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Former Surgeon General from the Bronx Runs for Office in Arizona

Education Update had lunch with Dr. Richard Carmona, former Surgeon General of the US, and Dr. Carole Berotte Joseph, the President of Bronx Community College, Carmona’s alma mater. Both Carmona, Joseph and Rosen speak Spanish fluently. Carmona has come a long way indeed from his humble roots in the Bronx. A high school dropout at DeWitt Clinton High School, teacher Ed Blau believed in him so deeply that the letters flowed continuously to Carmona who was serving in the US army in Vietnam. As a result, Carmona returned, enrolled in the community college and went on to medical school at UC San Francisco. As a surgeon his career eventually transitioned into an appointment as Surgeon General. Always striving to make a contribution in our society, Carmona made his home in Arizona where he is currently running for the Democratic Senate seat. His integrity, intelligence and understanding of the difficulties of masses of students who are striving to overcome difficulties in our society are a testament to our nation. Senator Chuck Schumer, President Joseph and Dr. Pola and Dr. Herman Rosen who served under Carmona in the Katrina disaster, stand behind you Dr. Carmona. We’re rooting for your victory!!

Transcribed by Erica Anderson

Vice Admiral Dr. Richard Carmona, former U.S. Surgeon General, and senate candidate in Arizona
I think what’s interesting is that most people who see me see the successes: surgeon general, distinguished professor; the jobs I’ve had: police officer, registered nurse. But what they don’t see is all the years it took to get there and how many times I failed to have to get there. As I often tell youngsters when I’m mentoring or counseling or am trying to inspire: I’ve failed more times in my life than I’ve succeeded, but when it’s important, I got up one more time. That’s really the difference between someone who succeeds and [someone who] fails. Nobody said it’s going to be easy, but it’s still the land of opportunity, and as long as those of us who are in positions of responsibility remember where our roots are, and when we take that elevator to the top floor we make sure we send it down for somebody else and help them make that trip as well.

Mr. Blau was one of my counselors at DeWitt Clinton High School. I did my best to fail myself out of there as a truant, and yet Mr. Blau and his partner Mr. DeGrand often saw so much potential in me. They fought me every day, trying to get me to stay in class. When I would drop out—we didn’t have a phone, so they’d send letters to my house and tell my mom to get me back in school, and I would come back. But by the time I was seventeen and I really wasn’t going to school much and at that point I enlisted in the army. What’s interesting is Mr. Blau never gave up on me. Through my military career, he kept sending me letters and saying: don’t give up, you have a lot of potential, you can be whatever you want to be. He sent me letters when I was in Vietnam in combat, saying: don’t give up, you should go to college. It was Mr. Blau who alerted me, when I had been rejected from lots of colleges, that Bronx Community College has an open enrollment program and one of the guys in charge is a guy that used to be one of your P.E. teachers at DeWitt Clinton. He affected this relationship for me, and Bronx Community College gave me an incredible opportunity as a high school dropout with a GED, and really not ready to go to college. They helped me through the first year, and gave me the opportunity to succeed, and ultimately I became an A student, which allowed me to go to college, which allowed me to work in a lot of other jobs, and eventually go to medical school and graduate at the top of my class, become a surgeon, become a trauma surgeon, and ultimately become Surgeon General of the United States. In less than one generation, from a homeless high school drop-out kid, an immigrant family, to be Surgeon General of the United States. Not because of me, but because great people, mentors, friends, colleagues, teachers recognized potential that I didn’t know I had, a mom who recognized that potential, and I just kept moving forward. I think my life really represents the best that this country has to offer, as a nation of opportunity for each and every youngster.

Dr. Carole Berotte Joseph, President of Bronx Community College
I am really thrilled to have met Dr. Carmona. I heard a lot about him when I first came to Bronx Community College. And I think his story is an inspiring story, and an important one to tell. As a teacher/educator myself, I constantly talk about the importance of teachers in the lives of their students and the importance of counselors in the lives of their students. I said the more teachers we have who are human, who see potential, and who encourage students—my motto has always been students first, and at times I’ve been challenged about that. Some faculty have asked me “Why are students first? Why not us?” And I said “Because we are here for the students.” And if I as a president am about students first, then that means I have to support my staff and my faculty to be able to do the right thing. So I am really moved by your story and really thrilled to have met you today. I wish you lots of success, and I hope we will soon be able to call you Senator Carmona.



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