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Remembering Kennedy as a Champion of Education


Sad news in the K-12 community today: Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, passed away.


Kennedy was a key—make that "the key"—voice in the Senate on education issues. In recent years, he's probably best known for his role as one of the main authors of the No Child Left Behind Act, the bipartisan initiative during President George W. Bush's administration to reshape the education landscape. And, earlier this year, he helped advocate a major national-service bill that became known as the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.

Over his decades in the Senate, Kennedy also championed the Americans With Disabilities Act and was a major proponent of Title IX, the 1972 law against sex discrimination in education that is credited with boosting the participation of women and girls in sports.

Back when Kennedy was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I wrote this story about how his illness might affect education legislation. Everyone I talked to for the story said it would be much, much harder to find common ground on education issues without his leadership.


In a life that is littered with ironies, here's the biggest one of all: His three older brothers - Joe, Jack and Bobby - are eternally frozen in our imagination as the personifications of youth and vigor (or "vigah"). How poignant that our final image of the baby of that family will be as an old man, frail and mortally ill.

His was the most impressive evolution in American political history. Let's be honest; in 1962 the guy was a lightweight. He ran for the Democratic nomination against another young man, Edward McCormick, whose uncle was the speaker of the House of Representatives. During a debate McCormick told him that were it not for his name, his candidacy would be viewed as a joke. It was a point well made. It is obvious when looking at film of that campaign that our boy Ted is in way over his head.

Who would have dared dream all those years ago that this punk kid would one day evolve into the greatest senator ever to walk those halls?

An incredible realization just came to me: Teddy represented the state of Massachusetts for forty-six years, eight months and nineteen days. That is nearly three months longer than all the years his older brother Jack lived on earth. Forgive the cliche that is so overused it has become trite through repetition, but this really is the end of an era.


Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Mary Jo Kopechne.

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