Bill Clinton photo

Question-and-Answer Session With Students at William Jefferson Clinton Elementary Magnet School in Sherwood, Arkansas

January 04, 1995

The President. Well, good morning.

Students. Good morning.

The President. It's cold out there, isn't it?

Students. Yes.

The President. But it's warm in here.

Students. Yes.

The President. Do you like your new school?

Students. Yes.

The President. I want to congratulate you on being in positions of leadership in this school. I want to say how glad I am to be in this media center and how pleased I am it's named for my wife, who did a lot of work to try to help make sure we created schools like this magnet school that children and their parents could choose to come to, and it could give you very special learning opportunities. I'm very, very happy about that. And I'm glad to see all of you.

Hillary Clinton. I'd like to ask how many— are there any kindergartners here? Good. Now, this is your first year of school, and you're already going to be helping to lead the school. That's great.

How many first-graders do we have? Congratulations, first-graders. How about secondgraders? That is wonderful. Now, some of you who are in first and second grade, you were at different schools last year, right? So you're here. That's good. You get to help create the school.

How about third-graders? Ah, third-graders, that's really important. And I see a T-shirt that goes with the school. That's nice.

The President. Stand up, and let's look at that T-shirt.

Hillary Clinton. That's really nice. How about fourth-graders? Where are the fourth-graders? You have a lot of responsibility, I know. How about fifth-graders? Fifth-graders—great. I can see we get more and more as we move up the classes. And then, how about sixth-graders?

Well, thank you. This is really an exciting opportunity to help start a school, which is what all of you are doing, and to try to make sure it gets on the right track. So I want to thank you for doing that. It's a big responsibility.

I once was in the first class of a new school when I was in high school, and you really have a lot of chances to set the standards for everybody who comes after you. So thank you for doing that.

The President. Are you excited about starting a school?

Students. Yes.

The President. Someday all of you will know more about me than I do. [Laughter]

Hillary Clinton. I know. We wanted to be sure if you had any questions for us, you'd have a chance to ask, okay? My goodness! We won't be able to answer every question. [Laughter]

The President. Let's take—shall we start in grades, going backwards? A sixth-grader. Go ahead.

Q. How do you deal with criticism?

The President. How do I deal with criticism? Better on some days than others. [Laughter] I think the important thing about criticism is to try to take it very seriously; that is, can we learn from criticism? Benjamin Franklin, one of our Founding Fathers, said, "Our critics are our friends for they show us our faults." And since no one is perfect, your critics can help you learn to do better. But it's important not to take criticism personally. That is, a lot of times people try to hurt you personally, and you can't let that happen.

So if someone criticizes you, ask yourself, "Is it true what they're saying?" And if it's true, then say, "Well, I'm going to try to improve. I'm going to try to do better." Don't let anybody put you down as a person. Too much criticism today is designed to hurt people personally and to hurt them in the eyes of other people. That's wrong. But criticism itself can be very good.

Hillary Clinton. That's a good question, because I would bet that as all of you who are on the student council and are ambassadors make decisions, you will get some criticism. You'll have friends who will say, "Why did you do that?" or "I don't like you anymore," or "I don't agree with that." So that was a very good question to ask.

Of course, the best way to handle criticism is to remember the Golden Rule. You all remember the Golden Rule?

Students. Yes.

Hillary Clinton. From church and Sunday school? If you can treat other people the way you want to be treated, then you can learn from criticism but not get pulled down by it, not be upset by it.

The President. And you should think about that, too, not only how you deal with criticism but if you're going to criticize. If you want to be a critic, that is, if you see something in school you don't like or you see someone doing something you don't like, think about how you're going to say that so they will be able to listen and hear you, but you won't be hurting them.

So you go up and say, "You're doing something I disagree with. I think you're a good person, but I don't agree with what you're doing. Here is what I think you should do." Do it like that, instead of saying, "I don't like you anymore. You're not a good person. Goodbye." [Laughter] You see what I mean? So you can do it. It's important to receive criticism, but it's also important to give it in a good spirit.

