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U.S. labor secretary returns to ‘village’ that raised him

Twenty years after Hillary Clinton wrote a book called “It Takes a Village,” one of her potential vice presidential running mates – Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez – returned Tuesday to the village that, in his words, made him: Christ the King School in Snyder.

Mentioning “It Takes a Village” but not its author, Perez told the school’s 233 students: “This was my village, and it was a great village.”

Noting that his friends, their parents and teachers helped his family immensely when his father died in the summer after his seventh grade year, Perez added: “This village was always there for you.”

Perez recalled that difficult summer along with much happier times during an hour-long visit with the school’s students, who sat on the floor of the school’s gymnasium and listened intently as Perez spoke of what he learned in Buffalo and how he applied it to the rest of his life.

He recalled riding his Stingray bike from his home to the school, where he learned not only the basics of what one learns from first to eighth grade, but also how to live.

“This place was not just my educational foundation, but also my moral foundation,’ Perez said. “Everything I do today is built on a foundation of what I learned in Buffalo.”

Here, he said, he learned the Golden Rule: to treat others as you want them to treat you. And it was here, he added, that he learned how to put faith into action – which, he said, explained his career in public service.

At the Department of Labor, he said, that action centers on expanding opportunity so that everyone who wants a job has a job – as well as fair pay and a safe workplace.

And before that, during his tenure as assistant attorney general for civil rights, Perez said his job was fighting for fairness: for example, filing a lawsuit so that a mosque could be built in Tennessee despite some community opposition.

“We’re a nation that embraces our religious diversity,” Perez said.

Perez said he never envisioned working for President Barack Obama or serving as Labor secretary: instead, he simply wanted to enter public service – and the rest, he said, involved a bit of luck.

“What I wanted to do with my life is make a difference,” he said. “I really love public service because we get to help people.”

Perez’s status as a possible vice presidential pick for Clinton – the subject of several news stories in just the past week – never came up at the event at Christ the King.

And when a student asked Perez what he would like to do after his term as labor secretary ends, he was, well, noncommittal.

“I have a lot of faith that something else will work out next,” he said. “I have no idea what it is.”