My name is Jamie Talley, I am a National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) scholarship recipient. I experienced homelessness, and I work every day to make myself someone different than the family I was born into.
I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Washington D.C., with other NAEHCY scholars. There is one moment that I will remember forever.
You’ve been given the opportunity to sit at the table and make a difference, so make it count.
That moment was when it actually dawned on me just what was taking place. These may not have been his exact words, but this was the point Sam Ryan, Special Assistant and Youth Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education, was making just before Secretary John B. King, Jr., entered the room.
These words weighed heavily on me as I sat at the table, looking around at my peers who had experienced homelessness, just as I had. The point of this meeting was to allow for Secretary King to get insight directly from us to help inform the Department’s policies and actions.
The only thing I could think was, “Why me? What did I do right to get to be the one sitting here?”
For most of the meeting, I sat nervously listening to what my peers were saying and how open they were. Then I noticed something remarkable: Secretary King was making eye contact with each of the scholars when they spoke, he took notes, and he listened to every detail and point that was being made.
That is when I heard Ryan in my head again saying, “Make it count.”
This is when I acquired the courage to voice my opinion, and an amazing thing happened: Secretary King listened to me. I could tell as I spoke he was really considering what I was saying. To me, this shows the human side behind the policies and issues.
There were questions to consider at the meeting with Secretary King. For example, “How have your teachers helped you to be successful?” Yes, this meeting was held to, “engage students in a discussion for a better understanding of the challenges that homeless students encounter as they reflect on their high school and college experiences,” but it showed me that there is more to life than going through the motions of trying to survive. It showed me that teachers and students in these situations can make a difference. Most of all, it showed me that people care. There is more to federal policymaking than facts and politics. People are trying their hardest to make a difference.
A few weeks after our meeting with Secretary King, the Washington Post wrote an article entitled, Education Department eases financial application restrictions for homeless college students. This was one of the many topics addressed at our discussion. I would like to say how proud I am to call John King our Secretary of Education. This man cares about the lives of young people and he is making a difference.
Elizabeth Jamie Talley is a rising junior at Wayland Baptist University.
This session was a part of the ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department through which students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies.