President’s Special Messages
September 16, 2021
Students, colleagues, and guests,
Welcome to WCC’s 2021 celebration of Constitution Day. This is the day – set aside each year – that commemorates the signing of the US Constitution in 1787 and reminds us that we possess rights that are guaranteed to us as citizens of the United States.
The document provides the blueprint for our government and details how we have chosen to run our country. It also affirms our freedoms, protects our rights, and ensures justice. But these freedoms and rights come with a cost. Before discussing the costs, it is important to understand what the Constitution is.
The Constitution was crafted by our Founding Fathers, the result of multiple compromises that brought disparate colonies with different priorities and beliefs together as a single nation. It was understood at the time that the Constitution was not a perfect document, and so a process was included that enabled future generations to change the document. As a result, we have witnessed 27 Amendments. It is our ability to change the Constitution according to our evolving mores and sensibilities that has led people to call it a living document.
Some of these Amendments affirmed rights that we now take for granted, even though they were not included originally.
Slavery was not abolished until 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment Men of color were guaranteed the right to vote in 1870 with passage of the 15th Amendment. Women earned the right to vote with the 19th Amendment’s passage in 1920. And it wasn’t until 1971 that US citizens 18, 19 and 20 years old were given the right to vote.
Even the basic rights of freedom of speech, religion, press and assembly were added after the Constitution’s ratification, in what is known as the Bill of Rights.
Regardless of your political or philosophical positions, our rights as citizens are constantly being challenged. We see these challenges in recent Supreme Court rulings and state-enacted legislation. It is the job of each of us to protect these rights – to know our rights – to question these rights – and to be responsible citizens.
Your community college education gives you the opportunity to learn about and be exposed to new ideas and perspectives. College also provides multiple forums to participate in respectful discourse with those who hold opinions that may differ from yours, a necessary practice for those who live in a democratic, civil society.
In other words, colleges help prepare us to participate in protecting the freedoms and rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution. We can speak up when we believe our rights are endangered. We can debate the loudest voices that emerge if they are wrong for our country. And, when necessary, we can protest –respectfully, peacefully, with open minds and open hearts.
Additionally, we must learn to be educated consumers of the broadcast, print, and social media that bombards us 24/7. Know how to distinguish truth from falsehood. Know science from ignorance. Recognize propaganda and obfuscation. These are all important in defending our constitution, our rights and our country.
And just as important, and yet the easiest to do, is to vote! It is our responsibility, each and every one of us – We the People – to work every day towards creating a more perfect union – one that embraces diversity, equity, inclusion and respect for the rights of all who yearn to share in the American dream.
Belinda S. Miles, Ed.D.