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Arizona State University: 'A Friend in the Speaker's Office'; Pelosi Stops at ASU to Discuss Higher Education

By Matt Stone

The first female speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives came to ASU Monday with an entourage of four fellow U.S. representatives to discuss the cost of higher education.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., spoke to a crowd of 575 in the Arizona Ballroom of the Memorial Union and to another 495 people watching on a screen in the next room.

The domestic trip was her first as speaker outside of her district.

Accompanying Pelosi was Arizona's democratic congressmen Harry Mitchell, Ed Pastor and Raul Grijalva, as well as Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.

'The key to a better future ... is education,' Pelosi said. 'Education is essential to an informed electorate.'

The representatives talked about the achievements the democratic Congress had made in its first few months, which included slashing Federal Stafford Loan interest rates and increasing Pell Grants, which are need-based loans that don't have to be repaid.

'We wouldn't have been able to pass that legislation ... without students,' Pelosi said. 'The leverage has changed in Washington. The power is now with you.'

All five agreed that what had been done so far was just the first step, and there would be more legislation to help students in the near future.

'Are we going to stop there? No way,' Pastor said.

In the wake of Proposition 300 passing in November - making undocumented students unable to receive in-state tuition or tuition waivers - many questions have been raised about what will happen in the fall when the universities begin
enforcing the law, Pastor said.

In the very near future, possibly as early as the first few weeks of March, immigration legislation will be introduced, including the DREAM Act, he said.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would override Proposition 300, letting individual state attorney generals decide whether undocumented students can receive in-state tuition on a case-by-case basis.

'Our country doesn't benefit by depriving people of education,' Pelosi said.

And increasing access to all levels of education is a 'top priority' of Congress, Mitchell added.

'Without the education and the guidance I got from ASU, I wouldn't be where I am today,' Mitchell said.

Grijalva said the goal is to continue increasing Pell Grants from its current maximum of $4,050 until it reaches $5,100.

'We have put the brakes and stopped the raid on higher education,' Grijalva said. 'Any student should have the ability, if qualified, to go to college. But we've closed the door on that American dream.

'Ahead of us is a lot of work.'

Lindsey Mayer, a global studies sophomore, said the group's sincerity was inspiring.

'She didn't use notes,' Mayer said of Pelosi. 'I felt like she believed in education.'

The speaker's presentation motivated Scott Ryan, a geography senior, to register to vote.

'It's great to listen to people who think the same way that I do,' Ryan said. 'She actually takes a stance for young people.'

The event drew interest from at least one student outside of Arizona - Leah Raynes, a Brigham Young University anthropology sophomore attended.

'She touched on a lot of important issues,' Raynes said of Pelosi. 'Sometimes it feels like the politicians are really dull and numb, but she seemed really happy to be here.'

Pelosi's connection to Arizona - her grandchildren attend school here - was why she made ASU the first stop outside of her own district, she said.

'It's always a pleasure personally, as well as officially, to be here,' she said.

The speaker and the representatives held a brief press conference with reporters after the event.

And there was one thing Pelosi wanted to convey to students but couldn't due to time constraints, she said.

'What I want them to know is,' Pelosi said, 'the students of Arizona have a friend in the speaker's office.'