Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Address at the Summer Commencement Exercises of Southwest Texas State College.

August 24, 1968

Dr. McCrocklin, Dr. Derrick, members of the faculty, students, ladies and gentlemen:

There are certain advantages which age and retirement can give a man, and one of them seems to be the right to reminisce. In the next few months you will be hearing a lot about the boyhoods and backgrounds of various political candidates. Well, I am not a candidate for anything, except maybe a rocking chair. But maybe I could win the Horatio Alger championship. I literally swept through this campus with a broom. Once a week I would paint this town red for 25 cents an hour. I mowed lawns, too. In fact, I was considerably involved in a beautification movement long before I ever met Mrs. Johnson.

There were other reasons why I wanted to return today to my alma mater. I am very pleased that conditions permitted us to come home last night so I could be here with you this morning.

For one special reason, I wanted my journalist escorts and protectors, the White House press, to come here in person to see the place where I once held an editor's chair and where I once played God, too.

Those were the good old days. I was the Walter Lippmann, the Evans-Novak, and the Drew Pearson of this campus.

When I was a newspaperman I never had any trouble getting along with the president. I believed every word he said. Perhaps I should have taken a leaf from his book by inviting Washington newspapermen to sleep in my garage, as he did.

Next Tuesday I will be celebrating my 60th birthday and as you may have read, Mrs. Johnson is already packing up to come back home.

When I was looking around for a way to keep busy in retirement, I remembered that here in central Texas I was once certified not only as a tutor in government-especially recommended for freshmen--and a schoolteacher of a Mexican elementary school at Cotulla, but at intervals, particularly in the summer periods when I was taking summer work, I was a yardman here in San Marcos and a janitor in the main building auditorium.

Well, I considered all of these opportunities before I finally concluded, after looking over invitations from about 40 campuses to visit with them, that it might not be too late really to return to teaching.

I remembered what President Woodrow Wilson said after he was in the Presidency when he thought of going back to Princeton. He once observed that "The pay is less as a professor than as President, but so is the amount of advice."

I have come here to be with you today, not to just talk in the past, but I want to talk about the present briefly and then look into the future for a few moments.

When I was graduated in 1930 here, there were only 1,500 students. The land around here was raw and poor as it still is. It was short on water and on money. Only 5 percent of all the homes in this area even had electricity.

For the United States and the world, 1930 was a year of troubles. For a young graduate, it was certainly a time of uncertainty. The only sure facts that we had then were unpleasant ones, a deep depression, all the difficulties which times of scarcity bring with them.

1968, August, as we meet here, is quite a different year. This region once so poor is far more prosperous. Your college has today 8,000 students, not 1,500. Not 5, but 95 percent of all our homes are electrified. To those of us who remember 1930, the contrast seems almost miraculous.

And what is true of this region, I think is true generally of the Nation. We have come a long, long way. The problems which America faces today arise mostly from America's abundance--and not her scarcity.

But the world that we live in is still a very dangerous and quarrelsome and restless place.

At home, there is turmoil. Political accusations and prophecies of doom fill the air again. And, again, the citizens hear a great deal of loose talk from men who believe--as many did in the depression--that American democracy is at a dead end.

Whom shall we believe?

To many citizens, it is clear that America in 1968 is more prosperous and more capable than ever of solving her problems. But others argue that our resources are too scarce--that we cannot afford more programs to create jobs and to build houses, to educate the young and to heal the sick. Whom shall we believe?

Some people see the swelling numbers of our young Americans in college as a hopeful sign for the American future. Others see the same trend and then they cry that the universities and colleges have just become factories, turning out sausages and not students.

Whom shall we believe?

Many of our citizens look at the past few years and conclude that America is making great progress toward full racial equality and justice among our citizens. But others, studying the same record, are discouraged and they say that America is a racist nation. Whom shall we believe? What is the truth?

Is your Nation in 1968 a success---or is it a failure? Struggling, and succeeding, to become more just and more compassionate, or is it becoming more racist? Are we a sick society--or a healthy and hopeful one?

Well, those are very important questions-particularly for new college graduates of 1968. Your task in the excitement of this election year is to seek and to find the truth and enlightenment.

We must work to ensure that not only rhetoric, but reason is going to prevail.

And we must hope that this campaign, with all of its noisy debate about unfinished business, will somehow lift the national spirit; will make our people eager to get on with the business of the next 4 years-and will not embitter them in a frenzy of charges and countercharges.

For the rhetoric of the coming months-quite properly--will deal almost entirely with the problems that America faces; with the pressing work that is yet to be done; with sins of omission and sins of commission; with shortcomings, real or imagined, in our foreign and in our domestic policies, in our political system, or in the parties or the personalities of the candidates.

