Secretary Gardner, parents, friends, fellow intellectuals:
Welcome to the "generational gap." Since I know that I am talking to some of America's brightest young people, I have no fear of asking any one of you where you stand in your class.
I run no risk of getting the answer that I heard from a young man who said, "Mr. President, I graduated in the upper five-eighths of my class."
I am very proud of your accomplishments, but I hope you will remember what Albert Einstein once said: "Education is what remains when one forgets everything one has learned in school."
These days, if one chooses to believe all that is written about our young people in America, the prospect of having 121 teenagers as guests in this house can scare some people. They read about the alienated young radicals, and the roofless and disillusioned young people with long hair and short skirts.
Well, that doesn't scare me. I have just lived through several years with teenage girls in this house and it hasn't affected me one bit.
I have kept my "cool." I haven't "bugged out." I am still in "fat city."
I would like to apologize to you for keeping Mr. Thurgood Marshall from your meeting this morning. I don't know if you have had an opportunity to see the afternoon papers, but when Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall was supposed to be with you--he was with me.
Actually, in my office, I was informing him that I wanted him to accept an appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States. He has accepted that appointment, and-the Senate willing--he will become an Associate Justice to succeed Justice Clark.
Mr. Marshall is here with us tonight. Will you stand, please, Mr. Marshall?
One of the President's most important duties is attracting able and talented public servants to Washington.
So I am greatly pleased to have lured 121 potential public servants here this afternoon--even if your stay, you think, is brief. I congratulate you. I salute your teachers.
I pay tribute to your parents, who deserve a great share of your honor.
In the United States we have always prided ourselves for our leadership in free education. In every new community, the schoolhouse went up with the church as the first symbol of public obligation.
Yet, for all we have done, much more remains undone.
We have not learned to unlock the full promise of every American citizen. The tragedy of unused talent still plagues us, still affects millions of young people, still troubles our whole society.
For every Albert Einstein--how many immigrants worked out their lives in cotton mills, trapped by poverty?
For every Thurgood Marshall--how many talented Negro Americans never escaped the prison of the sharecropper?
For every Harry Truman--how many promising young men vanished at 16 into the stores, the factories, and the mines?
Our obligation is to build an educational system which will discover and develop these lost Americans.
I am proud to say that our Federal educational effort is three times as much this year as it was 3 years ago. That is progress. We are spending this year over $12 billion for education in this country. Three years ago we were spending $4 billion.
So someone, somewhere thinks education is important and is doing something about it.
We have no great guarantee that knowledge brings goodness or wisdom. Knowledge must be bound to a spirit of service. "Though I... understand all mysteries, and all knowledge . . . and have not charity, I am nothing."
So, I would commend to you, beyond a life of scholarship, a life of service--more specifically, a life of public service.
I have said this so many times that it is trite, and particularly members of my Cabinet don't like to hear it. When I was a young man my ambition was to be a preacher, a teacher, or a politician--all three--because they would give me an opportunity to serve others and because I could have some sense of achievement, of doing things for human beings that you never get out of a paycheck.
So I want to commend to each of you some very serious thought--to ask yourselves, "What can you do for your country and, more important, what can you do for your fellow human beings in the world in the allotted time that you have here?"
It is popular today to talk of "scholars in politics." More and more leaders of thought are becoming leaders of action in this country.
That is a movement that I encourage--a movement that I hope all of you will join, because it does us no good to dream dreams if they never come true.
Never before have we needed, in government, the best minds so urgently as we need them today.
Never, I think, have the rewards been so great.
As the stern figure of Uncle Sam said on the old recruiting poster--you remember that fellow with the tall hat, red, white, and blue--which said, "I WANT YOU." Well, I want you:
--to serve on the school board;
--to serve in the city hall;
--to serve in the statehouse, and--yes--in the White House.
You need not wait for several years to develop that interest and that involvement.
You can help now: I want you to help encourage the brightest candidates for public office; to help run political campaigns; to help generate interest in public issues--the subjects of our time, the questions that will determine whether we live or whether we die, whether we have peace or whether we have war.
I do not believe that young citizens have a monopoly on brains. Nor do I believe that they have a monopoly on virtue.
But I do know that they have the greatest share of energy, enthusiasm, and courage in our land.
If you are looking for energy, enthusiasm, courage, and fearlessness, you can find it with our young people.
I have seen it in Vietnam. Much to my sorrow, I see it there every day.
I have seen it among the White House Fellows. I have seen it in the Washington summer interns--several thousand we have brought here.
I have seen it in the Peace Corps, VISTA, and the Teacher Corps.
And, because I see it in your achievements-and because I see it in your faces here in the East Room of the White House this afternoon--I welcome you here. I plead with you to get involved. I hope that on your next visit to Washington, you plan to stay for a long, long time--even undergo a change in administration, if &at should come about.
Thank you very much.