Is there a fifth-grader with a question? Let's see, go ahead.

Q. Why is it important to swear in when you become President?

The President. To swear in?

Q. Yes.

Hillary Clinton. When you become President.

The President. That's a very good question.

Because when the President swears the Oath of Office, when he puts his hand on the Bible and swears before God and all the American people to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States, that increases the obligation the President feels inside, in his heart, to do the job. All the American people see the President making that promise, and they then, no matter who they voted for—whom they voted for—come together as a people and see that the President is now the President. And that seals the decision of the election and makes it more than an election, it makes it a matter of law and also makes it a matter of conviction to the American people. It's a very important symbolic thing.

Is there a fourth-grader with a question?

Q. Why didn't you let your goal down of being President?

Hillary Clinton. I'm sorry, we couldn't hear you.

Q. Why didn't you let your goal down of being President?

The President. I didn't. What do you mean? I don't understand the question, I'm sorry. Say it again.

Q. Why didn't you let your goal down of being President?

Hillary Clinton. Oh, how did he have the goal of being President all the time he was growing up, and why didn't he give up or why didn't he quit?

The President. Oh, why didn't I give up on my goal of being President? Is that what you're asking? That's a very good question. There are some days when I still ask myself that. [Laughter] That's a very good question.

Well, when I started running for President and I started having the elections, you know, to run—because you have to go and run in a lot of different States to get the nomination of your party, and then you run in the general election—there were a lot of times when I got discouraged, and a lot of difficult things happened.

But I was able to hold on to the goal by always remembering why I wanted to be President, that I wanted to help people like you have a better future. I wanted to help your parents have more jobs and better opportunities. I wanted to help our country solve its problems and take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities that are out there for us. So whenever I would get really discouraged and really down, I would always remember why I was doing the work.

And you should remember that, because if you set a goal for yourself, particularly if it's a high goal and especially if you can't do it tomorrow, if it takes next week or next month or next year or years ahead, a lot of things will happen in life to discourage you. People will criticize you. You will honestly make mistakes. There will be times when you wonder whether you're smart enough or strong enough or sometimes even whether you're good enough to achieve your goal. And you just have to keep remembering in your mind and in your heart a good thing you want to do—why do you want to achieve this goal?—and keep that deep inside. And if you do that, then you won't be discouraged. You can take all the disappointments and just keep right on going.

Okay? That's a very good question.

Is there a third-grader with a question? Go ahead.

Q. What made you want to become the President?

The President. I wanted to become the President because I thought the President has a unique opportunity. There's no job like it in the United States. In a way, there's no job like it anywhere in the world. And I thought at this time in our history, in the history of the United States, the President had a unique opportunity and a unique responsibility to try to make our economy strong again, to try to improve our education system, to try to make sure our country could lead the world to be a more peaceful place, to be a more free place, to be a more prosperous place, and to also secure for you the American dream, the dream that if you work hard, if you obey the law, if you develop the abilities God gave you, you can do anything you want to do, you can be anything you want to be.

And I wanted to make sure that you had that dream. That's the dream I had when I was your age, and I wanted to make sure you had it. That's why I ran for President.

Hillary Clinton. And we hope all of you have dreams and goals, too.

The President. You don't have to have the same dream I did or the same dream Hillary did, but you should have your own dream. Always you should be thinking about: What do I want to do when I grow up? What do I want to do when I'm in high school? What do I want to do in grade school here? How do I want to be treated as a person, and how do I want to treat other people?

Think about how you want your life to be, and then go out and do what you think about. You can do it. It's not easy, and you'll mess up now and again. We all do. Everybody's not perfect; no one is perfect. But you have to have your dreams.

Is there a second-grader with a question? Go ahead.

Q. Why is the White House in Washington, DC? Why did they build it in Washington, DC?

The President. That is a great question: Why is the White House in Washington, DC? Well, when our country got started, there were 13 States. Now how many are there?

Students. Fifty.

