Richard Nixon photo

Remarks at Commencement Exercises of Florida Technological University, Orlando, Florida.

June 08, 1973

Dr. Millican, members of the graduating class of 1973, members of the faculty, all of the parents and others here who are here to congratulate the members of the graduating class, and all of our very distinguished guests:

First, may I express to Dr. Millican and to all of you my appreciation for your very warm welcome. I got the message with regard to the length of my speech. That is why I am not going to read the one that Dr. Millican had prepared and was going to deliver.

DR. CHARLES N. MILLICAN. Mr. President, I am not sure this is appropriate, but let us do it anyway. You do not have to use that speech at all, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. No, I will read it, but not here.

DR. MILLICAN. In the local news media, there have been two or three comments about my getting bumped as the commencement speaker and being replaced by you, sir, but I cannot think of a better pinch-hitter than the President of the United States.

THE PRESIDENT. Dr. Millican, I appreciate that reference, but I never made the baseball team when I was in school.

On this particular occasion, I also want to pay my respects to this county, which is Orange County, Florida. I live in Orange County, California. Both have been very good to me during the years that I have been in political life.

I also want to pay my respects to one of the brightest, rising stars in the American political scene, Congressman Lou Frey. I trust that many in this graduating class will be entering public life. I hope you don't run against him. I can only say, though, that whether Democrat or Republican, he is the kind of progressive, strong leader that we like in the Congress of the United States.

On this occasion, too, I would like to go directly to a point that will be of interest to the graduating class, because this is your first commencement, and I have addressed many, and I would like to refer to what commencement addresses are usually like.

They go to one extreme or the other, and I have heard both. Either a commencement address is filled with very profound pronouncements about how pessimistic the future is going to be for the graduating class or it is filled with euphoric comments with regard to how great the opportunities are for the class. And in both cases, of course, they tilt too far in one direction or the other.

I am going to try to avoid both extremes, to be quite candid with you today about your opportunities and also the problems. But in view of the fact that there is somewhat of a tendency to have our television sets inundated with what is wrong with America, which, of course, is their responsibility where they feel that, I think perhaps it would be well to start with this proposition: about what is perhaps right about this country, and I would say we have grave problems at home and abroad, and we are capable of solving them.

But I want you to know that I have visited most of the countries of the world. I have seen most of the systems of government of the world, and I have lived through four wars that America has been engaged in in this century.

I can say very honestly to every member of this graduating class: If I were to pick a time in the whole history of the world in which to live, if I were to pick a country in which I would like to live in all this world, there is no country I would rather live in and there is no time I would rather be graduating from college than 1973, the United States of America.

I understand that this class has something very much in common with both Mrs. Nixon and me: Most of you helped to work your way through college and the university. Also, I understand that about a third of the members of this class have something in common with many of us: You are veterans, have served in the armed services.

So, I begin with why this is a good time to be alive, and why it is a good time to be alive in America, by pointing out how this class, the class of '73, has some enormous advantages that your predecessors have not had for many years.

First, we can be thankful this is the first graduating class in 12 years that will graduate from college or a university in a year in which the United States is not engaged in war in Vietnam.

Second, this is the first graduating class in 32 years where the young men of this class will not be subject to a draft. If you want to go into volunteer service, you can.

Of course, those are points that come right home to each of you. They affect your future, your lives.

But let us put it in a broader scope. The people's Republic of China, its Government, rules one-fourth of all the people in the world. This is the first class in 21 years that can look to the future with the thought that those people, one-fourth of all the people in the world, will not be cut off from us with isolation and with the thought that we may be able to work out a means of communication which will avoid a confrontation in the years ahead, which could be disastrous not only for us but for all the world.

What I am saying to you very simply is this: There are great differences between our system and that of the People's Republic of China. But we live in a world in which nations with different systems either have to learn to live with their differences or they die with them, and that is why we went to China. And we believe that that is what the American people want. They want to negotiate our differences and not fight about our differences.

We look at another side of the world. In one week Mr. Brezhnev will be visiting the United States, returning the visit that I paid to the Soviet Union just a year ago. He has indicated, just a few days ago, that it was his view that the world was closer to an enduring and lasting peace than ever before.

I would state it this way: I believe that if we do what we can do, if America meets its responsibilities, and if we get cooperation from other nations like the Soviet Union, that you, this graduating class, have the chance to be the first generation in this century to grow up without a war.

And that is the goal that we intend to achieve.

All of you know that we have already negotiated a treaty with regard to the limitation of defensive nuclear weapons. We will be negotiating other agreements with the Soviet Union on the occasion of this visit. They will be very significant. They will not settle the differences between our systems, which will continue to exist as long as they believe one thing and we believe something else.

But what they do mean to all of us, and what they mean particularly to you, is again that the United States, one great super power, and the Soviet Union, the other great super power, instead of confronting each other, instead of rubbing against each other in critical portions of the world with the chance of that escalating into war--not small, but nuclear war--where the United States and the Soviet Union are learning more and more to talk with each other, to negotiate with each other to settle our differences--it is not going to be easy, not for them, not for us, but we have established now a means by which we can move in that direction.

