Late in August, higher education lost one of its most ardent supporters when Senator Edward M. Kennedy passed away after his courageous battle with brain cancer. Although he will long be remembered for his unwavering advocacy for quality health care for all Americans, he did as much as anyone to make education accessible and affordable. In a recent tribute to his legacy, The Chronicle of Higher Education observed that Senator Kennedy “had a hand in the creation of nearly every major federal student aid–program” for over four decades. From the creation of the Pell Grants in 1972 into the final years of his life he “was one of the most reliable defenders of student aid, consistently opposing efforts to eliminate programs and offering dozens of budget amendments to increase the maximum Pell Grant.” As chair of the Senate Education Committee, the senator continued work on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act—even after he became ill.
Ted Kennedy was—and will always be—part of the Wesleyan family, as a parent and stepparent of graduates and a recipient of a Doctor of Humane Letters in 1983, when his son Teddy Jr. graduated from Wesleyan. He was to be our 2008 Commencement Speaker to help celebrate his stepdaughter Caroline Raclin’s graduation. Sidelined by illness, he had to pass the torch to then–Senator Barack Obama, who famously paid a rousing tribute to his Senate mentor and spoke of their shared commitment to public service.
No tribute to Senator Kennedy could surpass the eulogies given by Teddy Jr. and his brother Patrick, so I will simply say that the entire system of higher education has lost a remarkable man who did so much, over so many years, to make higher education more accessible to all—a principle that has great meaning for the Wesleyan community. Senator Kennedy was a devoted public servant, and we can be proud of his family ties to the University. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, fellow alums Teddy and Caroline, and the entire Kennedy family.
—Joseph J. Fins ’82