in this election."
Gore concluded by reminding the crowd that many have lost their lives fighting for the preservation of democracy and the right to vote. "Thank you for being the very life-blood of democracy," she said. "You make it work, you make it alive, you make it continue, and you make our country strong."
Speaking with members of the press afterwards, Gore said the $10,000 tax credit proposal was envisioned in part because of places like Tennessee Tech, where the number of non-traditional and older students has grown rapidly in recent years. She also said she believes the low voter turnout among women is a reaction to increased cynicism towards politics, but noted that Clinton and Gore have actively promoted issues of special concern to women, such as education, crime and health care.
Joining Gore for her visit to Tennessee Tech were U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, state Rep. Lois DeBerry, speaker pro tempore of the Tennessee General Assembly and chair of Tennessee Women Vote, and former U.S. Sen. and Mrs. Albert Gore Sr.
Gordon led off the morning's remarks by thanking Tennessee Tech President Angelo Volpe and Jennette Volpe for hosting the event and introducing the elected officials present, including state Rep. Jere Hargrove and state Sen. Anna Belle O'Brien, as well as several Cookeville and Putnam County officials.
After her speech, Gore shook hands with audience members and signed autographs.