Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Commencement Address at the University of Texas.

May 30, 1964

Dr. Ransom, Mr. Heath, Board of Regents, Governor Connally, Senator Yarborough, members of this graduating class, my fellow Americans :

Several days ago I received a clipping from the Daily Texan, which read as follows:

"The student body at the University and the people of Texas, as a rule, may not agree with the President in politics, but they are much too broad-minded not to honor the office which he holds.

"Besides," your editor added generously, "he has some good qualities anyhow."

Happily, the date on that clipping was 1905, and the visiting President then was President Theodore Roosevelt. But knowing the candor and the freedom of this university, I would not have been the least surprised if the date had been 1964.

Your presence and my Presidency, your opportunities and this occasion, are a tribute to the courage and the capacity of the men who built this State.

In the emptiness of this land they carved an empire for their people. They endured terrible dangers to achieve independence for their own sake, and then yielded that independence for the sake of their children. Thus, they gave up the hope of present gain for the hazard of future grandeur.

And that vision has been richly rewarded in a booming State, in a bountiful land.

Your challenge, the challenge for all young people in America, is to be worthy of this heritage.

Today the future is rushing in upon us. In the lifetime of many of you here, in the next 50 years, America will be a Nation of 400 million people. The world will be the home of 6 billion men and women. This growth will crowd our cities and strain our resources.

A century ago the prospect of such increasing population would have meant the promise of impending disaster. But today we can also look forward to a world where human invention and human knowledge will multiply even faster than human population.

It will be a world where a man will search out the secrets of the stars and will farm the beds of the seas--although you may choose to leave that to Texas A. and M. It will be a world whose science has advanced as far from us as we from the knowledge of the frontiersman.

The only way that we can hope to deal with the population explosion is with the knowledge explosion.

For we are at a turning point in the history of our Nation. One road leads to the Great Society, where man's spirit finds fulfillment in the works of his mind. The other road leads to a legacy of despair and degradation, where a man's hopes are overwhelmed by change that he cannot control.

This is the time for decision. You are the generation which must decide.

Will you decide to leave the future a society where a man is condemned to hopelessness because he was born poor? Or will you join to wipe out poverty in this land?

Will you decide to leave the future a society where a man is kept from sharing in our national life because of the color of his skin, or the church he attends, or the place of his birth? Or will you join to give every American the equal rights which are his birthright?

Will you leave the future an America slowly declining from a position of world leadership? Or will you join to keep America strong enough to defend against any enemy, wise enough to seek peace among all nations ?

Will you leave the future a society where lawns are clipped and the countryside cluttered, where store buildings are new and school buildings are old; a society of private satisfaction for some in the midst of public squalor for all? Or will you join to build the Great Society?

The choice is yours, the power to shape the future is in your hands, the path is clear. It is the path of understanding and the path of unity.

The first of these is understanding, the knowledge that brings hope.

The inscription over the Main Building at the University of Texas reads, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." Only by opening the truths of knowledge to all our people can we free them for a future of greatness. Yet, today, only 13 percent of our young people are completing college. Each year 100,000 young people, of proved ability, fail to go to college simply because they do not have the money. And each year our high schools are producing more and more graduates equipped for college work.

Last night I visited my old high school in Johnson City. In my graduating class in 1924, 40 years ago, there were six boys and girls. Last night that same school graduated 30, although Johnson City's population has not changed in 40 years.

In the next 10 years alone, college enrollment across the country will almost double, and we will still not be able to provide for all who want to learn. In 1946 the Employment Act set a goal of a job for every American. Tonight I now call for a goal of higher education for every young American with the desire and the capacity to learn.

No one should be kept from knowledge because there is no room, or no teacher, or no library, or because he has no money. The Higher Education facilities Act of 1963, which I recently signed into law, is a step in this direction. So is the poverty bill reported by a House committee this week and now before the Congress.

Recently I announced my intention to establish a group to evaluate the needs of education in America. I will set this goal before them so we can develop policies to meet it, policies which will call for the cooperative action of State and Nation, private citizens and public institutions. And I will continue to pursue this goal until all our people have the satisfactions which flow from knowledge, and America has the strength which flows from a people who have achieved understanding.

But for understanding to prosper we need unity of purpose.

Our land often sounds too many discordant notes. They are the voices of those who seek to divide our purpose and who seek to separate our people. But the din of these voices must not fool us into believing that we live in a divided Nation.

I have traveled to every part of this country, and one thing is clear to me: The farmer in Iowa, the fisherman in Massachusetts, the worker in Seattle, or the rancher in Texas have the same hopes and harbor the same fears. They want education for their children and an improving life for their families. They want to protect liberty and they want to pursue peace. They expect justice for themselves and they are willing to grant it to others.

This is the real voice of America. And it is one of the great tasks of political leadership to make our people aware of this voice, aware that they share a fundamental unity of interest and purpose and belief.

I am going to try and do this. And on the basis of this unity I intend to try and achieve a broad national consensus which can end obstruction and paralysis, and can liberate the energies of the Nation for the work of the future.

I want a happy Nation, not a harassed people. I want people who love instead of people who hate. I want a people who are fearless instead of fearful; men with pride in their ancestry and hope for their posterity, but humble before their God and concerned always with the wants as well as the needs of their fellow human beings. For in a democracy, high purpose, no matter how nobly conceived, must surely fail without the understanding and the unity of the people.

A few nights ago in Washington, many thousands of people, among them leaders from all parts of this great land, rose from their seats with me as the band played "The Eyes of Texas are Upon You."

Such a moment was full of pride for any Texan, but tonight it is not just the eyes of Texas which watch you--the eyes of the Nation, the eyes of millions in faraway lands, the eyes of all who love liberty are upon you. You cannot get away.

Do not think you can escape them until you have brought us to the early morn of a Nation without rancor and a world without fear.

Note: The President spoke after receiving an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Texas. His opening words referred to Dr. Harry H. Ransom, chancellor of the University, W. W. Heath, chairman of the board of regents, and Governor John Connally and Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas.

Mrs. Johnson was also awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters by the University.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Commencement Address at the University of Texas. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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