Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to Area High School Students and Faculty in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania

October 12, 1988

Well, thank you, Gil Minacci. And thanks for that great music to the Upper Darby Marching Royals and the Upper Darby Concert Choir. And someplace in here are two of your Congressmen, Kirk Weldon and Don Ritter, and your former State senator, who is a candidate for the Congress, Ed Howard.

Now, in case you're wondering why I've dropped in— [laughter] —I like great teams, and I've heard that for great teams you can't do better than the Royals, the Friars, and, of course, the Pandas.

Well, now, before I start, I have a request from my roommate. [Laughter] She says: Please, for your family, for your friends, for your country—but most of all for yourselves—just say no to drugs and alcohol. By the way, if you don't know already, maybe I could tell you where that whole idea came from—those three words. It was several years ago, and Nancy was in Oakland speaking to a school class about drugs. And a little girl asked, "What do we do when someone offers us drugs?" And Nancy said, "Just say no." And since then, there are more than 12,000 Just Say No clubs that have sprung up around the country. And is it true what I've heard: that you have one here—one of those 12,000 Just Say No clubs? [Applause]

Now, you may not know it, but I've heard a lot about your schools, and I like what I've heard. I've heard, for example, about your code of values, as well as that you care about the community. I've heard many of you volunteer in the Delaware County Hospital next door and do other community work. I can't help thinking that when a certain friend of mine talks about "a Thousand Points of Light" in America's sky, when he speaks of the thousands of American communities where neighbors reach out to help neighbors in need, well, one of the brightest of these points of light is a place called Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.

I've also heard that you young people here in Upper Darby care about the future-about your future, about America's future—and that you're preparing for it. I've heard that you've set high standards for yourselves in both your college preparatory and vocational programs and that when it comes to looking to the future you can't beat the students at Upper Darby High, or Monsignor Bonner High, or Archbishop Prendergast High.

Well, I'm here today because I believe you're right to care about the future. I believe that if we have faith in Him who created us and if we're true to the values of family, work, and community that He has taught us and that have always been America's guiding stars on the seas of history, then America's future and your future hold promises bigger than the sky and more vast than the galaxies.

Now, I know that many of you are not yet old enough to vote. And yet you have a stake in this year's election, and you can have a role in it, too. As you know, 8 years ago I visited this school and stood in this place as a candidate for the high office that I now hold. The students in this school then now have jobs. They're starting families, and they're establishing themselves in community and career. All we've accomplished in the last 8 years is making their lives easier, better, and more hopeful.

In i year or 2 years or 8 years, you, too, will have a job and a family and big plans for the future. By making sure that your parents and friends who can vote cast their ballots, you can help make sure that America remains a land fertile with opportunity for all your dreams to blossom. That's what America is like today, and for good reason. In the last 8 years, we have set our sights once again on the enduring values of family, faith, neighborhood, opportunity, and freedom.

The results have been 18 million new jobs since our expansion began, more new jobs than Europe and Japan combined have created in this same period; an unemployment rate the lowest it's been in 14 years; the greatest flowering of new businesses and new technologies in the history of the world; the longest peacetime economic expansion ever recorded; and more people at work today than ever before in the history of the United States of America.

Think of what 255,000 new jobs in America last month alone means to you. When you leave school there will be work, paychecks, and a chance to make your hopes come true. Last month was no fluke. America has created, on average, a quarter of a million jobs a month in the 71 months since our expansion began. And today not only are more Americans at work but a higher proportion of our labor force is employed than ever before in the history of the country. And job for job, the jobs we've created in our expansion pay better than the jobs that existed before our expansion began. What Senator Quayle said the other night I've heard echoed in my talks with leaders of many other nations: Today the United States of America is the envy of the world.

I believe prosperity and economic growth are the products of strong values. In the last 8 years, we've worked to return America's values to all areas of American Government. We've said it's time to return to basics in education, and one of those basics is that you should be permitted to open your schoolday with a simple, silent, voluntary prayer. If Congress can open each day with a prayer, why can't you? And you know, Congress probably needs it more than you do. We've said it's time to return to basics in reading the Constitution and to acknowledge that the Constitution does not prevent parents from receiving a tuition tax credit when they send their children to parochial schools. And in no way is it meant to deny the right to life. We've said it's time to return to basics in protecting America's neighborhoods. And that means among other things appointing judges who don't only respect the rights of criminals but also those of the victims of crime. And we've said it's time to return to the basics in protecting America itself. We've returned to the fundamental wisdom that the way to peace is not through American weakness but through American strength.

