Good morning, and welcome to beautiful Hancock-Adams Common.

Thank you for being here today.  This is certainly not the normal setting for us to gather, but as you all well know, this has been anything but a normal year for our community, our commonwealth, or our nation.

I particularly wish to thank my colleagues in local government, our City Councilors and School Committee members who are joining us here today for their tireless work on behalf of our community this year, their diverse perspectives, and their counsel to me personally on so many issues facing our City. Thank you, Councilors, and thank you, School Committee members for being here today.

These are among the most challenging times in recent history, but it is within those challenges that we saw and continue to see clearly the kind of place Quincy is — the perseverance of our people, our values, our willingness to help each other.

The state of our City, despite the long shadow of the last year, remains strong. And it remains poised for the future. We did not let the pandemic paralyze this community, and we’re not going let it stall progress in the coming months. There is much work ahead, but I can say with great confidence that this City and its people are prepared to emerge from this crisis as strong as any community in the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

While we gather today in confidence for our future, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the members of our community taken from us by the pandemic. They were our family members, our neighbors, our friends. They were community leaders, teachers, coaches, veterans. No one in this community went untouched in some way by the loss inflicted by this horrific virus.

And it did not just take lives — It took our away ability to grieve and celebrate as we normally would the lives of those we lost.  So let us spend a brief moment in silent thought to remember those members our community who died over the last year and for all of their loved ones robbed of the opportunity to gather, mourn, and remember.

It was exactly one year ago today that we publicly reported the first case of the coronavirus in Quincy.  On the same day, I asked all of our residents to be prepared for some level of disruption to their daily lives. At that time, we did not know the full extent of what lay ahead – the sacrifices, the economic uncertainty, the upending of family lives…  the loss.

What we did know then is that the City of Quincy would dedicate every available resource to meet this crisis head-on. There can be no doubt that’s what we did and continue to do today.

We provided more than $1 million in emergency housing assistance for our hospitality and personal services workers most seriously affected by the economic fallout of the pandemic;

We provided more than $2.5 million to nearly 400 small businesses to help them get through the very worst of the economic storm. This made possible by flexible language in federal stimulus funding that was tirelessly advocated by Congressman Lynch.

We provided tens of thousands of dollars in assistance to over-extended food pantries;

We waived hundreds of thousands of dollars in permitting fees to help restaurants get back and up running; and we created a simple, flexible and streamlined system for expanding outdoor dining that became a model for our region.

We invested millions of dollars into our school buildings and millions more to ensure that every single Quincy Public School student had access to a laptop computer for remote learning.

We budgeted conservatively and wisely – allowing us to prevent any layoffs of City and School employees while maintaining property tax levels below the state average. This stability created by vital assistance provided by the leadership of Governor Baker and our state Legislative delegation – Speaker Mariano, Senator Keenan, Representatives Ayers, Chan, and Hunt.

We understood that protecting the most vulnerable members of our community – those who could not protect themselves – must be a priority. Working with our clinical and social service partners, we implemented a testing and depopulation plan to protect our homeless that prevented the kind of widespread outbreak that had taken place in several other cities. The actions of this partnership – including Manet Community Health Center, the South Shore YMCA, and Father Bill’s Place – quite literally saved lives.

It is this kind of collaboration at the heart of our pandemic response, and we’ve had so many of our employees, residents, organizations, volunteers and businesses step up to do amazing work over the past year.

From our public health nurses – Katlyn Picot and Taylor Pecararo, Commissioner Jones and  our entire Health Department team who bore the weight of triaging the most severe public health crisis in more than a century; to our firefighters, police officers and essential workers who never missed a beat; School Superintendent Kevin Mulvey, his leadership team, our teachers and staff – forced into an upside-down world but never losing focus of their singular mission – to educate our young people.

Our business community – President Tim Cahill and the Chamber of Commerce proactively volunteering to manage the housing assistance program, and business leaders like Jim Dunphy, the President of South Shore Bank, which donated all of the bank’s proceeds from the federal stimulus loan program directly back to business owners in the form of grants.  Corporate citizens like the Stop and Shop Company and Brewster Ambulance, providing vaccine to our senior and low-income housing facilities as we speak here today.