That is well and good. That is the privilege and the duty of every candidate for every office--to look to the future, and not to the past--to speak for tomorrow, and not yesterday-to bring his own answers and his own ideas and his own principles and his own beliefs to his own people.

That is the way America wants it. That is the way the politics of democracy works. And that is the way it is going to be this year.

So I think it is important, in the name of balance, in the name of reason, and in the name of good commonsense, that we Americans pause to reflect before the campaign really begins.

Let us see things as they are, both the somber facts in America, and the signs of hope in America.

Let us reflect, as we begin the attacks and the arguments, upon one simple fact: America works, and the American political system works.

In the past 5 years, this Nation has gone through some very turbulent times. But in those years, those 5 years, we have lifted 10 million people out of poverty.

In that brief time, America has launched a program of Medicare for 20 million older citizens.

In that time, the American Nation has cleared away most of the legal barriers to equal treatment in jobs, in public accommodations, and in voting.

We have established a Head Start program for more than a million poor children.

We have launched a major effort to rebuild our cities, preserve our heritage, and reclaim the air and water.

Seeing all that has begun in so short a time, I cannot doubt the vitality and the vision and the can-do spirit of the American people or the American system. And I believe in them.

Our system is not an easy one. In it, not every candidate or every viewpoint can win. And losing always hurts. But, in the long run, the surest way to lose is to drop out of the system or to seek its destruction. The American system is a complicated one. It is a long and delicate process: direct and indirect primaries, delegates, conventions, and elections. But one certainty cuts through all of these complexities. In the end, the American system is responsive to the people's will. The American system--never forget-reflects the wisdom of the majority of the American people.

For 5 years, I have seen the problems of America from the close vantage point of the President's office. Having seen all our complex and persistent and agonizing problems, I have not yet seen one which can defy the will or the imagination or the genius of the American people.

Yesterday in the White House I spoke to Secretary Wilbur Cohen who heads the Department that Dr. McCrocklin serves in, Health, Education, and Welfare. We were talking about the education problems of the 1970's and I asked him to come here next week to bring me some reports on them. But he told me about the enormous challenges of tomorrow that have been created by educational successes of today.

Today a full quarter--a full quarter---of America's college students receive Federal scholarship help. When I went to this school not a single one did. To me, when a quarter of all the students in America receive Federal scholarship help, that is some achievement.

But within the next 7 years we expect not 25 percent, but we expect that a full third of all college students will need and deserve help. That in itself is going to be a mighty challenge.

In the next 7 years we expect the college population to go up 50 percent. Just think about what all of that means: This year 6 million students are in college and 1 1/2 million, 25 percent of them, get Federal help. By 1975, 9 million will be in school and 3 million will need help--more than twice as many.

So the question is this: Is America going to be able to meet this challenge? Well, I say to you we can. And I say to you we will. The boys and girls and families of America just cannot stand and wait. We cannot back off from this challenge or any other problem that progress brings. America cannot be penalized for its success now, or suffer a failure of faith and confidence now that would rob us of the larger successes that lie just ahead.

I look at you young people and I know from what I see in your faces that we will not fail. You have the faith for the future. You have the faith for yourselves, in your society, in the American system that has given you so much and that now seeks a greater unity and a greater purpose in your strength.

I have told our fellow citizens that, in the months to come, I will not devote my time to personal partisan causes. But as a citizen and as the President of this country, there are some things about which I feel quite deeply--and about which you will hear me speak in the remaining days that I hold this office.

The voice that you hear will be the voice of an optimist.

And I know, my young friends, that it is not always fashionable these days to be an optimist. When so many among us are viewing with alarm, it may seem naive or eccentric even, to point with pride.

But I make no apologies when I say to you that I have unshakable faith in this country and its future and its institutions and its young.

And no sensible person could return to this region--the region where I was born--or to this campus from which I graduated--and see the progress of the last four decades without being a supreme optimist.

No one could meet you at this moment of commencement without having a great feeling of hope and pride.

No one could live in the exciting and the disturbing time in America without a great sense of America's possibilities and responsibilities.

It was more than a century ago when Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "This time, like all times, is a very good one--if we but know what to do with it." And that is quite true as we meet here this morning.

So let us get on with the job of making our time not only a very good one, but a very great one for all of mankind.

Thank you for this great privilege. I will be seeing you in the days to come.

Note: The President spoke at 9:27 a.m. in the football stadium at Southwest Texas State College in San Marcos, Texas. In his opening words he referred to Dr. James H. McCrocklin, Under Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and former president of Southwest Texas State College, and Dr. Leland E. Derrick, acting president of the college, from whom he received an honorary degree. Also conferred on the President was the World Leadership Award of the Alumni Association of the college, presented by Debs B. Hensley, president of the association.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Address at the Summer Commencement Exercises of Southwest Texas State College. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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