And you, you are the fortunate ones that will have the opportunity to have the fruits of these great initiatives we have undertaken toward the People's Republic of China, toward the Soviet Union. And also, you are the fortunate ones that will have the opportunity in the years ahead to carry forward with those initiatives, because peace is never instant; peace can never be assumed to be lasting.

It is just as essential to work for peace as it is to work, as we do have to work, in war, even more so. It is more difficult to build a peace than it is to wage a war, and that is the great challenge that we have accepted in our generation and that you will have the chance to carry on in yours. I will not go into detail as to how that challenge will be met. I will cover only one point that should be of great interest to every member of this class.

Because of the progress we have made toward a more peaceful world--the opening to China, the negotiations with the Soviet Union, the ending of the war in Vietnam--there are many well-intentioned people who honestly feel that under these circumstances the United States could very safely, unilaterally, regardless of what the Soviet Union or other nations do, simply reduce our Armed Forces.

Let me say this: There is no objective to which I am more committed than to reduce the danger of war, no objective to which I am more committed than to reduce the burden of armaments in the world. But I do know this: It must be mutual if we are to carry on the kind of policy that will lead to real peace, because if the United States unilaterally reduces its strength, and another great power does not reduce its strength, that does not increase the possibilities for peace; it increases the dangers to the peace.

Let me put it a little more directly. We will be negotiating with the Soviet leaders on a mutual reduction of nuclear offensive weapons within about a week. This fall we will be negotiating with the Warsaw Pact nations with regard to a mutual reduction of our forces in Europe. This is an objective to which we will dedicate ourselves.

But let me say that if, before those negotiations begin, we say to those with whom we are negotiating, "Regardless of what you do, we are going to reduce," their incentive to negotiate is gone. I am saying to you very simply: Keep America strong, having in mind that a strong America is no threat to the peace; it is a guarantee to the peace. Keep America strong and never send the President of the United States to the negotiating table as the head of the second strongest nation in the world.

I assume that that will be described as jingoistic talk. So be it. I am simply saying that that is the way to reduce the dangers which confront the world, because we, with the power that we have got--whatever mistakes we have made over this past century--we have no designs on any other country, we do not want to conquer any other country, we do not want to dominate any other country. And therefore, let us keep our strength so that we can mutually reduce that danger of both the burden of armaments and danger of war which otherwise would hang over the world.

I come now to a second point. For the United States to meet this enormous challenge of building the structure of peace in the world, we not only need military strength but we need to be strong economically. Here we have some problems, just as we have in the field of foreign policy. One of those problems everyone is quite aware of, the problem of rising prices.

We have a situation, for example, where we have a boom in this country at the present time. You in this graduating class are going to find more job opportunities at higher wages than any graduating class in our history. But, on the other hand, we have a situation where, because of that boom and because of other factors, prices go up, and that places an enormous burden on the family budget.

Now, what can we do about that? Government, of course, can act, and we shall act, where we think it is responsible to do so and where it will be effective, to hold down the inflation. But putting it in a more positive way, when we consider why prices, for example for food, have gone up and what we can do about it, we can see that this is not something to look upon as an enormous burden, but as an opportunity.

All over the world today people are living better. Oh, there are many terribly poor people in the world, including some in the United States, but they live better. As a result, the demand for meat, the demand for grain, the demand for everything has gone up worldwide.

The United States, instead of talking about surpluses, as we used to just 5 or 6 years ago, now is talking about shortages in all of these areas. But it is good that people demand more. The only answer, then, is: How do we produce more?

Let me give you an example. I have traveled a great deal in Latin America, the great countries there like Brazil and Argentina. And what I found is this, as I traveled in those great countries: Their leaders have told me that they now have a population of about 250 million people, and yet they have hunger in many parts of their country, like in northern Brazil. On the other hand, if the genius of the American agricultural system, our ability not only to grow but to distribute, could be communicated to Latin America, that continent could support 600 million people. And so it is around the world.

What I want to say, and what we have to bear in mind, is this, and all of you, I think, will be particularly interested in this technological factor: The long-term answer to the problem of inflation is to produce more. In the field of food, we can and we must do so. But what we must remember is that America here leads the way, and therefore, what our farmers do, what our distributors do, what we are able to communicate to other countries, can answer this worldwide need for food, which is a demand which we should all welcome, because it means that less people in the future will have the problem of hunger.

This is no time for any Malthusian pessimism about the future. There is a problem, but we have the means to deal with it.

I come to a second problem that you have heard about, the energy crisis, the problem of whether we are going to have to ration gasoline, the problem of whether, if you live in the Northeast, whether or not you are going to have fuel oil, and so forth down the line. Looking at the energy problem and why it exists, that problem does not exist because of a fall-off in production; it exists because the people of the world, including the people of the United States, are living better. They need more energy. They need more gasoline. They need more oil. They need energy from other sources that must be developed, whether it is in the nuclear field, the new use of energy from coal, others that the experts in this class probably are far more familiar with than I am.

