The nation’s longest-serving current U.S. senator received a series of standing ovations Wednesday, in a tri-partisan show of gratitude for his nearly half-century in Washington serving Vermonters.
Democrats, Republicans, and Progressives from the Vermont Legislature, along with the governor and lieutenant governor, said thank you to Sen. Patrick Leahy in a special ceremony at the Vermont State House.
The state lawmakers then surprised Leahy with a formal resolution — which passed unanimously — honoring him for his advocacy for farmers, crime victims, women’s rights, infrastructure improvements, and many more causes during his eight terms in the U.S. Senate.
Leahy chose to not run for re-election this fall.
"It’s not an exaggeration to say Vermont would not be anywhere near what we are today without Senator Leahy," said Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont.
Lawmakers specifically praised Leahy for his work on behalf of Vermont during times of crisis, such as after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leahy was instrumental in making sure small states can land significant federal grants, so money doesn’t flow only to the biggest cities.
Because of that, little Vermont got nearly $2.7 billion in federal COVID relief money.
Leahy became emotional when addressing the legislators after receiving the proclamation.
"I thank you all for letting me come in here," Leahy said, choking back tears. "This is one of the greatest thrills of my life. Thank you."
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Earlier in the day, the senator, who is also third in line to the presidency, checked out the results of federal funding he secured for one of the Vermont State Colleges.
“We’re a unique center on the East Coast,” Pat Moulton, the president of Vermont Technical College said of VTC’s Advanced Manufacturing Center.
The new facility aims to prepare students both for the jobs of today and tomorrow, Moulton added.
Leahy toured the center on VTC’s Randolph campus. It has grown thanks to $12 million in federal funding the senator recently worked to secure, supporting the purchase of the highest of high-tech manufacturing equipment — including a sophisticated 3-D printer for making precision metal components.
"The evolution in high-tech jobs is amazing," Leahy observed.
Ian Barker, a senior at VTC, said he is confident the hands-on education he is receiving will prepare him well for a career in manufacturing engineering.
"One of the printers over in the metal room is the 25th of its kind in the world," Barker noted, describing the high level of cutting-edge equipment students work with.
A long-term goal of the Advanced Manufacturing Center is workforce development, especially in this tight labor market, Moulton told NECN & NBC10 Boston.
"This whole center idea was born from industry coming to us to say, 'We need students who are skilled in this technology.'"
It goes beyond readying students for in-demand fields.
Employers can actually sign contracts with the school, to kick the tires on advanced machinery or to use the space for prototyping or small batch production runs. That will give students experience working on real-world projects and generate revenues to fold back into the center, Moulton said.
"I think it’s got a bright future," predicted Dan Guaydagni, a junior at VTC.
Leahy also insisted there’s a national security component to investing in U.S. manufacturing. Rather than relying on overseas suppliers for critical or sensitive components, he’d rather see that know-how developed here.
"If we don’t, we’re not going to be able to compete," Leahy said.