Gov. Bob Graham helped kick off the Village Square at St. Petersburg College Tuesday night in a keynote address to almost 200 people in the Seminole Campus Conference Center. The inaugural local event was hosted by the college’s Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions. See our Facebook gallery of the event.
The non-partisan Village Square was co-founded by SPC President Bill Law in Tallahassee as a public educational forum dedicated to maintaining factual accuracy in civic and political debate by fostering civil dialog on divisive issues. This is the second chapter to be formed.
Graham, who served two terms as governor and three terms in the United States Senate, is regarded as one of Florida’s and the nation’s senior statesmen, respected on both sides of the political aisle for his collaborative leadership style and for his 38-year career of public service.
He founded the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida, which helps train the next generation of public leaders by grounding students with a hands-on education in the American political system through internships, seminars, lectures and detailed case studies of public policy issues.
“The challenges for the Village Square and other entities is the state of citizenship,” said Graham, who is spearheading an effort to revive civics instruction in public education. “Citizenship is the only anecdote we have to a dysfunctional democracy.”
As a high school student in Miami in the early 50s, Graham said he took three full years of required civics classes. He said of his 11 grandchildren, only one of them has had more than one semester of civics, as is currently required.
The consequences of this sharp decline is a lack of citizenship, lack of tolerance and lack of a spirit of compromise.” Graham said. “Citizenship is not just a matter of voting, but all those things you do in your community, like getting involved.”
According to a recent civic health index, Florida ranks 46th in the nation in citizenship indicators.
“We’ve got a sick patient and I believe institutions like St. Petersburg College have the potential to be the cauldron for renewed citizenship. State colleges represent a bright star in restoring civic health.”
Public Policy and Administration student Jane Cerulli, one of about 40 students who attended courtesy of the Seminole Student Government Association and the institute, was impressed with the caliber of those in attedance – including local politicians, leaders and educators.
“It’s a great honor to be affiliated with the people in this room,” said Cerulli.
In answering Cerulli’s question about which organizations to get involved in, Graham said she’s already made the first step by enrolling at St. Petersburg College and getting an education.
“This one is very important. From there, find a subject you really care about and get deeply involved in an organization working on that issue,” Graham said. “That will demonstrate your seriousness, passion and commitment and help prepare you for later positions.”