Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service Speech, May 2009
Thank you for the touching video and all the kind words. I also want to say thank you for visiting our school and shining a light on the work of our Foundation. Our work in Las Vegas is a tremendous team effort. It is the generosity, compassion and hard work of an entire community that has created these success stories, in some cases miracle stories. I share this award with all of you who have been with us on this journey.
Being honored by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation is very special to me. Looking over the list of past honorees is very humbling. As a kid if you would have told me that my name would be on the same list as Jack Nicholas and John Glenn, I never could have imagined what kind of list it could possibly be. I would also like to congratulate Larry and Camille Ruvo, who truly live by the belief that anything is possible. They are giants of generosity and Stefanie and I are humbled to share the stage and this evening with them.
Woodrow Wilson was a legendary wordsmith known around the world for his many wise words, but here are the ones that I hold closest to my heart… “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget that errand”.
Many years ago, at the lowest point in my career and one of the lowest points in my life, I figured out why I was here. Years later when I continued to compete and play tennis long after my body told me to stop; I was driven by that same reason. I was here to care for children in need, to try and give a voice to those whose voices are rarely heard.
I was fortunate enough to be born and raised here in Las Vegas, I know first hand that this is a great place to raise a family and a great community in which to thrive. But the blessings have rained down unevenly. As I became more aware of young people living in abusive homes, children having little contact with a prosperous world surrounding their own, and I saw the lack of a quality education that could lift them out, I had to act. It became personal. We were losing an entire generation, a talented and capable generation, by not giving them the tools to succeed. That’s why we created Agassi Prep, to frontload our children for success.
We realized that the earlier you interrupt the downward spiral and give the tools of hope, the more powerfully you can change the course of a life. Our children may not know how to define dignity, but they know when it’s been violated, we won’t let that happen on our watch.
We are continuing to challenge ourselves to work harder and work smarter. Woodrow Wilson’s genius was his ability to combine so many passions… industry, politics, and education, all to better the world. He was an innovator but also a deep and long term thinker. It is in his footsteps that we are trying to reinvent what it means to care. By improvising and innovating, we are focused on equipping young people in a new way. We consider our school a laboratory of ideas. Our latest mission has been to pass new laws in our state to better serve the people who need it the most. I have testified more than once before our state legislature and we have been successful in creating system wide reform and in rewriting the rules to encourage fresh ideas in education. As we learn more, we intend to expand our mission to include legislation on a national level. We want others who are starting schools like ours across the country to have an easier time navigating the waters and to benefit from what we’re learning. In this arena we sometimes feel like the first domino.
In closing I want to leave you with this. Some people may choose to weep for the world, others choose to change it. It may seem the needs of our young people are overwhelming, but so is our resolve. I believe we can outwork, outsmart, and outlast the hardships they face. The oppression of poverty is thick, but there is surely enough love within us to dissolve it. Thank you again for this great honor.