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children of parents with college degrees fared much better in high school, and applied to and finished college at higher rates. “We ended up in very different places because of the opportunities that were presented to us,” Graig says. “And the opportunities that our families were able to procure for us.” That started him on a career of tackling barriers to education. Graig’s first job after getting his master’s in social work from the University of Chicago was in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools coordinating the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program, which prompted his move to Orange County in 1998. When he started, Blue Ribbon had 23 students and a $10,000 budget. By the time he left the towns’ public school system, the program had grown to several hundred kids and a half-million-dollar budget. Graig says some of the program’s success is due to the relationships built between the students and their mentors, which can last through graduation. In addition to tutoring help, the mentor acts as an advocate in the schools for the child and their family. In 2013, Rep. Valerie Foushee was selected to fill a vacancy in the state senate, which left her house seat open. Graig, a Democrat, felt

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public education was not well represented among the candidates being considered, so he decided to run himself. Graig says his focus on education resonated well with Democratic voters in Orange County. Now twice re-elected, Graig still enjoys his work in the legislature. He says every day is a learning experience, and he’s come to learn about issues he would not have known as much about otherwise, like rural access to broadband or water policy. Also, he says, his social work experience can sometimes come in handy. “The joke I tell people is that the General Assembly is social work heaven, because I get to study personal disorders and group dysfunction all day long.” Besides his work as an elected official, Graig is also a founder and principal consultant at The Equity Collaborative, which works with educational institutions across the country to help improve student and educator outcomes. Through it all, Graig looks back fondly on his 16 years as a social worker in local public schools. “There wasn’t a single day I didn’t want to go to work [or] where I didn’t feel like I was helping kids and families to have educational opportunities that could transform their long-term prosperity.” CHM

Profile for Shannon Media

Chapel Hilll Magazine May/June 2019  

THE WOMEN’S ISSUE

Chapel Hilll Magazine May/June 2019  

THE WOMEN’S ISSUE