This morning, actor and filmmaker Tom Hanks sent the following message to the White House email list, recalling his time at Chabot College — a community college in Hayward, California. In his email, Tom explains how Chabot College made him who he is today, and why community college should be an option for more hardworking Americans.
If you agree with him, tell us why you think community college should be available to more Americans — using this form or the hashtag #CommunityCollege. (And if you didn't get his email, sign up for email updates here.)
Chabot College is a rambling series of academic buildings situated on 94 acres in Hayward, California. It offers more than 100 associate degrees and certificates, an intercollegiate national championship-winning ultimate disc team, and parking for a couple thousand cars. It's also my alma mater.
Chabot's a community college — and in the early 1970s, it was all free, save for the effort you put into it and the price of used textbooks.
As a student there, I went to school alongside Vietnam vets, moms, and middle-aged men, as well as a few thousand young people like me who needed time to sort out our lives and our options. We were looking to get our general education requirements out of the way, to learn skill sets to improve our employment prospects, or to discover the road to new, unimagined careers. We all found a different home at Chabot, but it welcomed all of us.
Later today, the President is heading to Watertown, South Dakota to deliver the commencement address at another community college — called Lake Area Tech. (NOTE: If I had grown up in that part of South Dakota, my alma mater would be none other than Lake Area Tech.)
He'll talk to students who, like those of us at Chabot all those years ago, are going to go out into the world and do great things. And they'll owe it in part to an educational institution that ought to be an option for more Americans.
I drove past Chabot's campus a few years ago with one of my kids and summed up my two years there this way: "That place made me what I am today." Here's why: Over the course of my career, I've only continued to reap the benefits of the classes I took there.
I produced the HBO mini-series "John Adams" with an outline format I learned from a pipe-smoking historian, James Coovelis, whose lectures were riveting.
Mary Lou Fitzgerald's Studies in Shakespeare taught me how the five-act structures of "Richard III," "The Tempest," and "Othello" focused their themes.
In Herb Kennedy's Drama in Performance, I read plays like "The Hot L Baltimore" and "Desire Under the Elms," then saw their productions. I got to see the plays he taught, through student rush tickets at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Those plays filled my head with expanded dreams. (I also got an A.)
Here's my bottom line, and it's simple: More kids (and adults, for that matter) should have this chance. The President happens to agree, and he wants to make two years of community college free for up to 9 million Americans who are willing to work for it.
I hope that's an idea that sticks. You can help make sure it does.
Then, stick around for the President's remarks. He reminds me of a guy I had in a Public Speaking class at Chabot — the best in the room.