Richard Nixon photo

Remarks at Commencement Exercises at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma.

May 11, 1974

Dr. Kamm, all of the distinguished guests on the platform, all of the distinguished members of the faculty, and particularly, of course, the most distinguished people here of all, those who are to receive degrees, both graduate and undergraduate, and your friends and those who have made it possible for you to be here today:

Let me .say, Dr. Kamm, that I am most grateful for the invitation that was extended to me to come to this university. My good friend Senator Henry Bellmon said that this school had had once a tradition of noncontroversial speakers. Well, now you have changed it tonight.

And in the great tradition of an educational institution, I am very happy that there are some here who obviously disapprove of the speaker and there are others who approve of the speaker.

And all of you, of course, are welcome, and my remarks will be directed to all of you in the sense that I know you will receive them, of what this day means to those who are receiving their degrees from one of America's greatest educational institutions.

I would like to say first, however, before getting into the more serious parts of my remarks, that I am very happy to be standing here at this particular spot. As some of you probably have heard, I am somewhat of a sports fan, and as some of you probably know, the university that is best known from Oklahoma in football is not the Cowboys, but the Sooners.

On the other hand, I am aware of the whole realm of sports, and I am aware of the fact that, except for my wife's alma mater, the University of Southern California, the university in all the United States that has won more national championships across the board is OSU. So, congratulations. I know you are very good at wrestling. I could learn a little from you at that, too.

Let me say, too, that when I spoke of the fact that I was somewhat of a sports fan, I was one of those who spent virtually all of my time on the bench, and to be in the middle of the field is really an unusual experience, and I thank you for that, too.

On this particular day, I also want to pay tribute not only to the graduates to whom my remarks will be addressed primarily but--as already has been done so eloquently in the invocation, and also by Dr. Kamm--to those who taught them and to their parents and others who have made it possible to get their education. And I can say to you who are graduating today, as the years go by, each year you will appreciate more the sacrifices of your parents who made it possible for you to get an education that they may not have received. I have always felt that way. And as the years go by, you will appreciate more the dedication of those who taught you, and as a matter of fact, strangely enough, you will probably appreciate the most those who graded you the hardest, because they were the ones who made you toe the line.

And so, to the faculty and to the parents and all those who made it possible for this great day of achievement, the congratulations not only of this great audience here go but of the whole Nation, for producing 4,000 fine young men and women to go forth in the service of their communities, of their States, of the Nation, and as I will point out, also of the entire human race.

On an occasion like this, it is of course, customary to talk, as we should, about the future. It is, however, on an occasion like this, certainly not appropriate to disregard problems of the present. I know, for example, from talking to both of your two great Senators and to the two Congressmen who are here--John Jarman, Happy Camp, Senator Bartlett, Senator Bellnon--that farmers in Oklahoma, like farmers in other places, are concerned by the effect of the energy crisis on them, the shortages in fertilizer and in other areas.

I know that the cattlemen, for example, are concerned in Oklahoma, as they are in every other part of the country, because after a very, very good 2 years, they have a tough year this year because of a cost price squeeze. I know, too, that every housewife---or budgetkeeper, should we say--is concerned about the problem of inflation, which is not limited to America. It is worldwide, as you know, but that makes it no less a difficult problem or one that we should be less concerned by, the fact that it is others' as well as our own. And I know, too, that those who are interested in our country have been concerned, as I have been deeply concerned, by the political problems that we have had in Washington.

I can only say on this nonpolitical occasion, this: that having presented all of the evidence to the Congress of the United States, I trust that the House of Representatives will act promptly so that we can reach a decision, so that the President, the Congress can get on with the people's business, as we should.

And having spoken of some of those problems, let me also remind ourselves of some of those things on this magnificent evening we can be thankful for. We can be thankful that for the first time in 12 years, the United States is at peace with every nation in the world.

We can be thankful that for the first time in 8 years, every American prisoner of war is home where he belongs and that he came home on his feet and not on his knees.

And most of all--and I say this not only to those in the graduating class but to the juniors and sophomores and the freshmen and, I trust, the generation to come--we can be thankful that for the first time in 25 years, no young American is being drafted to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States.

As we look at our economic situation, we see its problems. But just a few weeks ago in Paris, I talked to the leaders of 35 nations, the great nations of Europe and of Asia and some of the smaller nations of Latin America and Africa. I talked to them of their problems, and we talked of ours. And today, on this beautiful evening, we can also be thankful that whatever our problems are, that in America, Americans enjoy more freedom, more opportunity, better jobs, higher wages, and a greater chance for a great future than in any place in the world.