Our social service agencies like Quincy Community Action Programs and Interfaith Social Services — faced with unprecedented demand and delivering critical lifelines of food, housing and support to those most in need.  As we move forward, we must be mindful of the disproportionate toll this pandemic has taken on those who can least afford it – our poor, our underserved, and those afflicted by the epidemic of addiction.

In this community, we’ve never taken a backseat to anyone when it comes to confronting addiction. We know that the pandemic has exacerbated the suffering, and we must be prepared in the coming months to redouble our efforts with partners such as the Gavin Foundation and Bay State Community Services.

I want to take a moment to offer my sincerest gratitude on behalf of our entire City to one specific partner that has been with us every step of the way during this pandemic. The team at Manet Community Health Center, led by CEO Cynthia Sierra, who joins us here today, has performed truly extraordinary work on the front lines.

From testing, to treatment and now to administering vaccines, thousands of our residents who may have never known Manet or the value of a community health center are now intimately familiar with their work.  First and foremost, Manet is there for our underserved populations – those of neighbors with the least amount of access to health care. But in this time of crisis, Manet immediately stepped up to become an indispensable partner serving every single person in this community.

Thank you, Cynthia, and thank you to your team. A group of tremendous professionals like Dr. Lily Yung, Kim Kroeger, Ray Li, and Kim Ross, all of whom responded bravely, took on far more than their regular responsibilities, and performed with great compassion when their community needed them most. And then there are the  dozens of volunteers, people like Bob Griffin, Roseanne Russell, Lucy Mao, Jane Kasillias, and Po Ling, who give their time solely because their time is needed. This City could not ask for a better partner.

As we move forward, our work with Manet will expand as we continue our unique, innovative vaccination partnership. Today, Manet is administering more than 1,000 doses of vaccine per week, with more than 70 percent going to residents who have never used Manet before.

We know the operation needs to grow. In the coming weeks, we’ll continue to pursue every avenue to expand what we can offer locally. While I can make no firm commitments on supply, I can firmly commit that we’ll do everything possible and dedicate every resource available to administering vaccine to as many people in this community as possible who want it.

This spring, we’ll continue to do our part to get the economy rolling – continuing to provide resources and assistance to keep businesses and restaurants open and creating hundreds of jobs with a broad range of major infrastructure projects and hundreds of millions of dollars in new economic development.

It’s worth noting that working together with our friends in labor, developers, contractors and our health and safety teams from the City, that we were able to continue construction safely throughout 2020 and did so without any major job-related outbreaks.

Through the collective work of so many, we struck a balance that protected the health and safety of workers and at the same time saved literally hundreds of jobs and kept scores of our families free from the threat of poverty.  Striking that same kind of balance looms as our most important remaining pandemic challenge – getting our young people back in the classroom full-time.

This has been extraordinarily challenging – and frustrating — year for our kids, our parents, and our schools.  The Quincy Public Schools – its leadership, its staff, its teachers – has performed extraordinarily well amid the circumstances. I would not trade what we have in Quincy — from the community to the school system itself – with any other city or town in Massachusetts. There are many different perspectives on the best path to full-time classroom learning and when. As I’ve stated publicly before, I believe we can do it very soon and do it in a way that instills confidence in our teachers, our school staff and our parents that it’s being done safely.

We’re making progress. Under the direction of Superintendent Mulvey, his leadership team and the School Committee, our kids were in hybrid faster than many other districts and our youngest students have returned sooner than most. I know that’s too slow for some and too fast for others – but I fully expect that every student in Quincy will be back in the classroom – or least have that option – in the coming weeks.

As opening our schools must be our highest priority as we beat back this pandemic, I want to focus much of my talk today on Quincy College, another educational institution that must also be a priority for our future.

Quincy College is the only municipally owned community college in Massachusetts and one of the very few anywhere in America. It was founded more than 60 years ago as a simple,  innovative extension of the Quincy Public Schools – Grades 13 and 14 as it was called.  Since that time it grew, it often flourished, and at times, it struggled.

