Thank You, Senator Pell

Today’s New York Times contains an appreciation of Senator Claiborne Pell. It seems he died recently. I wish I’d known his name when he was alive, so I could have thanked him. I, like millions of other low-income, high-class-rank kids, went to college because Senator Pell fought for the passage of the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant. I received the full grant amount every semester: my grades were that high and my family’s income that low.

Everybody who received a BEOG, later renamed a Pell Grant, has a story. (See Sarah Vowell’s here.) Mine includes a father chronically disabled with Parkinson’s Disease, a mother consumed by caring for him, a monthly Social Security disability check, and  a four-room apartment in the projects. College wasn’t going to happen for me without that $1,400 a semester, which covered what my state scholarship and modest student loan didn’t.

Like most of the college stories Senator Pell made possible, mine had a happy ending: I graduated, got a good job, and paid off my National Direct Student Loan of $1,900 over ten years at 3% interest. Since that time, I have been a law-abiding, tax-paying, voting citizen with a college degree. It might not have been that way if Senator Pell hadn’t believed that government exists to help its citizens live better lives.

Godspeed, Senator. Thanks for the B.A.

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