Yes, we've had 8 great years. But some ask: Have we done as much as we can do? Have we gone as far as we can go? You might as well ask Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham if after his spectacular game Monday night— [applause] —ask him if he's gone as far as he can go. My answer is the same as I know Randall Cunningham's would be: We've only just begun! From here on in, it's touchdown city. Yes, I believe that the growth that our expansion has brought America can be just the beginning. America is entering a new age that will open opportunities for you and all young Americans, opportunities that we in the older generation could not even have dreamed of when we were your age.

Let me tell you about something I heard the other day. It has to do with the technological revolution that is going on all around us and that many say has already surpassed the Industrial Revolution in changing the way humanity lives in the years ahead. The heart of this revolution is a tiny silicon chip that you can hold on the tip of your finger and still see most of the finger. Today that silicon chip has the incredible computing power of a million transistors; that is, of the biggest computers of the 1960's. Yet according to one of our nation's most prominent research directors, in less than 15 years, he says the power of a billion transistors will be packed on a chip. That's the power of 20 of today's most advanced computers all in a laptop computer.

Think of what that can mean in the ability of your generation to cure disease, to make the world more productive and opportunity for all peoples more plentiful, to build a strategic defense against ballistic missiles to end forever mankind's nightmare of nuclear terror, and to pursue your dreams wherever they'll take you. That's the future that awaits you. The only limits will be those of your imagination and your courage. And are there any limits to them? So, yes, the last 8 years have been great, but I've got a hunch that when you get in the saddle, as someone said in an old movie: Well, we ain't seen nothing yet.

I hope as you study and work to build America's future and your own, you never forget that prosperity has a purpose—a purpose that is part of His larger plan. It gives each of us the opportunity to raise a healthy family in the right way, to reach out to those who need help in our community, to dream great dreams, and to make our dreams come true. Among life's deepest truths is that all that is done for you is but an opportunity and invitation to do something for others. Bill Bennett, who recently retired as our Secretary of Education, tells of traveling around the country, visiting the 30 schools that he'd identified as exceptional models. He says he was stunned to realize that each school began each day with the Pledge of Allegiance or the Star Spangled Banner. But he soon came to understand that this was no coincidence. To use his words: "The valuable lesson is that there is something greater than yourself that you owe allegiance to, but that is also part of you." I wish a prayer could have gone with those pledges. But one way or another, this sweet land of liberty offers no more precious lesson than: Love God, love family, love country, and love thy neighbor as thyself.

Yes, America's prosperity is both an opportunity and a challenge, and I know that you're up to it. As part of my job, I've visited schools all over the country, and wherever I go, I find myself remembering the words of General George C. Marshall when asked why he was so confident that we would win the Second World War. "We have a secret weapon," he said. And when asked about that, he said, "It's just the best blankety-blank kids in the whole world." Well, as I look at you and meet young people like you all over the country, I know we still have a secret weapon, and it's the best blankety-blank kids in the world.

I'm dedicating myself this year to making sure that this future of hope built on opportunity and traditional values remains open to each one of you. I believe that the decisions we Americans make at the polls this year will determine whether or not that future will be bright. And as I said before, even if you can't vote you still have a stake, and you can have a role by getting family and friends who can vote, to vote. An awful lot of our people who are registered, citizens and so forth, don't bother to vote. And just so I'm not hiding my cards, I'll let you in on a secret: I do have a favorite. [Laughter] And to give you a hint, I'll tell you what I kind of like that George Bush said about this election: "When you have to change horses in midstream, doesn't it make sense to switch to one who's going the same way you are?"

It's not a matter of personality, but of philosophy. For example, it just seems to me that for those who espouse a permissive, liberal judicial philosophy, to turn around and pose as tough on crime is the greatest disguise since monsters inhabited human bodies in the movie "Aliens." [Laughter[

Now, if you're talking to friends about getting out and voting and they aren't sure they want to go to the trouble, would you ask them for me to think of what it means to be able to vote? You hold history in your hands. Earlier this year, I had the privilege of doing something I never thought an American President would be able to do. I spoke to students in Moscow, at the state university of Moscow, about the glories of freedom. Think of those students. Only if they're very lucky and rise high in the Communist Party will any one of them ever have the influence on the course of this country's history and world history that each American has just by walking into the voting booth. And not just by casting a vote for President. Ours is a system of three equal branches of government. Two branches, Congress and the President, are chosen by election, and the third branch, the courts, is chosen by the other two branches. When you vote for a candidate for the Senate or the House, you're voting for the direction of the country and the world as much as when you vote for President.

