Jill Biden, educator and wife of Vice President Joe Biden, visited Anne Arundel Community College on Wednesday to offer support for the institutions she calls "one of America's best-kept secrets" and announce the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges, slated for Oct. 5.
"The president has asked us to make America aware of how great community colleges are," said Biden, a full-time English teacher in the Northern Virginia Community College system. She alluded to President Barack Obama's request that she chair the summit to draw attention to community colleges' role in developing the nation's work force.
Wednesday at AACC, she took part in a croissant-baking class at the school's Hotel, Culinary Arts and Tourism Institute alongside Martha Kanter, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education. The college gave Biden an AACC chef's coat with her name sewn in.
At one point, while rolling flattened dough into croissants, Biden asked Kanter, "Are you a baker?" Kanter replied, "I was."
Biden then met with students and faculty in a room at the AACC Careers Center, where she heard personal stories of how community colleges benefit the area's population. Among the students who spoke was Calvin Diggs, 19, of Glen Burnie, who AACC officials subsequently said has a singing voice worthy of an appearance on the reality television show "American Idol."
With that, Biden approached Diggs and asked that he sing, and Diggs responded by belting out the first verse of the Stevie Wonder song, "Ribbon in the Sky."
"I usually don't get nervous when I sing, but I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is the vice president's wife. I'm nervous,' " said Diggs. "But once I got it out, I was like, 'Do you know what you just did?' "
White House officials said that the Summit on Community Colleges is a part of Obama's goal of ensuring that the U.S. has the world's highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. They said that such schools enroll more than 8 million students each year and are growing faster than any other higher-education option.
"Community colleges are a key part of our economic vision for the future," said Biden, who has taught in community colleges for 17 years. "I see firsthand the power of community colleges to change lives every single day in the classroom."
Biden asked AACC students how community colleges can improve. Then she took notes as Juana Landaverde, a third-year student who grew up in Guatemala and now lives in Edgewater, suggested making schools more available to foreign-speaking students, particularly those of Hispanic origin.
"That's one of the issues," said Landaverde.
Biden said she feels fortunate to be part of an administration that is working to make a community college education more accessible to students nationwide.
"The beauty of community colleges is that they always put students first," said Biden, who commended AACC students for juggling college and busy home lives. "I know many of you are working jobs full time or part time. You have children, you have families, and you're coming to school. I always say that you are my heroes. What you are doing is so hard, and you're persevering."