This is a happy day for us. I notice the expressions on everyone's face are pleasant.
I think it's important for us, at least once a year, to recognize the significance with which Americans look upon Columbus Day. There are only two official holidays of our Nation that recognize people. men. One is Washington's Birthday, the founder of our country, and the other one is Columbus, who discovered our continent.
This is a significant occasion because it represents two basic purposes of our country. One is the spirit of discovery. Recently, we've been proud of the fact that Americans were first to the Moon, and we've admired the courage of those men who went into space. But I think an equal degree of courage was aboard the Nina and the Pinta and the Santa Maria, who embarked on an unknown path with very little support, no contact with a home base, and with very little acknowledgment at the time of their tremendous accomplishment.
And of course, the reason that they came to our country was for opportunity. Not only material wealth and a better life for people resulted from this trip but also it was the first step in a new degree of human freedom.
We have only 15 more years to go before we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery. And I hope I'm around to join with you in the celebration, which I would guess would be one of the most sustained and enjoyable occurrences that ever took place in our country. I think it's not too early for us to start planning that occasion. [Laughter]
Five hundred years is a long time, but I think when you go back into the history of Italians, more than 2,000 years, and if you would inventory all the great achievements of humankind, those of the ancestors of Italian Americans would stand out very clearly in science, art, music, medicine, and the concepts of government and politics. And it's a heritage of which I know all of you are very deeply proud.
That heritage' has not been wasted. There are great moments of pride with highly publicized, international achievements--the ones I've just mentioned-but there's another characteristic that to me is important, and that is the emphasis on family values, the tightness of the home, and the fact that the development of human beings begins with a close-knit environment of love. This has made you and other Italian Americans instrumental in the strength of neighborhoods and the preservation of values which are unchanging.
Father Geno Baroni is now a special person in my own administration, an Assistant Secretary in the Housing and Urban Development Department, but especially responsible for neighborhoods and the development of a better quality of life, again, in our urban centers.
And, of course, we all know the tremendous contributions made by many of these men and women assembled around me. I find it hard not to mention specifically Judge John Sirica and Congressman Peter Rodino who, in a moment of greatest challenge to our very system of government, extracted from their background and heritage and their love for this country, wisdom and courage that preserved our system of life.
And for all these reasons, I'm proud to be a part of this ceremony as President of our country, and I'd like to read and to sign a brief proclamation that was first signed by a President in 1934.
[At this point, the President read the text of the proclamation.]
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this day, and I urge all of you to be careful not to forget the celebration of this notable occasion.