Remarks at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta
Thank you all. Please be seated. Nice to be here at the home of the mighty Bulldogs. Whew, I'm glad I'm not on the other team. I'm so honored to be here.
I was specially interested to learn this was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, high school. And I want the students to understand something about his life. It goes to show that an individual can make a huge difference in the lives of our fellow citizens. In his case, he made history. In your case, it could be just loving somebody. The lesson of Martin Luther King is a powerful lesson and is part of my—what I want to talk about today.
But before I do so, I've got some introductions I want to make. First, I am honored that your Governor is with us, Governor Roy Barnes. I appreciate it—and the first lady. And like me, he married above himself. [Laughter] First lady of Georgia, it's good to see you. Thank you.
I appreciate members of the congressional delegation coming. Oh, I know generally a Democrat is not supposed to show up when a Republican shows up, and a Republican's not supposed to show up when a Democrat shows up. But there is a new attitude in America today. I'm a proud Republican. Cynthia McKinney and John Lewis and Zell Miller are proud Democrats. Saxby's a proud Republican. Cleland is a proud Democrat. But first and foremost, we're all proud Americans.
I appreciate so very much members of the house and the senate—State house and the senate for coming over to say hello today. I'm honored that your mayor is here. Thanks for coming.
I'm so pleased that a member of my Cabinet came. I picked a good man when I picked the Secretary of Education. I didn't pick somebody who dwelt on theory. I picked on somebody who is experienced. You know, you have a chance to—got to choose all kinds of people when you pick your Cabinet. I wanted somebody who actually understood how public education worked because he had lived in public education. This man ran the toughest, biggest, orneriest school district in the State of Texas, the Houston Independent School District, and he did a great job there. And he's doing a great job as the Secretary of Education. I appreciate you.
I want to thank your superintendent of schools here in Atlanta, Dr. Beverly Hall. Thank you for coming, Beverly.
One lesson I have learned not only as Governor but as President, that a school really functions well if it's got a fine principal. And you've got a fine principal. They love you. I want to thank all the teachers who are here. I'm honored to be in your presence. I want to thank not only the Teach For America teachers who are here; I want to thank all the teachers who are here. Yours is a noble, important profession.
For those of you who have yet to graduate from high school, who are wondering what life might hold for you, wondering what your career might be, please give teaching a consideration. Please look at teaching. There is no better way to leave a mark, a positive mark on the life of America.
One of the things I like to do is herald kind of the quiet heroes of our society. In this case, I want to talk about a social entrepreneur, someone who had a dream and a vision and implemented it. And that's the founder and president of Teach For America, Wendy Kopp. Now, for those of you who don't—[applause]—she brought some of her family members here. [Laughter]
It is—Wendy shows that with strength of purpose and setting goals and striving for a better tomorrow, it is possible to make a huge difference. Out of an idea came the desire to convince folks to teach in schools that are having trouble to get teachers. And she had succeeded way beyond what people thought a single person can do. There are 8,000 Teach For America teachers and alumni around the country. I am proud to stand up and talk about the best of America in Wendy Kopp. Wendy, thank you for what you do.
I am proud of a country that is unified and strong. You know, I like to put it this way: The enemy must have been watching too much daytime TV. They thought we were weak. They thought we would roll over by one single attack. My, my, were they mistaken. The enemy thought that we were too materialistic, too self-absorbed, that we would tire and weary. No, this United States is united. We are strong. We are determined. We are patient. We are resolved to rout out terror wherever it exists to save the world for freedom.
And it's important to do so. History has called us into action. And we cannot weary. Oh, I know some are—some, the farther we get away from September the 11th, are going to say, "Well, gosh, do we really need to go through this?" Listen, I want you all to know, every morning I walk into a fabulous office, the Oval Office, and I sit down in my desk, and I read a report, a threat assessment about what the enemy wants to do. There are still designs on America. The evil ones can't stand a nation that is free. Evil people can't stand free people. And so, they still want to hit us. My most important job is to make sure that this Nation is secure and safe.
