Mayor Cotulla, my friend Dan Garcia, all of my former students, boys and girls:
I have come back to Cotulla this afternoon, not just because this school is part of my past, but because this school is a part of America's future.
Everything I want to work for, as your President, to achieve peace, to conquer poverty, to build a worthy civilization--all of these depend in a very large degree on what happens in this school and what happens in other schools throughout our land.
Thirty-eight years ago I came to Cotulla. I was still a student myself. I was working my way through the San Marcos Teachers College.
In those days, neither America nor her schools shared any abundance. We had only five teachers here in the Welhausen public school. We had no lunch facilities. We had no school buses. We had very little money for educating people of this community. We did not have money to buy our playground equipment, our volleyballs, our softball bat. I took my first month's salary and invested in those things for my children.
About the only thing we had an ample supply of was determination--determination to see it through.
I worked as a teacher for the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades.
I worked as principal of five teachers. I worked as a playground supervisor. I coached the boys' baseball team. I was a debate coach.
I was the song leader. You would not believe that, but I tried to be, anyway.
In my spare time sometimes I acted as assistant janitor.
In that year, I think I learned far more than I taught. And the greatest lesson was this one: Nothing--nothing at all--matters more than trained intelligence. It is the key not only to success in life, but it is the key to meaning in life.
And that is true for a nation, too.
Our greatest national resource probably is not even listed in your textbooks. Our greatest resource is the skill, the vision, and the wisdom of our people.
That is why we invest more in education than in any other enterprise in this country, except our national defense.
That is why last year your National Government pledged billions of new dollars to help improve your school and schools all over America.
In the last 3 years, we have inaugurated more than 40 new programs for health and education for our children in this country.
The Welhausen School looks very much the way it did when I was here. It has not changed a lot in 38 years. But things are happening here and in other schools throughout this land.
We have new reading programs. We have new child nutrition programs. We have new health programs. We have after-hours education centers--all made possible because of the interest your Government has in educating its children.
That story is being repeated in 20,000 school districts in the United States today.
All the energy, the efforts, and the investment that goes into education is meant for one person--you, the American student. Judged by the resources put to use in your behalf, you are the most important person in America.
But it would help little for your Nation to put education first if you don't put education first.
Often young Americans write to ask their President, "What can we do to help our country?"
Well, this is my answer: If you want to help your country, stay in school as long as you can. Work to the limit of your ability and your ambition to get all the education you can absorb--all the education you can take.
What you are doing now is the most important work that you can possibly do for your country.
Once upon a time a boy or girl could go pretty far in life with only a smattering of formal education.
But to be a dropout of school today, to quit school today before you go as far as you can, means to aim a loaded pistol at your life. It means playing the game of Russian roulette with your chances of success.
If your education falters or fails, everything else that we attempt as a Nation will fail. If you fail, America will fail. If our schools and our students succeed, we will succeed. If you succeed, America will succeed. It is just as simple and just as difficult as that.
I am so happy to be back where these memories are so strong.
Thirty-eight years have passed, but I still see the faces of the children who sat in my class. I still hear their eager voices speaking Spanish as I came in. I still see their excited eyes speaking friendship.
Right here I had my first lessons in poverty. I had my first lessons in the high price we pay for poverty and prejudice right here.
Thirty-eight years later our Nation is still paying that price.
Three out of every four Mexican-American children now in a Texas school will drop out before they get to the eighth grade.
One out of every three Mexican-Americans in Texas who are older than 14 have had less than 5 years of school.
How long can we pay that price?
In one school district alone, one out of every two children is of Mexican-American descent. But two out of every three graduating seniors this year will be Anglo.
How long can we pay that kind of a price? In five of our Southwestern States, 19 percent of the total population has less than 8 years of school. Almost one-fifth of the population in five States has less than 8 years in school.
What is the percent of the Mexican-Americans with less than 8 years of school? How many Mexican-Americans have less than 8 years of school? Fifty-three percent. Over half of all the Mexican-American children have less than 8 years of school.
How long can we pay that price?
I will give you that answer this afternoon. I will give that answer to America this afternoon. I will say: We can afford to pay that price no longer. No longer can we afford second-class education for children who know that they have a right to be first-class citizens.
No longer can we afford to say to one group of children: Your goal should be to climb as high as you can. And then say to another group: Your goal should be to get out as soon as you can.
For the conscience of America has slept long enough while the children of Mexican-Americans have been taught that the end of life is a beet row, a spinach field, or a cotton patch.
To their parents, throughout the land this afternoon, we say: Help us lift the eyes of our children to a greater vision of what they can do with their lives.
And to all Americans, we say this: Help us--please help us--lift the shame of indifference from the plight of our children.
I intend to have all of our experts explore practical programs that will encourage these children to stay in school and improve their chances of learning, to prepare themselves, and to equip themselves, to become lifelong taxpayers instead of tax eaters.
Delay is to disgrace an America that says education is the lodestar of life.
So the time for action is now.
We must, and we will, go forward. Delay is dead. The forward march is on.
Here in Cotulla, 38 years ago, under the leadership of Judge Welhausen, you provided this beautiful brick building, one of the most modern of its kind in its time. You provided the children with modern facilities--with free textbooks--with generally good teachers. You set the example and you gave the inspiration.
As I walked in today, I saw the faces of many who grew up in this area--many who grew up here who went on and went to college.
I rode in with one of my students whom I had paddled right here in this room--who now has two daughters in one of our senior schools.
To the people of Cotulla for the vision that you exercised many years ago in building this beautiful plant--almost 40 years ago--for the sacrifices that you made to provide good teachers, for the products that you have turned out as represented here on this platform today, we say: Thank you.
But we say to all the Nation that we have not yet done enough. The time for action is now.
And until every Mexican-American child has the right to go through grade school and high school and college, and get all the education that he can or will take, I shall not be satisfied. Until the day comes when we no longer hear the hum of the motor before daylight hauling the kids off in a truck to a beet patch or a cotton patch in the middle of the school year and give them only 2 or 3 months' schooling, I say we will not be satisfied with those conditions.
The citizenship of America today looks forward to the time in the near future when every boy and girl born in this country will have the right and the opportunity to get all the education that they can take.
And when they have that right, when they have that opportunity, from "Head Start" to a college Ph.D. degree, a great many of them will exercise it--they will profit from it--we will have a better and a stronger, and, what is very important, a more prosperous and happier America.
I have had such great pleasure in saying hello to you today, and I hope to visit with you just a little bit before I have to check in at the hospital.