By Robert Mann
One January night in the early 1990s, after President George H.W. Bush’s State of the Union address, I stood in a crush of U.S. senators waiting for interviews with TV stations back home. Before me was my boss, Sen. John Breaux, and behind me, Claiborne Pell, a senator from Rhode Island since 1961.
Pell, who would serve until 1997, was a quirky patrician in threadbare clothes, who drove dilapidated cars. On this night, however, his press secretary was missing, but his TV time fast approaching. Noting his alarm, I volunteered to substitute for the errant staffer. He gratefully accepted.
Days later, a thought crossed my mind: Pell was a big reason I had graduated college. I’d missed an opportunity to thank him.
In 1972, Pell’s legislation created the Basic Education Opportunity Grantsprogram. Forty years ago this fall, it began making awards to needy young people, like me. I graduated college in 1981, the year after Pell’s colleagues named the program for him.
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