That is America. This is a great and a good country. But we must go from here to more greatness. As you study history, you will inevitably find that the time of a nation's potential destruction is not when it is weak, but when it is strong, or appears to be; not when it is poor, but when it is rich. Because what happens inevitably is a certain complacency, a certain softness that erodes the strength and the fiber that made the nation the great nation that it was.

In 2 years, the United States will reach that period of 200-years-old, and already there are those who look at America and wonder: Will we be rich, as we will be? Will we be strong, as we will be? But most important, will America still have the sense of vision, the sense of destiny, the sense of character and drive and determination that brought us across the mountains, across the prairies, and made us the great and strong nation that we are? That is the question.

And it is a question that is very important to Americans. But it is also important to all the people that live on this Earth today.

Dr. Kamm was telling me that this university proudly has in its graduating class representatives from over 40 countries abroad as well as representatives from 47 States. So, this is truly a university in the true sense of universal, and therefore, as I lay before you the challenges of the future, whether America has seen its great period, or whether the next 200 years may be greater, as I lay those great challenges out, you will see that they are not just America's challenges but they are those in which what America does will contribute to the benefit of all the people in the world.

I start with one that is very timely, and that is the problem of energy. And on that problem, those in this university have special skills and knowledge far beyond my own, but I do know this: that America consumes approximately 35 percent of the energy in the world.

I know too, however, that America is blessed with great natural resources and great human and technological skills which makes it possible for this Nation-one of the few nations in the world, incidentally, of the industrial nations--to set a goal which it can achieve, a goal of being completely independent in terms of its energy needs.

Let me tell you why we should have that. In September and October and November of last year, we went through a great crisis. It rebounded throughout our entire economy. It hurt all sectors of it in various ways. We are just recovering from it.

We want good relations with all nations in the world. But if the United States has the resources to become independent of any other nation for our energy, let's do it, and we can do it, and we shall do it by the year 1980.

Now, what does that require? It requires the development of our oil and gas resources and some action by the Congress that will allow their full development. It requires the development of our coal resources, in which we have two-thirds of all the known coal resources in the free world. We have not used them adequately because of .environmental problems and other problems recently, but it is possible not only to extract coal but to use coal and to make it a clean fuel. And if we do so, that can help make America self-sufficient in energy, and that is why we should move on that front.

And third, in areas little dreamed of 15, 20 years ago--nuclear power, which can be the cleanest and the safest of all power, solar energy, far out perhaps in terms of what the science and art would now seem to suggest, but certainly possible what I am simply saying to this graduating class is that we have a goal. That goal is, by the year 1980, to be independent in energy. It is going to take the cooperation of government. It is going to take your technological and other abilities to the extent that you work in these various areas. But it is a goal worth achieving. It will help us, and it will help other nations as well.

To put it in its proper context, let us understand what the mix is in terms of who does what. The Federal Government has a great role to play in this respect. We will be spending approximately $15 billion in research in the field of energy over the next 3 to 4 years. That is a very large amount of money. On the other hand, over the next 10 years private enterprise will be spending $500 billion, a half a trillion dollars, to achieve the goal that I am referring to.

And it allows me to make this point: America became what we are--we became rich and productive and strong-not because of what government did, but because of what people did. And it is people in our private capacities--that is what counts. You are the ones that are going to make America move forward in this and in all the other areas as well.

And now to a second great challenge for this splendid generation of Americans, and I refer to the challenge of food. We are blessed richly in America in this respect. I know that many who write me about the cost of living speak about high grocery bills, and yet even at their highest, due to the productivity of America's farmers, due to the fact that they have been able to produce more with less people, today the American housewife pays a smaller percentage of her budget for food than does any housewife in the world.

That is to the credit of America's farmers. It is to the credit of our distribution system. It does not mean that we perhaps cannot do better over a longer period of time in bringing those prices within those realms that everyone feels that he or she can afford. But what I do say is this: This is no time for jingoism as to who is number one or number two on this or that or the other between countries, but there is one area where America is by all odds number one, and that is in agriculture.

And looking to the future, the fact that America is so productive in agriculture that we produce enough to feed all of the American people, to clothe the American people, and to provide billions of dollars in aid as well as in sales to countries abroad, that is a great instrument for peace in the world, and we are using it for peace as well as for humanity. So, those who are in this field of American agriculture deserve the thanks of the Nation, and this university has played, I know, a very great role in that respect.

