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Thaddeus Stevens’ legacy: A beacon for equity, opportunity (opinion)

Thaddeus Stevens (Source: Library of Congress)

In the American story, a few select individuals leave a lasting imprint that transcends their own time to shape the future. Thaddeus Stevens is one such figure.

A fierce abolitionist, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and a key player in the Reconstruction era, Stevens laid the foundations for educational equity and opportunity for all. As the president of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, I am deeply honored to guide an institution that upholds his enduring legacy.

The first week in April, our institution and our nation celebrates his birthday, which was April 4, 1792.

At a time when the nation was deeply divided over issues of race and inequality, Stevens envisioned an America where every individual had access to education and opportunity regardless of their background. He worked tirelessly to abolish slavery and played an instrumental role in passing the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Yet, he knew that liberation from physical bondage was just the beginning; true emancipation could only be achieved through the doors of education.

In our modern context, the legacy of Thaddeus Stevens serves as a timely reminder that education is not merely a stepping stone to individual betterment but an indispensable instrument for societal progress.

While we have made strides toward educational equity, disparities remain glaringly evident. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that access to quality education is not a privilege afforded to a select few, but a right available to all, irrespective of socioeconomic background, ethnicity, or gender.

An aerial view of the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology campus. (Source: Thaddeus Stevens College)

Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology stands as a testament to its namesake’s vision. Our commitment to providing a first-rate technical and trade education is not just about training skilled workers; it is about fulfilling the promise of equality and opportunity.

Our diverse student body, robust financial aid programs, and strong industry partnerships offer a holistic approach to technical education that goes beyond mere skill acquisition to include character building and community engagement.

As conversations about the future of work, the role of technology, and the skills gap in the American workforce dominate headlines, the values that Stevens championed become increasingly relevant.

He knew the key to sustaining democracy was an educated, empowered populace. Today, that empowerment comes in many forms: traditional career programs, advanced manufacturing courses, STEM training, and countless other pathways foundational to our evolving economy.

Moreover, in an era where we know the power of diversity in everything from economic strength to community engagement, we can take cues from Stevens. Our focus on building diversity in STEM fields, establishing grant programs for underrepresented minorities, and working towards gender parity in technical roles are all reflections of his principles.

These are not mere initiatives but imperatives, core to the mission of an institution that owes its very existence to a man who fought for equity.

Thaddeus Stevens once said, “The greatest measure of the 19th century was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America.” He referred to the passage of the Pacific Railway Acts, accomplished through methods he disapproved of, but resulting in the Union Pacific Railroad that united a nation. Stevens understood that the path to progress is fraught with complexity, but the end—equity, opportunity, and a better future for all—justifies the pursuit.

As we stand on the cusp of new challenges and opportunities in education, let us remember that our mission is far from complete. The spirit of Thaddeus Stevens urges us to forge ahead, shattering barriers and building bridges to a future where opportunity is not just a catchphrase but a tangible reality for all.

In upholding the legacy of Thaddeus Stevens, this week, we are not just honoring the past; we are shaping the future.

Let us take this journey together, guided by the enduring light of equality and opportunity that Stevens left for us to follow.