TOPPENISH — David Warren has given hundreds of commencement speeches in his long career as a crusader for private colleges and increased financial aid funding for all college students.
But he’s never written one of them in advance. So Saturday morning he’ll go on a long run before delivering the keynote address at Heritage University.
“And I’ll know pretty much what I’m going to say after I run. That’s how it works,” Warren said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
The Richland native who ran track and earned academic distinction at Washington State University — where he graduated in 1965 — is eager to return to Central Washington and to see friends at Heritage.
Sister Kathleen Ross, the first president of Heritage, served on the board of the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), which Warren has headed since 1993. And current Heritage president John Bassett served as chairman of the NAICU board in 2010 when he was still presiding over Clark University in Massachusetts.
“Heritage is a quite extraordinary, one-of-a-kind institution,” Warren said.
Warren has been highly visible in lobbying for higher education for many years, working to expand student aid by increasing Pell Grant funding, need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain postbaccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education.
He also worked on the reauthorization in 2008 of the Higher Education Act, the federal law that governs the administration of federal student aid programs. The education act was originally passed in 1965.
Warren called it one of the last remaining pieces of the Great Society reforms enacted during the administration of President Lyndon Johnson.
“It was one of the most pivotal pieces of legislation. When Johnson proposed it he said every academically able young man and woman ought to be able to go to college irrespective of their capacity to pay,” Warren said.
The next reauthorization is due in 2014, but Warren said it’s difficult to predict what the outcome will be until mid-term elections are over and the majorities of the next Congress are established. At stake are such issues as the nature of the Pell grants, eligibility, accountability and transparency.
“If the White House wins majorities in both chambers of Congress, Obama still has two years left and that would change dramatically the way reauthorization would move,” Warren said.
In the meantime, Warren is looking forward to his visit here.
“It’s a bit of going home. I’m looking forward to it. Seeing that part of the world where I grew up.”
And, though he doesn’t know his exact message to graduates, words of wisdom from two historical figures are sure to come up.
“I bet you I mention Harry Truman and Winston Churchill.”