When I think, too, of one of your former presidents, Dr. Bennett,1 the first director of point 4, I think of another area in which American agriculture can play a role in dealing with the problem of hunger for the whole world. In a visit to Brazil in 1967, I was talking to the then President. Northern Brazil at that time was one of the poorest areas of the world. It is still very poor. I have seen poverty in many places--in India, in Bolivia, in Brazil, in China--and I can tell you that as you look at the hungry faces, it doesn't make any difference what the political philosophy may be of those who rule them. When you see the hungry children, it makes no difference about what the attitudes of their leaders may be. It is a problem. Your heart goes to them. And America, to its credit, has always been very, very generous in providing from our surplus for their needs.

1Dr. Henry G. Bennett was Administrator of the Technical Cooperation Administration in 1951. The Administration was created by Congress to implement the point 4 program by providing technical assistance to underdeveloped areas of the world in such fields as education, agriculture, and health. He was president of Oklahoma State University from 1926 to 1951

But now what has happened? The world is producing a little more. The demands are becoming greater. And as a result, we find that we face a potential situation with regard to food shortage, not only in America but in the world.

I come back to my conversation with the President of Brazil and what America can do there and in many other places. You have heard of the miracle rice and the miracle wheat, what it has done, for example, in Latin America in the one instance, and in the case of rice in Southeast Asia, in alleviating hunger by increasing production.

But there is another phase. It is not just in teaching farmers how to plant but it is the whole process of not only producing food but distributing it. And in Brazil, for example, the President told me that over one-half of everything grown on the farms in Brazil spoiled on the way from farm to market.

That is one country. I could repeat that for others, for India, certainly for China, for many others around the world.

What can America do about it? I am not suggesting that we export our farmers, but I am suggesting that American know-how, American technology in this area is a place where we--we can do something not only for ourselves but for others as well.

And that is why the World Food Conference, which we have helped to initiate this November, is a great enterprise and one that this young generation, I trust, those in this field, will follow through on in the years ahead. Because even though it may not be very close at home to you, think of those people, as my wife and I have seen them, in virtually every country of the world. When a person is hungry, when a person is poor, we cannot have a world that will live in safety if that situation is not remedied. It can be remedied, and we can help, and you have already helped.

The third area that I want to speak of, where we have a great challenge, is in the field of health. I understand from Dr. Kamm you do not have a school of medicine, but you have many who will, of course, be involved in the various medical arts in one way or another, and all of you, of course, will have an interest, I am sure, in this area.

But here, what we have now before us is an achievement that Americans have dreamed about but have never been able to achieve before, a program in which every American will have health insurance if he needs it; where every American will have protection against catastrophic illness where he needs it or wants it, and where this can be accomplished without additional taxes, and most important, where it is accomplished not by destroying the existing private medical system which has given us the best health care in the world, but by building on it. Because I say to you, let us remember, when an individual is sick, I think he prefers to have a doctor who is working for the patient rather than for the Federal Government, and that is what this program is all about.

The fourth area is related to the third in a very interesting way. You hear of the great hostility--and there is hostility at times in the philosophy of the United States and that of the great super power, the Soviet Union, and the super power of the future, the People's Republic of China--and you wonder, what areas are there where our interests do not collide? What areas are there where our interests are together? And there are many.

They do not receive the attention that they should: the joint project, for example, of the United States and the Soviet Union exploring space peacefully; the joint programs that we have developed with the Soviet Union and some also with the People's Republic of China, in the field of the environment where we share what we learn with them and they with us; and the joint programs, for example, that we have, and I mention this particularly in the field of health.

I found that in my talks with Mr. Brezhnev and with Mr. Chou En-lai and Mr. Mao Tse-tung, each in individual conversations emphasized the need, whatever differences in philosophies that we have, that the scientists and the medical technicians and doctors of the world should have no disagreement about working together against the diseases which are the scourges of mankind.

Just to recount to the younger members of this graduating class how much has happened in so few years, it is hard to realize that the man who served longest as President of the United States--12 years--was crippled with polio, because that was before the days of television and we did not think about it. He served well. But it is also well for us to realize that today, he would not have had polio.

We all think of this in personal terms. And I remember in our own family, 45 years ago, two brothers--one younger, one older--died of tuberculosis within 2 years of each other. Today, that would not happen, not in my family or in yours, because they have found the virus and they can kill it.

