Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

‘Education is the surest path to a better life’

By Vaseline May26,2024

Renowned economist Raj Chetty was named an honorary Doctor of Human Letters at Wesleyan’s 192nd commencement ceremony. In his address to the Class of 2024, he cited his research on the effect of inequality of opportunity on social mobility, praising Wesleyan for being a leader in expanding access to higher education.

“When a child moves to a neighborhood with better schools or has the opportunity to go to a high-quality university, we see their lives change compared to other similar children who did not have the same opportunities,” says Chetty. “Chance is important. And education is one of the keys that opens doors of opportunity.”

Chetty is the William A. Ackman Professor of Public Economics at Harvard University. He is also director of Opportunity Insights, which uses big data to understand how we can give children from disadvantaged backgrounds better opportunities for success. His work on topics ranging from tax policy and unemployment insurance to education and affordable housing has been widely cited in academia, the media, and in Congressional testimony. Chetty received her PhD from Harvard University in 2003 and is one of the youngest tenured professors in Harvard history. He has received numerous awards for his research, including a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and the John Bates Clark Medal, given to the economist under 40 whose work is considered to have made the most significant contributions to the field.

Chetty made the following remarks during Wesleyan’s 192nd commencement ceremony on May 26:

President Roth, members of the Wesleyan University Board of Trustees, faculty, parents, friends, graduates:

It is truly a privilege and honor for me to participate in Wesleyan University’s Class of 2024 Commencement ceremony.

I have dedicated my life to studying how we can create better opportunities for everyone in society to thrive, regardless of their background. What I have discovered is that education remains the surest path to a better life, based on both my personal experience and my research.

When my mother graduated from high school in a small town in southern India in the 1950s, there were no colleges nearby. At that time, it was rare for women to receive higher education, and it was unheard of for women to move to another city to study.

The year before my mother graduated, a wealthy businessman decided to open the first women’s college in my mother’s hometown. My mother attended that university, went to medical school and completed her residency at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the first woman to become a physician in her community in southern India.

My father also grew up in a low-income family in southern India and applied for scholarships to attend universities in the US. He was fortunate to receive a scholarship to do a doctorate. at UW-Madison, without which he would not have come to the United States or pursued graduate studies.

The effects of those educational opportunities have been streamlined through the generations in our family. If the university in my mother’s hometown had opened a year later or if my father had not received the scholarship to UW-Madison, I am sure I would not have had the opportunities I did, let alone would receive this diploma today.

But that’s just one story. Now let me share 100 million stories that support that example. Over the past decade, my Harvard research team, Opportunity Insights, has analyzed anonymized data from tax returns, social media, and other sources of more than 100 million Americans. We have discovered that people’s opportunities are determined by the environment in which they grow up. When a child moves to a neighborhood with better schools or has the opportunity to go to college, we see their lives change compared to other similar children who were not given the same opportunities. Chance is important. And education is one of the keys that opens the doors of opportunity.

Unfortunately, access to these opportunities is not evenly distributed. There are countless talented children in America who do not get the opportunity to attend high-quality schools and colleges like this one.

Wesleyan has been a leader in expanding access to higher education, seeking to admit more highly qualified students from low- and middle-income families and eliminating factors such as inheritance preferences that can serve to perpetuate privilege across generations. Our research shows that such efforts to expand access to opportunity – when implemented at scale across America’s colleges and other institutions – can make the American dream of upward mobility a reality for all.

I am extremely honored to receive this diploma from an institution that sets an example for society. My challenge to all of you is to build on this example and make the world a better, fairer place by using your education to inspire those around you and spread opportunity. Your success will be all our success…. And I wish you the best of luck.

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