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Letter to Delegates of the 1971 White House Conference on Youth Transmitting a Report of Executive Branch Review of Conference Recommendations

April 13, 1972

To the delegates of the 1971 White House Conference on Youth:

Just over two years ago, we became convinced that the conditions of the seventies demanded a departure from the "children and youth" conference format followed by Presidents since Theodore Roosevelt-that the time had come to convene a separate White House Conference of, by, and for youth themselves. Since that time, I have followed your work with interest and hope.

National Chairman Stephen Hess and his young staff skillfully planned a meeting which could, as I charged them, "listen well to the voices of young America." The project represented an honest effort to improve the Nation's understanding of the concerns and ideals of our youth; thus its design and objectives were necessarily unusual and, to some, controversial. But the deliberations and results of the Conference underscored the fact that bonds can be found between the generations and that young people can contribute constructively to solving today's complex problems.

You will recall that Secretary Richardson, speaking at the opening session of the Conference, pledged this Administration to "look carefully at every one of the recommendations" you might direct to us, and to "render to you an accounting not only of what we have done, but of what we have not done, and why." Within a week from adjournment of the Conference, I reviewed its results with the full Cabinet; and I directed each member to set his department at work preparing the promised accounting. This volume is the result.

The many thousands of words in these 25 sections of response to over 300 recommendations defy simple summation. Some comments about the spirit of our review process are in order, however. The process was long because I insisted that it be thorough, honest, and open-minded. Aware that Federal activities are often contradictory in their effects on the young, and anxious to further the development of a comprehensive national youth policy, we have endeavored to acquire useful guidance from the work of your Conference.

The process was also critical, in the sense that it steered a middle line between the standpat and the start-over attitudes toward change. Your readings of the facts, your judgments on what to do about them, have been weighed against our own as fairly as possible.

In retrospect, the Chairman's metaphor for the Conference report--"blueprint for change for this decade"--seems apt. At Estes Park certain foundational premises were assumed, and on them a rather remarkable structure was sketched. The Administration finds many aspects of this blueprint already being followed in our own programs and policies, other aspects unacceptable for reasons of principle or practicality, still others well worth following in the future. This report indicates where we agree and differ with the Conference at the present. But it alone does not and could not offer a final answer to your concerns and recommendations. For as our Nation builds, revision of its master blueprint must go on continuously, responding to the ideas of many architects sifted through what might be thought of as a broad design competition.

Your report, then, was very right in choosing to address not only the government and other institutions, but also the people as a whole, and in specifying that it is really the people who must judge your recommendations. The responses of the Federal executive, like those later to come from other institutions, can and will be reviewed and revised in the time ahead as the people themselves assimilate the ideas you have put forward and act on them through the political process.

My own positions on most of the issues addressed at Estes Park are a matter of record and need little reiteration here. Some of your recommendations, such as the abrupt unilateral withdrawal from Vietnam, I oppose. Other recommendations, including an opening to China, a volunteer armed force, an income floor for the poor, and a recasting of the Federal budget in favor of human resources, I welcome as close kin to our initiatives of the past three years.

To me, however, the significance of the Conference report emerges much less through enumeration of the parts than through evaluation of the whole. It is threaded through with basic human values, noble ideals, and the deeply American reach for a better future. Even the preamble--emotional, hyperbolic, and combative as it may sound to older ears-has at its core a broadly appealing call for new dedication to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. On such common grounds and despite all our differences, we can surely reciprocate what the delegates affirmed: a sense of "kinship with persons of good will of all generations."

We can also extend the Nation's thanks to you who gave your best to this important pioneering effort. The first White House Conference on Youth has been good for the young, good for the Government, good for the country. Now quite logically the question presses, what next? While the convening of more frequent youth conferences, as your report recommends, might further useful dialogue, this would not seem to go to the heart of young people's right--and need--to participate. Conferences, after all, cannot legislate. In fact, the study-and-recommend approach can easily become what your preamble calls "a mechanism to divert the attention and energy of the people."

"This conference," you have said, "shall not be so used." I concur absolutely. We must treat last April's meetings not as a closed episode, but as an effective first step. The Administration's next step must and will be action, respecting the Conference's sincerity even where we cannot follow its prescriptions. Your next step should be to focus attention on a "mechanism" which is neither intermittent nor potentially diversionary, as the best of conferences are, but which is instead continuous, powerful, and newly accessible to the young--the American political process.

This young generation--which is already (as I said in my Inaugural Address) "better educated, more committed, more passionately driven by conscience" than any before it--now has the chance to be more effectively involved than all earlier ones as well. My hope is that you and your contemporaries by the millions---of all political preferences, all ideological persuasions, and all opinions pro and con the positions taken at Estes Park not only will go conscientiously to the polls this year and years to come, but will remain informed and engaged at a level of citizenship equal to the demands of America's coming third century. With your energy and idealism directed to this goal, you will do your country and your own best interests a signal service.



NOTE,: The letter, dated March 15, 1972, is printed in the report entitled "Federal Executive Branch Review of the Recommendations of the 1971 White House Conference on Youth" (Government Printing Office, 414 pp.). The report was made available to the press on April 13.

Stephen Hess, who was Chairman of the Conference, and three representatives of the Youth Conference Follow-Up Executive Committee met with the President at the White House on Thursday, April 13, to receive the report.

On the same day, the White House released a fact sheet on the Conference follow-up program.

Richard Nixon, Letter to Delegates of the 1971 White House Conference on Youth Transmitting a Report of Executive Branch Review of Conference Recommendations Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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