Jimmy Carter photo

Department of Education Remarks at a Ceremony Marking the Inauguration of the Department.

May 07, 1980

To have a successful event like this, it's very important that each person do the job assigned and that no one defaults on that commitment. Secretary Shirley Hufstedler said to me, "Mr. President, I will arrange a beautiful program. I'd like for you to be responsible for the weather, please." [Laughter] "And I particularly want you to get the program started on time." [Laughter] 2

Because of rain, the program could not be held on the South Lawn of the White House as planned.

It's an exciting day for me and for all those who believe in better education for our country and realize what knowledge and education can mean to us.

It's surprising—as I look back 3 1/2 years ago, I was writing an inaugural speech, and I read all the inaugural speeches that had been made by the 38 other Presidents who've served before me. The change that's attached to different aspects of American life in that time is remarkable.

It would be unlikely now, if we were writing the original documents on which our Nation was founded, for us to emphasize so much one word: life and liberty, yes; but the pursuit of happiness—I'm not sure that we would attach that in our basic documents as one of the three most important commitments of the American people; maybe life, liberty, and a national energy policy, or— [laughter] —life and liberty and a comprehensive approach to better transportation in our urban centers— [laughter] —but life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I think it's a delightful thing for us to remember that this is what our Founding Fathers expected for us in this great country. George Washington, in the first State of the Union message ever given, said this about education: "Knowledge is, in every country, the surest basis for public happiness." And Thomas Jefferson spoke with equal force on the subject of education when he said, "No more sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness." Both Washington, our first President, and Thomas Jefferson, who perhaps was the most intellectually gifted of all, recognized that education can mean happiness, not just to an individual but also to a nation.

This evening we have a happy experience as we celebrate a milestone: the formation of the Department of Education. For the first time, education will be assigned the same stature, with a voice in the councils of our Government, as every other aspect of American life. This is the elevation, by the Congress and by the President, of education to the status that it has always enjoyed among American people.

Education is not only the soundest foundation for economic and technological advancement but of democracy and the quality of life itself. No democratic society could possibly survive which did not permit its people to share broad commitments, a penetrating analysis of the past, knowledge of others around the Earth, common principles and goals and ideals and ethics, an analysis of problems that we face, and an intelligent analysis of a solution of those problems.

There is no doubt that in this audience every single person could think back on one's educational experience from kindergarten, perhaps through college, and single out one—maybe more—teacher or person who has meant most in our own life in education. In some cases, the particular person just came along at the right time—perhaps when we were discouraged and didn't know what our life's meaning was or when we were faced with a crisis, were uncertain about the future, didn't get along with our peers, had lost a vision of what a human being could be—and provided an extra incentive, maybe based on love, maybe based on outstanding scholarship, maybe based on an admirable career, that inspired us at the right time to utilize the talent that might otherwise have gone wasted. Most often, the person would have been a professional teacher, but as you'll see this evening, sometimes it could be someone else, not a teacher.

Tonight we will celebrate achievement, not in my life or those in the audience, but among eminent people in this country, who will come to this stage, all of whom have excelled in their own special way, all of whom will have left their mark on our time. And tonight our purpose will be not to celebrate their achievement or their victory in life, but to acknowledge a special person who's helped them with this great achievement in their lives.

Each distinguished American who will come to this stage will have been asked the same question: "Will you come to Washington and pay tribute to that one teacher or person who has most influenced your own life? Then each of these performers will introduce that person to us and tell us something about that strange interrelationship between two human beings that can transform a life for the better. Some of the teachers are here themselves to receive from their illustrious students and from the Nation, through this program, the recognition that they deserve and the gratitude which they deserve.

But our goal is not just to honor these few chosen tonight but to honor all those like them throughout our country who are deserving of special recognition, at least by one person and quite often by dozens or even thousands more, who are quietly preparing our Nation for an even greater future. Teachers have a special place in life, particularly in a democratic life, where each human being is important, where the development of individual talents is the root of our strength and our future achievement as a nation.

And as President, I want to add my voice, in advance, to congratulate those who have been chosen tonight by outstanding Americans, who will bring us a delightful program.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 8:57 p.m. at Constitution Hall. Following the program, the President and Mrs. Carter hosted a reception on the State Floor at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Department of Education Remarks at a Ceremony Marking the Inauguration of the Department. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250129

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