I recently had the opportunity to learn about philanthropist and American financier Michael Milken and interview him during a social luncheon I attended on Oct. 25. He has committed himself to using his wealth to help people from funding prostate cancer research to his new building in Washington D.C., the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream. He founded the Milken Family Foundation in 1982 with his brother Lowell Milken. Their goal was to find effective ways to lead children through education to a productive and accomplished life. I believe that this program is a positive example of what other fortunate politicians and people should strive to create in order to help high schoolers make an impact on the world in the future.
One of Milken’s goals for advancing the American dream is through education, and the Milken Family Foundation does that. According to their website, the foundation’s mission statement to “reform education initiatives” was founded under the belief that “young people are the nation’s greatest natural resource.” In order for our nation to grow, we need to be involved in educating and helping the younger generations as much as possible. The foundation offers 12 Milken Scholarships for high school students excelling in their classes to ensure their future education isn’t halted due to financial reasons. Teachers elect high school students that they believe excel in their school and deserve the Milken Scholarship Award.
“There are individuals that… have overcome so many challenges in life,” Milken said. “Many of them are first or second-generation Americans and many of them come from the lowest socio-economic groups. We are looking for people that have potential leadership qualities who could be role models for their community and empowering them… We’re now going to support them [for] the rest of their lives.”
When students become Milken Scholars, they are now “part of a family” as Milken puts it. Not only will the scholars have people looking after them, but they will create a bond with one another. Many of these scholars are from different countries and have different ethnic backgrounds. One hundred twenty-four scholars were born outside the U.S. which goes to show that the scholarship is open to anyone; one just has to work hard. These scholars now have a support system in college, internships and jobs, and will have resources to learn about their majors or help find internships.
Along with student scholarships, another crucial key in creating a generation filled with educated and experienced students is teachers. But there is a decline in the teaching profession. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 44 percent of public school teachers “will report teaching vacancies at the start of the [2022 school] year, with more than half due to resignations.” Milken is aware that teachers are critical for upcoming generations to change the world. Milken wants to honor the teachers’ hard work through the Milken Educator Award and hopes that they will inspire other potential teachers to guide their students.
At the luncheon I attended, I was able to meet one of the educators who received the award in 2010, Rogelio Garcia. He understands that for low performing schools, some students come from complicated backgrounds and make it to the top, but the “bottom and mid-tier children’’ are the ones that need more help and courage because they are not confident in their abilities or feel as if they have the odds stacked against them. According to Milken, 26 percent of children believe that they will have a better life than their parents. And so, how can one change their minds to want to learn and want to achieve? Garcia has a response.
“[Not only] do I tell the kids they can do it, [but I] take them by the hand and actually sit down with them and fill out an application, write those letters of recommendation and have them write a self profile sheet,” Garcia said.
Garcia believes that in order for students to believe in themselves, the teachers need to believe in them. We should be creating incentives for students to work hard for their success whether through programs like the Milken Family Foundation or providing mentorship classes for teachers to support their students. Instead of creating government led programs where people are living off of government paychecks, we should be teaching students to want to learn and to have the confidence to want to build a better life for themselves. I know this is easier said than done, but Milken’s Foundation has already changed lives with 502 scholars since 1989 and that is a start.
Currently, the Milken’s Scholars can be selected from high schools in Los Angeles, D.C., and New York City, but Milken wants to expand the scholarship opportunities to other cities like Dallas. Imagine if we could get thousands of others to support or create programs like his.
Foundations like the Milken Family Foundation create students who will excel in college with the potential to change the world. I believe that Milken is showing an example that working hard will pay off in the end.