What I am saying here is that when we look at the demand, that is a positive factor. One personal example. In 1953, when Mrs. Nixon and I first visited Asia, we were in 19 countries and we were there in the very hot season. There was only one air-conditioned room. I remember it very well. It was the bedroom of the Ambassador in Bangkok, and we spent a lot of time in there. Otherwise, there were none.

Now it is difficult to go to Asia and to stay in a hotel, or even a residence, which is not air-conditioned, if that residence, of course, is owned by someone who can afford it. Now, what does that mean? That air-conditioning is the end of all things? Not at all.

What it does mean is that the increased demand for energy, whether it is in Asia or Europe or the United States, is a good thing. Now, what we need is the technology to fill that demand, and we can do it--new methods, for example, for developing the resources of the world.

You read, for example, about the Soviet gas deal. There are reserves in the Soviet Union, and in Alaska, and in the North Sea that are infinitely greater than any that have ever been discovered before in the field of gas, but that is not all.

I mention nuclear energy. I mention the use of coal. In all of this area we can move forward. We have a temporary problem, but long-term we have an opportunity, an opportunity to fill the demands of all the people of the world, including particularly the underdeveloped world, for a better standard of life.

Let me turn to environment. I know that every college class and university class is concerned about the environment, and you should be. You fortunately don't have, in Florida, much smog. That is one difference between Orange County, Florida, and Orange County, California. We have some out there.

But we see the Skylab on our television. The genius that could send men to the Moon, the genius that could produce the Skylab, the genius that built America into the strongest and most productive nation in the world, the science, scientists, the technicians, all of the engineers, all of those that could do that, certainly they can find the way to clean the air and clean the water and do the other things that will build a better environment in America.

We have started, and we will continue. So, this is a problem, but it is an opportunity. And I say Americans will, when they have a problem, they will solve it because we have the genius to solve it, the same genius that built America and made us what we are today.

So, as I look to the future of the American economy, we are, of course, the most productive, the richest nation in the world. We can continue to be, and we shall continue to be..

But, there is a third element, in addition to the military strength and the economic strength, that we must have if America is to maintain its position of world leadership, which is so essential for the peace of the world. And that is something I would describe as the American spirit.

There were many in this country who had doubts about that spirit during the long agony of the war in Vietnam. As it came to an end, even, there were many who did not have those doubts lifted. But then something quite wonderful happened.

As our men came back from those POW camps, who had been there 5 years, 6 years, 7 years--and I shook hands with every one of them at the White House just a few days ago---as they came back, standing straight, saluting the flag of the United States, saying, "God bless America," we realized that our people, the American people, have the strength and the character to lead the world, as we will lead the world toward peace, in these years ahead.

We can be thankful that America could produce such men and. may I add. that their wives and their mothers, who stood by them through the period that they were gone.

Now, having spoken of the challenge of world leadership, the necessity to keep an economy strong, there is a nagging thought that often is raised at commencement addresses: Why does America have to carry this burden? Wouldn't it be better, some say, if we could grow up in a nation that didn't have to be a world leader, where we could simply look inward to our own problems, where it didn't matter whether the United States played a role in Europe, or with the Soviets, or with the Chinese, or in Asia, or in Latin America, or what have you?

The answer is, my friends: Some might think it would be better, but if the United States, in the foreseeable future, does not play a role, the danger to the United States and to other nations will be infinitely greater than it is today.

No nation can be an island, and particularly the United States cannot "bug out" of its responsibilities in the world because we are a power for peace, and the last few years have demonstrated, we have proved, that we deserve respect and that the world can have our confidence.

So, as a graduate looking forward to the years ahead, one way you could look ahead would be to say, "Away with these burdens. Let me just turn to the problems that I have at home."

Another way you could look ahead is to say, "Let us deal with our problems at home, but let us always be not simply moaning about the problems of world leadership, but let us be proud that in our generation we, right now, have the chance to do something that no generation of Americans has ever had the chance to do: to build a lasting structure of peace in the world."

I like the sound of the latter, and I think it is good for America insofar as its internal attitudes are concerned. President de Gaulle once said to me that France is never her true self unless she is engaged in a great enterprise. If you forget everything else I have said, remember that. No individual, no nation, no organization can ever be its true self unless it is engaged in an enterprise bigger than itself, in a great enterprise.

To members of this class and all of you listening today, building the peace of the world is a great enterprise. Building a prosperity without war and without inflation is a great enterprise. Building a better environment is a great enterprise. Building the spirit of America to meet these challenges is a great enterprise.

I say to you, members of the graduating class, there are problems. But we have the means, you have the means in your hands, to solve those problems. And I conclude, as I began, by saying, in the whole history of the world, in all the nations of the world, there has never been a time when I would rather be a graduate than in the year 1973 in the United States of America.

Note: The President spoke at 10:35 a.m.

Dr. Charles N. Millican was president of Florida Technological University.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at Commencement Exercises of Florida Technological University, Orlando, Florida. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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