Representing NJEA Preservice at the State of the State 

By Jason Williams 

In January, I attended Gov. Phil Murphy’s State of the State address as the NJEA Preservice representative. What an amazing honor!  

When I received the call asking if I would like to attend, I was unsure of my role as well as the magnitude of what I was about to attend. Ultimately, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.  

When I first arrived at NJEA headquarters, I met the leaders of our union, including President Sean M. Spiller, Vice President Steve Beatty, and Secretary-Treasurer Petal Robertson. My conversation with the NJEA officers made me feel at home as they listened to my concerns regarding aspects of teacher prep programs. They offered their support. I am thankful for my time with them, and I look forward to working alongside them to support the NJEA and the educators and preservice members of NJEA.  

My mother, Janel Powell, drove me to the event. She is a special education teacher at Highland Park High School with 32 years of experience. When Deborah Cornavaca, the director of NJEA Government Relations – Politics and Policy, learned of my mother’s dedication to the profession, she invited her to also to watch the address. My mother witnessed the kindness and acknowledgment from the governor’s office.  

Even during a state of emergency, and a very rainy day, walking into the New Jersey State House was an experience in itself as everyone was incredibly eager to engage in the State of the State Address. I could not help but notice how beautifully historical the State House is.  

Deborah Cornavaca also introduced me to many people who work for our state. She was a gracious host and made sure we had an opportunity to connect. Soon, I was whisked away to the governor’s office to meet the governor in person prior to his address.  

Meeting him was like meeting a president, and what a joy it was! Gov. Murphy was very approachable and kind—and yes, he allowed me to take a selfie with him.  

When it was time to walk into the Assembly chamber, I was surprised by the crowd and the grand feel of the room. It was packed! Everyone looked so regal and professional. I sat in the balcony with other amazing honorees and felt an incredible sense of gratitude for the moment. I felt immense pride to be sitting among such accomplished fellow New Jerseyans.  

During his speech, Gov. Murphy reminded everyone of how important it is for young people striving to become educators to have both a plan and means to do so. He talked about his initiatives to support upcoming educators that make it attainable to become certified as a teacher, a dream NJEA Preservice members possess, including myself.  

My heart was filled with hope by the claps and cheers given as the governor told the stories of people who are making positive contributions to our state. Their narratives of triumph were inspiring. I felt more energized and motivated to reach my goals. 

After the address, there was a lovely reception. Our beloved Kean University President, Lamont Repollet, was in attendance and informed me that he came just for me! This makes me feel honored to be a Kean University student.  

With guidance and support NJEA Preservice and from my mentor, Hannah Pawlak, I feel invigorated to be an effective teacher in the New Jersey public school system. Making a difference in someone’s life by showing up, being a leader, and acting as a role model is my goal as an aspiring educator.  

Getting recognized by the governor only pushed me to work harder to get into the classroom and make a difference in any way I can. It was the best motivation I could have ever received.  

Thank you, Gov. Murphy and NJEA.

Jason Williams is a student at Kean University. He is preparing to be a special education history teacher.