Dominican Republic President Fernandez Visits Roosevelt House and Tells Hunter Students That He Always Wanted to be a Baseball Player
Hunter College President Jennifer Raab welcomed Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez to Roosevelt House on Friday morning, September 23, where he addressed a group of students and teachers from Hunter College and Manhattan/Hunter Science High School.
"We are very excited, President Fernandez, to have you here," Raab said, "particularly since you spent much of your childhood growing up in New York, and we have many students here who grew up in your neighborhood. We just heard that the public school that the President attended on 95th Street and West End Avenue puts out your banner every election day to remind their students what they can achieve."
Hunter College has a significant Dominican population of its own. Raab shared the story of one successful student who made his way out of his impoverished neighborhood in the Dominican Republic to Hunter, and is now at Harvard Law School. "We are proud of the great success of so many of our Dominican students," she said.
Raab explained that it was particularly fitting to have President Fernandez at Roosevelt House, the home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt from 1908 to 1941. During President Roosevelt's inaugural address, he promised that the United States would be a good neighbor to Latin America. During FDR's tenure, the two regions shared in a period of peace and mutual prosperity.
"I think President Roosevelt would be really honored to know that you are visiting his home," Raab said. "So much of your presidency is dedicated to the Roosevelt ideals: to social equity, to peaceful international engagement, and to increased transparency and communication among nations."
"When I began developing some sort of interest in public affairs and politics, my political mentor, Juan Bosch, was a big fan of Franklin Roosevelt," President Fernandez said. "At a time when my generation was more interested in radical left-wing politics, we were thinking about Lenin and Trotsky, not Roosevelt. I remember him saying, Roosevelt was the most important statesman of the 20th century. And I tried to understand why he would say that. I started studying the great depression, and the only way the world and United States was able to get out of the Great Depression was because of the Roosevelt's leadership, because of the New Deal he proposed. I think this makes Roosevelt relevant for the 21st century. We face a global financial crisis, the deepest and most severe crisis since the Great Depression. I think we have forgotten the lessons of Roosevelt... What we need is a new New Deal."
Fernandez shared more of his views on the current economic crisis, including the challenges governments face when trying to create short-term stimulus while balancing long-term debt. Since important historical events still affect us even today, he explained, it is essential that young people understand not only their history, but also current events.
Following his talk, Fernandez took questions from the audience.
In response to a question from MHSHS teacher Kevin Froner about how public education in the Dominican Republic can be improved, President Fernandez conceded that "education is one of the major social challenges facing the Dominican Republic. How do we make the transition from an industrial society to a knowledge-based society? This is a problem that everyone is facing worldwide... A next step forward is teacher-training programs. We need to train teachers to become 21st century educators. We have established a working relationship with universities in the United States and in Europe. And now we have a working relationship with Hunter College too."
President Raab then announced a new program in Hunter's School of Education that will train students from the Dominican Republic to become their country's educators of the future.
Hunter College senior Eli Cohen asked "Would you express your 'aha' moment when you said, 'you know what, I am going to be President'?"
"I never pictured myself as the president," President Fernandez responded. "Personally, I think I'm a failure, because I always wanted to be a baseball player. My hero as a child and as a teenager was Juan Marichal, the first Dominican to make it to Cooperstown as a Hall of Famer."