It has, however, always created the kind of opportunity at the heart of the American education system.  It lifts people up. It provides promise for those who could not seek a degree without working full-time.  It creates a path to the middle class for so many in our underserved communities.  It makes attaining a degree possible for those who otherwise could not afford it.  Half of our students are people of color; students claim citizenship from 81 different countries, and two-thirds come from income levels that qualify for financial aid.

In short, there is no greater force for equality in this community than Quincy College.

It is a great light of possibility, and it is a vital part of what this City will be in generations to come. That’s why today I’m calling for a renewed sense of purpose, renewed commitment and a renewed investment to secure the future of Quincy College and secure the futures of countless of our young people in the coming years and decades.

The challenges, both internal and external, faced by the College over the last several years are no secret. But through Interim President Bellotti and now President Richard DeCristofaro, Chairman Paul Barbadoro and the Board of Governors, the school is well on its way toward a path of stability and growth. In a little more than a year on the job, Dr. DeCristofaro has brought to the College the same tenacity, the same commitment and the same fundamental understanding of what works in education that made the Quincy Public Schools among the very best anywhere in Massachusetts during his 19 years as Superintendent.

The College today is on much firmer footing than it was not long ago, but hurdles remain. The City must be a strong partner in these transformative efforts. I spoke earlier about the College’s unique connection with the City. But there have been times in the not-so-distant past when the connection was not necessarily looked upon favorably, that it was somehow a detriment and that the College should weaken its relationship with the City or even sever from it entirely.

To the contrary, I believe wholeheartedly that the City must strengthen, not weaken, its  partnership with the college because we have an undeniable responsibility to do so.  The College is a City Department. Its faculty and staff are City employees. If the College should cease to exist tomorrow for whatever reason – the City and its taxpayers would own all of the obligations owed to its employees – such as pension costs and health care —  just as we would for any teacher, firefighter or laborer.  The College is not an isolated, stand-alone institution. Its failure would cause a tangible, painful ripple throughout our local government, and it’s why we have a clear, vested interest in ensuring its stability and growth.

Over the last few years, the City has done more to acknowledge this unique relationship and contribute to the College’s long-term stability. That will continue this Spring when our administration files an appropriation request with the City Council to fully fund our outstanding pension liability by including the College’s own pension obligation as part of our proposal. This measure will save the College roughly $30 million.

The financial protections provided by the City will allow the College to continue its efforts to stabilize and help create the kind of flexibility necessary to expand programming, shore up existing cohorts, and eventually lay the foundation for offering 4-year bachelor’s degrees.

When the College thrives, so does the entire community. The broader economic benefits created by the college cannot be ignored as we move forward. The school contributes nearly $50 million to our local economy every year; it contributes nearly total 600 jobs; and it employs more than 100 Quincy residents. That’s money spent in our downtown coffee shops and restaurants; it’s contracts and services with local companies; it’s the primary source of income for Quincy families.

The idea of an institution of higher education driving a local economy is not a new one. Take Cambridge and Somerville – cities that derive almost their entire economic lifeblood from higher education.  The more the college grows and the more it succeeds, the better it will be for our local economy;  for our local companies looking for a diverse workforce; and for companies looking to locate where they know they can find a diverse, talented workforce.

The workforce link to the College has always been a core part of its mission. And never more so than today amid a pandemic that has caused the loss of tens of thousands of jobs across our Commonwealth. I’m proud to announce today that the City, through its federal Community Development Block Grant, will fund a $430,000 partnership between the College and the Mass Hire South Shore Workforce Board that will provide 120 low-income residents who lost their jobs due to COVID free certificate-level training in fields such as health care, finance, human services, and substance addiction counseling.

The program in partnership agencies such as Manet, South Shore Hospital and Beth-Israel Hospital will also help create an additional 44 full and part-time jobs.

