WILLIAM L. PRESSLY. I welcome you to this lovely occasion here in the Rose Garden of the White House. It is the President's own program for the recognition of excellence. It was created by an Executive order by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. It honors a group of the Nation's most intellectually distinguished and accomplished high school seniors. The purpose that President Johnson stated is still valid, to recognize the most precious resource of the United States, the brainpower of our youth.
To encourage the pursuit of intellectual attainment among all of our youth, we select 121 scholars each year: two from each of the States, a boy and a girl, two from the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and two from parents who are American citizens living abroad, and then we have 15 at large. So, we have a total of 121.
Today it is 15 years old, and we are honoring President Johnson for having established the program and are delighted to have members of his family here today. You need to know that there are now nearly 1,700 Presidential Scholars, and we have invited many of them back. A study is being made today of the accomplishments of those who were the first Presidential Scholars, the first 5 years, and this soon will be in book form.
President Carter and I were both born in small towns in Georgia. Obviously, I arrived a generation ahead of him. But during those years in a small town in Georgia, there wasn't much change. I think the similarity in our backgrounds has given me an insight into the real Jimmy Carter.
I see him first as a man of conviction. He has clearly stated the framework of his faith within which he constructs his life. Knowing his conviction, we can be sure he is a man of integrity and tremendous strength of character.
He is the kind of man who is going to do what he conceives to be right, no matter what the personal sacrifice. I've seen in the press, references to his stubbornness, but I call it determination stemming from conviction.
Out of his framework of conviction comes a warm compassion. He has an unshakable belief in the worth of the individual man. This is not an objective concept with him; it originates in a deep and sincere love for his fellow man.
You have heard him defend human rights, human rights in every nation. You will hear him do so again. The idea is a part of his innermost being.
It is his love for people that has made it possible for him to keep the common touch, though he holds the Nation's highest office. His conviction and his compassion lead to commitment. All his life he has been committed to excellence. We see it in the brilliance of his intellectual achievement. We see it in his enthusiasm for his Presidential Scholars program. We see it in his true devotion to great music and art. We see it in the prodigious effort and inspiration he has given and is giving to improve education and government on the State level, and now on the national level. He is a man committed to the enhancement of the quality of every human being.
Young women and young men, ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.
THE PRESIDENT. I think I'll hire Dr. Pressly full-time to introduce me to different groups. You can see the advantage in having a fellow Georgian precede you on the program.
This is a delightful occasion for me, as President, and a very great gratifying one. I've looked over the list of those who have achieved awards as Presidential Scholars from all 50 States, the Trust Territories, chosen on the basis of competitive merit and nothing else. This 117-person group has been chosen, in effect, in competition with 2 million other young American students. And you've been honored because of your own achievements academically and your own capabilities. For the first time this year, we've recognized excellence in music and the arts in addition to academic excellence itself, which I think is good.
I've noticed that you don't come from families with any particular economic status. Many of you, more than half, come from working families where your parents, one or both, work in an employee status. You've overcome, sometimes, handicaps because of the status of your family, socially and otherwise. And on many occasions, it's been a matter of great courage on your part. One of your group, I notice, has parents who are missionaries in Zambia. One of you, I noticed, 5 years ago was living in Korea and couldn't speak any English at all.
I think there's one unique characteristic of this group that's interesting, and that is that 90 percent of you live in stable homes, where your mother and father have stayed together and have strengthened the ties of the marriage vows, and your homes are not divided.
I just feel very deeply that you've honored me by coming, and you've honored our Nation by showing your superb achievements already at the young and early stage of your life. But you're also lucky, and you shouldn't take this recognition of achievement as an end in itself. You're fortunate because you had an access to books and to a good education program. You're fortunate that you had a President 15 years ago who believed very deeply in education himself. He didn't go naturally from high school directly into college. He had to work. He got his education, to a major degree, because of his own ability to earn an academic scholarship. He came to the White House by a torturous and difficult route. But when he got here as a former teacher himself, he knew the advantage of a good educational system.
I came to Washington for the first time as an official in 1965. I was in the State senate. And the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was being considered. John Gardner was the Secretary of HEW. President Johnson was the leader of our Nation. And he established this program as an additional executive decision to honor young people who had achieved a notable degree of merit in academic work.
It's a great pleasure for me to welcome you here to the White House, the center of our Government, and to let you know that I not only congratulate you on your achievement so far, but I expect great things from you in the future. You've been blessed with superior intelligence and opportunity not only because the Nation in which you happen to live provides freedom to express yourselves as individuals, but you've also been honored by your fellow Americans. And I hope you will accept this honor today as an additional instigation to achieve even more in the future and to recognize those who are not so fortunate as you, who haven't been blessed with a good educational opportunity or a sound, stable family life or a freedom to explore new dimensions of one's mind and one's heart.
Today I would like to make a special award to the family of the President who's responsible for this occasion, President Lyndon Johnson. He was a man with extreme patriotism to our country. He was a man who recognized with an open heart the defects that existed in it. He believed in equality of opportunity, in human rights in its finest form, and in the fact that our future rests on the shoulders of young people like you.
We invited Lady Bird Johnson to be here with us today. She couldn't come. My wife will be with her tomorrow in Texas. But we have been honored by having Lieutenant Governor Chuck Robb [of Virginia] and his wife, Lynda, who will come forward now and receive a plaque in recognition of the tremendous contribution in this program and in many other hundreds of ways that President Lyndon Johnson made to our country as a public servant in many ways. And I thank them for being here. I think you notice that they are providing an opportunity for a future Presidential honors award, and I'm thankful for it.
This is a plaque which you can see, I think, clearly, a picture of the White House where President Johnson lived. "Presented by President Jimmy Carter in honor of the contributions to education by President Lyndon Baines Johnson on the 15th anniversary of the Presidential Scholars Program. The White House, May 25, 1978
LYNDA JOHNSON ROBB. I know my father would be very proud of all of you. The thing he was the most proud of was the young people of this country and the education, the opportunities that they had and what he expected from all of us. I know he'd be very happy to be honored today in the ceremony such as this. I don't expect to come back here 15 years later, again, 15 years from now as a parent of one of these Presidential Scholars, but I feel like a child of the program in many other ways, having been here when it was born 15 years ago.
Thank you so much.