And that is why we have mounted within the Government of the United States a great program to find the cure or a number of cures, and it may be a number, for different types of cancer. That is why we have mounted programs, also, in the field of heart disease and many other areas. Oh, I do not mean to suggest that we are looking forward to a time when there will be no diseases and when men and women live forever, but I am saying this: that what we do here in the United States will be great in these years ahead because of the effort that we are putting in, but I also know that in the Soviet Union--and I have seen their hospitals there--and in the People's Republic of China where one-fourth of the ablest people in the world live, that there are doctors, there are people--men and women of genius. And if there is a way that the genius that they have and the genius that we have or that some other people, whether they are in Europe or Latin America or Southeast Asia, has, where those two types of genius can rub together, we may get that spark that otherwise might not occur if we live in isolation.

And that is why I say, what a great time for a new generation--to think that you live in an open world, that you live in a world where we are not isolated from one-fourth of all the people in the world, that you live in a world where we still have differences that we are attempting to negotiate rather than to fight about, but that you live in a world where you can look forward to working with other people whoever they are, whatever the color of their skins, whatever their background, whatever their political philosophy, but to work with them and not against them in those common causes of a better environment, a healthier world, a better world. This is a great goal.

And I say to you tonight that on this goal, you have often heard me speak of the need for us to work for what is called the generation of peace. That is stating it in much, it seems to me, too inadequate terms, although it would be more than we have had in this century, because Americans fought World War I and thought it was the last. And then came World War II for the sons of those of World War I. And after World War II and the United Nations and all the great hopes, we thought, now a period of peace. And the younger brothers of World War II were killed in Korea. And after Korea came Vietnam, and the sons of those who fought in World War II and Korea, or their younger brothers, lost their lives there.

And now what? It is not enough to end wars. What we must do is to build a new structure of peace in the world, and that requires something that America, and America only, must play a leading--and, in the free world, the leading--role.

Because today, as distinguished from the period before World War I and World War II, we cannot look across the seas to Europe and say, "Oh, the British can do it, or the French can hold the line." There is no other nation in the free world that has the strength militarily, that has the productivity economically, that can provide the leadership role that America is providing today in negotiating a reduction of nuclear arms with the Soviet Union, in opening a dialog with the People's Republic of China, in attempting to find, in one of the most diplomatic ventures of all time, in attempting to find a way in which peace can be brought to the cradle of civilization, the cradle of civilization and the religions--of many religions--in the Mideast, which could well be equated as the Balkans of the 1970's unless we do something about it and do something now.

I do not suggest to this audience where you, particularly in your schools of arts and sciences, have concentrated on these subjects, that the way to peace is easy. And I would never suggest that once you get peace, you have it, because peace is a continuing process, it is never an end.

But the United States today has the unique position because of our strength, because of our wealth, because we are respected, because it is known throughout the world that we seek domination over no other country, that we will not use our power to destroy peace anyplace or to destroy freedom, only to defend it. Because of these factors, America now has a chance, a chance that may never come again, to play the role of peacemaker in the world. And the question is, will we meet the challenge?

And the answer is not just in government, not just in the present leaders, the answer is in all the great mass of the American people: whether a nation that has sacrificed so much is willing now still to play a world role, whether a nation like America, which is so rich, still has the strength, the vision, the sense of destiny to play that role.

To the members of the graduating class, I think you have it. To the members of the graduating class, I want you to know that in 25 years, plus one, they are going to be celebrating a new year. Most of us will not be around, but you will. It comes once in 1,000 years. And on that new year, you will look back to this day, and then you will judge your generation.

Let me tell you what I think you will be able to say. Yours was the generation that was there, that had the strength and the stamina to see that America played a responsible role so that we did have peace in the world for a generation. Yours was the generation that helped America become self-sufficient in energy, that helped America to develop the food resources for ourselves and other nations so that the level, as far as people's abilities for nutrition is concerned, was raised not only for ourselves but for all people. Yours was the generation during which great strides were made forward in terms of fighting the scourges of disease wherever they existed throughout the world, and most of all, that yours was the generation, a generation that asked questions, a generation not afraid of controversy, but a generation that, when the chips were down, was strong in the right, believed in what we were doing.

I say to you, when the year 2000 comes, I am confident that the members of the class of 1974 of Oklahoma State University will look back and say: Yes, we met the test. Ours was the great American generation.

Note: The President spoke at 7:58 p.m. at Lewis Field.

Robert B. Kamm was president of Oklahoma State University.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at Commencement Exercises at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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