The Honorable Betsy DeVos Shares Insights from a Life Dedicated to Education Reform
On November 15, Cornerstone University welcomed The Honorable Betsy DeVos as November’s esteemed Community Chapel speaker. Dr. Gerson Moreno-Riaño, president of Cornerstone, moderated the interview on faith, friendship and public engagement. During their conversation, DeVos reflected on the centrality of the Christian faith in her life’s work, the essential relationships that supported her throughout decades of public service, her innovative vision for education, and the process of discerning her vocational calling and being available for new leadership opportunities at each step along her journey.
DeVos has a longstanding national reputation as a thought leader, an innovator and an education reformer. She served as the 11th United States secretary of education from 2017 to 2021, and she continues to advocate for providing families with the freedom to direct educational choices for their children and opening more doors for adult learners. In 2022, she released her first book, “Hostages No More: The Fight for Education Freedom and the Future of the American Child,” with Center Street of Hachette Book Group.
“I never set out to be a Republican party state chairman; I never set out to be secretary of education,” shared DeVos while reflecting on the unfolding of her vocational path. “What I did set out to do was try to help families with children who wanted something different for their children’s education but couldn’t afford it because of their economic circumstances.”
DeVos recalls becoming interested in politics as a college student. In 1976, she worked as a “scatter blitzer,” generating support for Gerald Ford to win a full term as a U.S. president. She recounts the influence of Paul Henry, her college professor and a multi-term Michigan congressman, as a key catalyst in sparking her engagement in public policy and encouraging her to live out her faith in Jesus Christ in every aspect of her life.
While a young parent, DeVos recognized the importance of transferring values to the next generation and the crucial role of education. Committed to giving families access to quality educational offerings, DeVos’ work has impacted students across the nation.
“No education can happen without some kind of value set being taught,” DeVos said. “And arguably in the realm of K-12 education today, over the last number of decades, we have gone further and further away from the moral foundations and the tethering ideas and characteristics that should be transmitted to the next generation.”
Midway through the conversation, President Moreno-Riaño recounted two perspectives from an August 2023 New York Times opinion article on America’s elevation of Ivy League schools titled “I Don’t Think Harvard Was Good for My Soul.” In response, DeVos affirmed the importance of education — and the “moral tethering” of the systems’ institutions — in students’ moral formation.
“I am really thankful that Cornerstone really takes this seriously and is intentional about developing the whole person and not pretending that we’re easily subdivided into pieces and parts and that we only address one of those parts by attending a higher ed institution,” DeVos commented.
Although her leadership roles and responsibilities have changed in recent years, DeVos remains resolute in her unwavering approach to treating individuals with Biblical virtues.
“It is a difficult time in our nation’s history, but I have great optimism that the rising generation is going to step into roles of leadership and responsibility that are going to help change that trajectory,” DeVos concluded.
Watch a video recording of the chapel message from November 15, 2023. To listen to additional chapel messages and receive notifications of new messages in the series, follow Cornerstone University Chapel on Spotify and CornerstoneU on YouTube.