We're doing everything we can at home to find out, to track down anybody who would dare hurt innocent United States citizens. And we're making pretty good progress. The Federal Bureau of Investigation's major task now, its most important job, is to protect the homeland. We've got thousands of agents tracking down any hint, any lead, making sure that America is safe.
I've got a Homeland Security Office, all designed to work to make sure that a bioterrorist attack can be responded to, to make sure our heroic police and firefighters have the tools necessary to respond, to be active and first-responders, to make sure we understand who's coming into our country and who's leaving our country.
We're doing everything we can at home. But I want to tell you all, as plainly as I can, the best homeland defense, the best way to make sure America is secure and free, is to find the enemy where it hides and bring them to justice. And we're making good progress, and I appreciate the resolve and patience of our country. I appreciate the unity that stands behind the men and women who wear our uniform.
I sent such brave, brave men and women into a tough conflict. And I want to tell you, they haven't let us down. I see some students with your uniforms on. If you choose to go into the military, I want to thank you and let you know that your Government will stand squarely behind you. Whatever it takes to win the war on terror, we will pay it.
I said to the people who killed thousands of Americans that we're coming after you, that we won't let your evil acts stand. I also said that if you hide one of those people, if you feed one of those people, you're just as guilty as those who attacked America. And the Taliban has learned the lesson of that doctrine. They no longer are in power, thank God, for women and children in Afghanistan. Our Nation has liberated— we not only served to bring justice—not revenge but justice—we have liberated women and children who lived under the most oppressive regime—one of the most repressive regimes in this history of mankind. I am proud of this great country.
When you graduate this year if you're a senior, you're the first—yes, sir—you're the first—[laughter]—you're the first senior class that has graduated after America has been attacked on the homeland. Think about that. That is historic, and it's not over unless we pursue our mission.
And so, therefore, the mission is not just those who flew into the building. These people, the Al Qaida people, trained thousands of people in their camps before we started moving on them. I say thousands of ticking timebombs ready to go off. And therefore, we must be relentless in our pursuit, not just in Afghanistan, but wherever they hide.
That's why it's so important to have a vast coalition of nations, friendly nations together. And it's why it's important for our country to continue to lead, to make sure that part of the doctrine that says, "Either you're with us, or you're against us," is enforced. It is so important that we fight for freedom, so young can grow up in a free society.
We're also in a pretty dangerous phase of the first theater in the war against terror. Because, remember, we're chasing down people who, on the one hand, send youngsters to their suicide deaths, and on the other, try to burrow in the ground in caves as deep as they can come. But they're about to learn this lesson from our country: They can run, and they can hide, but they can't run and hide long enough, because this patient people are going to bring them to justice, no matter how long it takes.
I also talked yesterday about countries that are developing weapons of mass destruction that could be used to hurt ourselves or our allies or our friends. And we're just not going to sit back and let them do it. They now have been warned. They can change their behavior, and I hope they do.
Some nations are already changing their behavior as a result of the United States leading a strong coalition. Now they know, and now they can change. But one thing they've got to know is for certain: We will not let them use their weapons of mass destruction to threaten the security of the United States of America. They are on notice, and I expect them to make the right decisions about being a peaceful nation, a nation that doesn't want to harm our allies and friends, a nations that respects common values, and a nation that adheres to freedom. We have that obligation to future generations of Americans, and it's an obligation I assure you that I will keep.
Out of this evil came some incredible good. No one wished what happened on September the 11th happened. But out of evil came great good in the country, and I want to share some of that with you. The country has taken an assessment of what's important in life. We've kind of stepped back and said—one thing we've said in Washington is, politics is important, but it's not nearly as important as winning a war. Politics is important—listen, we're all politicians; anybody who's holding office saying they're not a politician isn't telling the truth—but at least we can put something greater than self; at least we can figure out how to do something more important than political party. And we did so, by the way, with an education bill.
I know, you're not supposed to stand up if you're a Republican and say something nice about Ted Kennedy. But I did, for a right reason, because we worked together, Republicans and Democrats, to fashion a really good piece of legislation that empowers the Governors and local people to make the right decisions, but also says, we're not going to stand for a system that simply shuffles children through. We know who gets harmed in a system that gives up on kids early. And we're not going to stand for it in America because every child can learn, and no child should be left behind in this country.
