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Shadan Kapri/MEDILL

Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke to almost 1,000 people at Northwestern University's Technolgical Institute.  Attendance exceeded maximum capacity for the Ryan Family Auditorium.  Two other auditoriums were opened with live televised feeds so all who attended could watch the mayor's talk.  

Mayor Emanuel emphasizes Chicago’s strengths in talk at Northwestern

by Shadan Kapri
Nov 29, 2012

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's family immigrated to Chicago more than 50 years ago in search of the American Dream. He said that one of his goals for his upcoming term is to bolster Chicago's economy to help others attain the same level of success for themselves and generations to come.

“I want every child to see their future in this city” and not be limited by their current circumstance, said Emanuel.

The mayor said that when his family first came to America no one ever imagined that two generations later, their direct descendant would become the mayor of one of the nation's largest cities.

The former adviser to President Barack Obama and Bill Clinton spoke to a packed crowd of approximately 1,000 people at the Ryan Family Auditorium at Northwestern University on Wednesday. More than 600 people filled the auditorium and hundreds more watched live televised feeds in two other auditoriums.

Northwestern students, faculty, and staff quietly listened to one of their most famous alumni as he discussed his greatest challenges and personal triumphs.

Emanuel said one of his greatest challenges as mayor is to make sure the city doesn't become divided based “on class lines.”

The mayor emphasized the importance of attaining higher education in overcoming social and economic barriers and attaining the American Dream. He discussed his support for longer school days in Chicago to better prepare the next generation when participating in the global economy. He said that Chicago’s success as an international city lies in its educated workforce, diverse groups, and central location in the world.

“Diversity in Chicago is our strength, not our weakness,” said the mayor. It has helped Chicago become a leader in industries such as manufacturing, insurance, risk management, print and publishing, he said.

Some attendees were not as optimistic as the mayor about achieving the American Dream amid Chicago’s economy and unemployment rate.

Rachel Vrabec, a native of Wisconsin who attended the event, said that the mayor’s 1950s vision of the American Dream and his goal of attracting foreign investors and leaders to Chicago are difficult to balance and achieve together.

Vrabec said that she heard a “contradiction in his vision for Chicago.”

“Trying to help kids from the South Side survive while recruiting foreign business leaders to invest in Chicago are two very different narratives for this city,” Vrabec said. “They are both attainable, but the challenges are much greater than he described.”

Pam Carmasine, a student at Northwestern and a Philadelphia native agreed. “I love the idea of helping people attain the American Dream but I don’t know if it is realistic, because sometimes people can’t overcome their lack of access to basic resources.”

“Some people get a lot of chances in life, while others make mistakes and never recover,” she said. “This inability to help everyone contributes to this pessimism about the American Dream being attainable for every person.”

Richard Sobel, a visiting scholar at Northwestern’s Buffett Center, said that even with all the challenges in this economy the mayor’s vision to help Chicagoans reach “the American Dream is attainable.”

The scholar in American politics and international relations said the mayor’s talk showed that he aspires to build Chicago’s reputation as a global city while providing resources to give everyone a chance to overcome adversity and better their place in life.

“The chance to reach the American Dream is what attracts people to this city even if they achieve it or not.”