This initiative will benefit your neighbor who lost her job last March at the local hair salon but has not been called back;  the single-mother who had her hours slashed waitressing at a restaurant; the family scraping by on benefits with two parents who lost jobs. The power of education to lift up those in need is limitless, and this one small program is a symbol of the opportunity that Quincy College creates as part of its core mission.

The path the college creates from the classroom to the workforce and the middle-class is not anecdotal. It is real, borne out in the data.  A 2019 study by Georgetown University showed that graduates of Quincy College, based on the tuition they pay, can expect to earn more over the life of their careers than graduates from any other community college in all of New England. That return on  investment extends to those students who go on to secure bachelor’s degrees, with Quincy College graduates earning more after 10 years than all but one other public institution in Massachusetts.

This truly outstanding value created by the College will remain its philosophical foundation in the coming years. But, as we’ve talked about,  the College also needs a physical foundation of bricks and mortar.  Our work to build the school its first permanent home will continue to move forward this year, and I’m pleased to announce today that I’m naming College Governor Katherine Craven to lead a new Quincy College Building Committee that will shepherd this vital project from beginning to end.

There is no single person in our entire Commonwealth who has more experience in leading the construction of new school buildings than Ms. Craven. Currently the Chief Administrative Officer at Babson University, she previously served as the Executive Director of the University of Massachusetts Building Authority, where saw oversaw nearly $4 billion in capital improvements that transformed the campuses of the UMass system. And prior to that, she was the Executive Director of the Massachusetts School Building Authority. During her time, in partnership with communities across the state, she led an $11 billion renaissance of school construction.

We need look no further than a block down Coddington Street at Quincy High School and a few more blocks North to Central Middle School to see the product of her work – under the leadership of course of her boss at the time, then state Treasurer Cahill.

Governor Craven is with us here today. I look forward to our work ahead together in providing the College with a state-of-the-art educational facility of its own for the very first time. Thank you, Katherine for taking on this responsibility.

The connection between the College and the community is not purely about governance and finances. It is about the students. In the recent past, too many of our Quincy residents have chosen other community colleges and too few have enrolled at Quincy College. I saw it every year reading the lists of our graduates from North and Quincy, always asking myself why would any kid from Wollaston, or Houghs Neck or Quincy Point or Germantown go anywhere BUT Quincy College?

Today, I’m proud to report that we’re on a course to change that thanks to the leadership of Dr. DeCristofaro and Superintendent Mulvey.  Already, dual enrollment programs are expanding, and this year the College is offering three pathway programs – in Early Education, Information Technology, and Legal and Protective Services – that allow students to earn Quincy College credits while still in high school.

And in the coming weeks, we’ll announce a major new pathway program funded by a foundation grant. This initiative will provide low-income and underrepresented students attending North Quincy or Quincy High a powerful route to post-secondary education. The  “Early College” program will identify our high-need populations, build on those existing high school-to-college pathways and offer at no cost access to college credit and a promising avenue to their Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree.

Quincy College cannot thrive simply as a college in Quincy. It must be Quincy’s College, and that means continuing to do more to draw our students there. That means expanding current programs. It means creating new ones. It means working in close partnership with the Quincy Public Schools. And it means offering tuition reductions and other incentives to keep more of our students home right here in downtown Quincy.  I greatly look forward to continuing to work with Dr. DeCristofaro and the Board of Governors on all of these efforts.

Our own Abigail Adams, resting just across this plaza with her beloved John and John Quincy, once wrote “Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.”

Let us use that same ardor, that same diligence to ensure that Quincy College can provide that place for learning, that place where opportunity is created not by chance, and that place where a diploma — not attained by chance — truly does become society’s great equalizer.

My friends, there’ll be a temptation for some who, in the coming months, look at we’re trying to accomplish at the College and other areas like infrastructure, public safety, preserving our history, and economic development and say “Maybe we’re trying to do too much.”  I say instead let us remember the words immortalized by Abraham Lincoln – “Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today.”

So, my friends, let us continue the journey together and ask God’s blessing on our endeavors and may He greant us peace – peace in our hearts, peace in our homes, and peace in our world.