We hear a lot about the budget deficit these days. But in fact, I've heard my name linked to it. Well, under the Constitution only the Congress can spend money. Yes, the Congress is the only one in government that can spend a dime; the President can't spend a thing. Congress makes the budget. And if you want to see the Federal deficit fall, remember, a vote cast for a Senator or Representative is at least as important as a vote for President.

It's very disturbing to me that America's young people, who with so many years ahead of them have a bigger stake in the future than anyone else—and yet our young people of voting age so far vote in lower numbers than all the other age groups. Perhaps you've heard of Will Rogers, the great American humorist of the 1920's and '30's. Will Rogers once said that the people who are elected are no better and no worse than the people who elected them. But they're all better than people who don't vote at all.

Well, I know you and your friends are better than that. So, before I go, let me ask you something. I'm going to ask for a commitment now, and if you shout yes, I'll take it as a promise. Remember, you can talk to family and friends you know and make sure they cast their ballots. Now, if you're not old enough to vote, that can be your way of voting—by getting someone to vote who wasn't sure that he or she would. And if you're old enough to vote, you can do both: Go to the polls yourself and make sure those close to you vote, too. So, let me ask you now: On November 8th, would you get your family and friends to go to the polls and vote? [Applause] You just made my day. [Laughter]

In the years ahead, whenever election day rolls around, I hope you won't forget the privilege and honor of being an American and the privilege you have of helping to govern this great nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. Yes, America is truly the last, best hope of humanity, a city on a hill, a light unto the nations. I know that you know this. I know that some of you or your friends know firsthand what life without our liberties and our democracy is like and what it means to sacrifice everything to journey against all odds halfway around the world to come to America.

I said at the start I've seen much to like about your schools. I've also seen what some of you who have met oppression face-to-face have written about freedom. And I like that, too. Here's one example: "Freedom reminds me when people left their country they almost died because they wanted a better life." And here's another: "American freedom means to me that every country's people are living together like a family for a new life." And another: "Freedom is the right to be myself, to reach my goals." And finally: "Freedom means I have the power to speak with President Reagan in the White House."

Well, now, let me explain that a little bit. [Laughter] I have a new hobby, and that hobby is collecting jokes that I can absolutely prove are created by the people in the Soviet Union and told among themselves. And I've collected quite a number of them. I told a couple of them to General Secretary Gorbachev, and he laughed.

Well, the one I told him about has a little bit to do with what I had just said back there. One of their stories is that an American and a Russian are arguing about their two governments. And the American said, "Look, in my country I can walk into the Oval Office. I can pound the President's desk and say, 'Mr. President, I don't like the way you're running our country.'" And the Russian said, "I can do that." And the American said, "You can?" And he said, "Yes, I can go into the Kremlin, into the General Secretary's office, pound his desk, and say, 'Mr. General Secretary, I don't like the way President Reagan's running his country.'" [Laughter]

But now I'll just mention a letter that I received, a letter from a gentleman who said something I'd never thought of before. He said, "You can move to France to live, but you can't become a Frenchman. You can move to Japan to live; you can't become Japanese." And he went on naming several countries. But he said, "Anyone from any corner of the world can come to America and become an American."

There is just one other thing I'd like to say. I mentioned earlier in my remarks the Constitution. Every country, I think, has a constitution—oh, about most of them that I know of do, including the Soviet Union. Then what is the great difference between theirs and ours? Many of them have some of the same lines in them. The difference is so simple and yet so great it tells the whole story—three words: "We, the people." Those other constitutions are documents in which the Government tells the people what their privileges are and what they can do. Our Constitution is a document in which we, the people, tell the Government what it can do. And it can't do anything other than what is prescribed for it in that Constitution.

And so, today I would just remind you, in closing, you not only have the power to speak to the President but to pick the President and the Congress and the State legislature-to determine the course of our history and to protect those liberties that have made this good and gentle land, yes, the envy of the world.

And now, thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 11:25 a.m. in the gymnasium of Upper Darby High School. He was introduced by Gilbert Minacci, the school's principal.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to Area High School Students and Faculty in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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