The President. Fifty, that's right. There were only 13 when we started. And these States were very jealous of one another. That is, the main thing they had in common, the 13 States, was that they all wanted to be independent of Great Britain. And the Revolutionary War was fought to make them free of Great Britain, and they all joined together in this fight. But for a long time they couldn't agree on what their relationship to each other would be. That is, would all these States be more or less independent and just get together every now and then to do certain things, or would they join together in one country with one government?

Well, finally they decided they would join together in one country, with a National Government, but the States would keep their separate governments, and they would have control over how many cities and counties they had in each State. Well, they needed a Capital for the National Government, but they didn't want to give the Capital to any particular State, see, because they had all been very jealous of each other. They all had been independent. And each State, even little Delaware or Rhode Island, thought they were as important as big New York or Pennsylvania. So no one wanted to give the Capital to any particular State.

So they set aside a piece of land where Washington is now and created the District of Columbia as an independent entity, a creation, if you will, of the National Government, and put the Capital there. And they put the White House there. And those were the first two big buildings in Washington, DC, the Capitol of the United States and the President's house, where the President lives and works.

Hillary Clinton. And we hope you can all come visit us.

The President. Would you like to come see it?

Students. Yes.

Hillary Clinton. We'd love to show you.

The President. Well, I hope you can come someday.

Is there a first-grader with a question?

Q. How old are you?

The President. How old am I? How old do you think I am? [Laughter] I'm very old. [Laughter] I'm 48.

Hillary Clinton. Forty-eight years old.

The President. And I'll be 49 on August 19th. And Hillary is younger than I am. [Laughter] Anybody else have a birthday on August 19th? You do?

Hillary Clinton. In August? Is your birthday August 19th?

Student. February.

Hillary Clinton. February? [Laughter] That's when Chelsea's birthday is. Chelsea has a birthday in February.

The President. Is there a first-grader with a question? We did first grade. Kindergartner? Go ahead.

Q. Would you like any visitors?

The President. Would I like visitors?

Hillary Clinton. We'd love to have you come visit.

The President. We love visitors, and we especially love visitors from home. We love it when people from Arkansas come up and see us. But we have visitors from all the States, and we have visitors from all over the world. And in the morning we start tours in the White House, on most days. People can come and see the White House where the President lives. They just come in and see. Very often I stop and talk to them and see people from all over America there.

Well, should I ask the principal if we can continue? How are we doing, Ms. Parker?

Jackye Parker. Well, I think it's about time for us to have to leave.

The President. Well, I wish I could answer all your questions.

Hillary Clinton. You have good questions.

The President. You guys ask great questions. And I want you to have a wonderful day. I want you to remember what we said about your dreams. Will you do that?

Students. Yes.

Hillary Clinton. Oh, we have 4-year-olds here.

The President. Oh, 4-year-olds. Is there a 4year-old with a question?

Hillary Clinton. Are you a 4-year-old? Here's a 4-year-old with a question.

The President. What's your question?

Q. Does your cat, Socks, sleep in the White House?

Hillary Clinton. Yes, our cat, Socks, does sleep in the White House. And if you come to visit, maybe you'll get to see Socks, because when he's not in the White House he's outside of the White House. And the President's office is called the Oval Office, and Socks hangs out outside the Oval Office. [Laughter] And then he travels everywhere; he visits everywhere. You know, Socks gets letters. If you want to write to Socks, Socks gets letters, and he sends back a picture.

The President. With a paw print on it.

Hillary Clinton. Right, that he has signed. [Laughter] So I will tell him that you were asking for him, okay?

The President. Yes, I can see Socks every day. We put him right outside my office. I can turn around, look outside the window, and there he is.

Hillary Clinton. Thank you all so much.

The President. Have a wonderful day.

Hillary Clinton. And a wonderful year, too.

The President. Bye. I'll see you later.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:53 a.m. in the Hillary Rodham Clinton Media Center of William Jefferson Clinton Elementary Magnet School.

William J. Clinton, Question-and-Answer Session With Students at William Jefferson Clinton Elementary Magnet School in Sherwood, Arkansas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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