Miss Peterson, Mr. Baker, Mr. DuBoff:
I am very glad to welcome you here to the Cabinet Room of the White House today.
We have the very distinct pleasure of presenting awards to three outstanding young people--people who each in their own way represent a triumph of the spirit. They are blind.
Sherrill Peterson has been blind since birth.
Larry Baker and Leonard DuBoff became blind as young men.
They have more in common than their handicap: They share a determination, a self-respect, and a faith in their own ability.
Each one is graduating in the top few percentage points of his or her class. If they had been lesser human beings, they could have taken a different path. They could have wallowed in self-pity, depending on charity and living very empty lives. They could have let their blindness become more than just a physical affliction.
But they knew, as we do, that the time has passed when the handicapped are shunted off in the backwaters of society, and the time has passed when our only attitudes toward the blind are pity and rejection.
So they chose to stand on their own, asking to be treated not with sympathy, but to be treated with respect.
They want the burdens of responsibility, as well as the rewards.
They know the value of many things that some of us take for granted.
None of us is completely safe from the terrible accidents which could take our sight. We are making progress in the fight against the many causes of blindness.
Yet, we still have in America 400,000 people who are legally blind, a million more whose eyes are so bad that they can't read a newspaper, and 3 1/2 million who have only partial vision.
What Sherrill, Larry, and Leonard have proven is that none of these people need be lost as wage earners or active family members, or contributors to our communities.
One of the great pleasures I had early in my days in the White House was to take a distinguished lawyer who was blind and put him on the Tax Court. And the fine things I have heard about his performance have really made me pleased that I took that action.
Now, it is true that none of us would envy your handicap, but all of us would do well to envy your character.
I remember once overhearing an argument between two men. One was blind. The other man was chewing the blind man up one side and down the other for a business decision he had made.
When the argument was over, someone went up to the sighted fellow and said, "You should not have done that. Didn't you know he was blind?"
The man was a little surprised. "What does that have to do with anything?" he said. "That man has a better mind than you and I put together, and he made a stupid mistake. He would never have forgiven me if I hadn't bawled him out."
So I say to all of you that I would never have forgiven myself if I had not come here to meet with you and to recognize you, to try to gain strength from you, and to learn from you.
Thank you very much.