There are ways to fight terror other than wearing a uniform. A teacher fights terror every day by walking into a classroom and teaching children how to read and write and add and subtract. A church group can do it by helping people in need. A synagogue can organize ways to help elderly, for example. There's all kinds of ways to fight evil.
People ask me, "What can I do to help? What can I do to help?" Well, if you're dedicating your time to volunteer work, you're already helping. And I ask America, young and old alike, to dedicate at least 2 years of your life, 4,000 hours over your lifetime, to service to your fellow man, to service to your Nation, by serving somebody else.
And it's happening. Listen, I know Atlanta, Georgia, and I know the country. There are thousands of people dedicating thousands of hours. And for that, I am grateful. Just keep doing it. But some are asking, "What can I do to help?" As a matter of fact, some in our society have never been challenged to help. After all, we've been living through an era that said, "If it feels good, just go ahead and do it." My dream is to change that culture to one in which each of us are responsible for the decisions we make in life. If you have a child, you're responsible for loving the child. If you're in a community, you have a responsibility of loving your fellow man, just like you'd like to be loved yourself.
No, we can change, use the evil to help usher in a period of personal responsibility. And part of an era of personal responsibility is to help somebody, is to help somebody in need. And so I've set up a program called the USA Freedom Corps. If you're looking for someplace to help, here's a chance. If you want to participate in the good of your country, here's your opportunity to do so, and all you've got to do is pick up the phone and dial 1-877-USA- CORPS. [Laughter] That's all you've got to do, and they will help you.
And we've got some ideas for you. If you're a senior citizen, join Senior Corps and help make your community more alert to the potential of attack or help develop an emergency response team. If you're a retired doc, participate with your local health systems to prepare your community and your neighborhood for what we hope doesn't happen.
If you want to participate in USA Freedom Corps, it's usafreedomcorps.gov, if you're one of these computer-literate type people. [Laughter] If you want to help, and you feel like you want to take your compassion overseas, we're going to expand the Peace Corps mission. And we're going to send people into the Islamic world for the first time, or one of the first times, to make sure we spread America's compassion and hope.
And you need to help at home as well. One way you can help is to become a mentor. One way you can help is to find a child who needs somebody older in their life who can put their arm around them and say, "I love you. There's hope for you. What can I do to help you succeed in America?"
And another way you can help—and I hope young Americans all across the country think about joining Teach For America—— it is a part of AmeriCorps. And our goal is to expand AmeriCorps by 200,000 volunteers this year. And I thank my friend Steve Goldsmith for helping shepherd this program forward. He's a former mayor of Indianapolis. He understands how to rally community-based programs for the greater good.
And so, my fellow Americans, if you care about America, put 4,000 hours of service toward America. It will help defeat what the enemy wants.
You know, I tend to speak, I hope, plainly enough for people to understand. I view this as good versus evil. There is no middle ground, as far as I'm concerned. And therefore, in order to fight evil, what this Nation must do is to gather the collective hearts, the good decency of our American people and show the world we're not going to be intimidated. We will not be intimidated overseas. We will not change at home.
What we will do is take the momentum of millions of acts of decency and convert that to the greater good. We've got a huge challenge against us—for us, a huge challenge, a huge hill to climb in America, winning the war on terror and changing the culture for the better. But guess what we're fixing to do? We're fixing to show the world the strength of America. We're fixing to overcome our obstacles. We're going to lead the world toward a more compassionate, more decent, more free tomorrow.
It is such an honor to be the President of such a great nation. And we're a great nation because we're a great people. May God bless you all, and may God bless America.
NOTE: The President spoke at 1:56 p.m. in the gymnasium. In his remarks, he referred to Governor Roy E. Barnes of Georgia and his wife, Marie; Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta; Shirley Kilgore, principal, Booker T. Washington High School; and Stephen Goldsmith, chair, board of directors, Corporation for National and Community Service. The Executive order of January 29 establishing the USA Freedom Corps is listed in Appendix D at the end of this volume.
George W. Bush, Remarks at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/213788