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Remarks on Presenting the Young American Medals for Service and Bravery

July 29, 1993

The President. Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, especially to our honorees, I want to welcome you to the White House and say I hope you had a wonderful day in Washington. I know you've been over to the Justice Department with the Attorney General. I want to thank her for her service to America and for her introduction and to recognize some others who are here: Floyd Clarke, the Acting Director of the FBI; Robert Bonner, the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration; Henry Hudson, the Director of the U.S. Marshals Service; S.S. Ashton, Jr., of the Office of Justice Programs; and Ellen Wesley, who coordinates this program at the Department of Justice. I'd also like to recognize at least four Members of the Congress who are here: Senators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan from North Dakota, and Senator Larry Pressler from South Dakota, and Congressman Tim Johnson from South Dakota. I want to thank you for coming.

The Young American Medal for Service and the Young American Medal for Bravery are awarded to a young person whose deeds, in a very real way, represent the best our Nation can offer. At a time when we hear too much about self-interest and not enough about what each of us can do to advance the common good of all Americans, seven young people here being honored, with their families, are role models for all the rest of us. Their selfless acts of service to their neighbors remind us of our own responsibilities to our communities and to our Nation.

As extraordinary as the courage and initiative of all these young people has been, we must remember, too, that every American can contribute. Look how the American people are responding to the challenge presented by the horrible floods in the middle of the country or how they responded to Hurricane Andrew last year. Most Americans want to do more and will every day if they're given a chance to do it.

The medals we award today honor special acts. And in the same spirit, I have tried to launch in the Nation's Capital for young people throughout the country a program of national service that will give people the opportunity to help people day-in and day-out, and to earn some money as well against their college education.

The plan was passed yesterday by the House of Representatives, and we are one vote shy of ending the filibuster in the Senate. I hope that will happen tomorrow, and millions of young people over the next umpteen years will be given the opportunity to serve in a very real and compelling and human way in their own communities.

Lately we hear a lot about the things like cost-effectiveness and efficiency, and those are very important things, but they sound sort of bureaucratic. Today we honor things that matter more, the potential of the human heart and the courage of even the very young, what the great American writer from my part of the country, William Faulkner, called the truths of the heart: love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. When an emergency struck, the young people we honor today didn't wait, they acted. When a need arose, they didn't question whether they would succeed in the end, they simply went to work. We have a lot to learn from the young people we honor today.

Now I'd like for each of them to come up on the stage and receive his or her medal as I call their names, and then we have a place for them to stand. I'd also like for their parents and family members to stand as I read a few words about them.

The Young American Medal for Bravery is presented to Waylon Dean Bertsch of Buchanan, North Dakota. I'd like the people who are here with Waylon to stand up. Anybody here? There they are, back there. When Waylon was 10 years old, his 5-year-old sister, Andrea, fell through the ice in a river near their home. He sent for his parents and then went to his sister's rescue. After falling through the ice himself, he kicked to keep his body and his sister above water. It worked. When their parents arrived, they pulled both of them out alive. Good for you.

Christopher Paul Erichs, Rapid City, South Dakota. Stand up. Give him a hand. [Applause] A student at Christopher's school entered a classroom with a sawed-off shotgun, ordered the teacher to leave, and took 22 students hostage over a 2 1/2-hour standoff with professional negotiators. As the gunman moved to light a cigarette, Christopher snatched the shotgun from his hands, calmly freed the other hostages, and called in the police. Let's give him another hand. [Applause]

Jessica Ann Johnson of Elliott, Iowa. Who is here with you? Look, you've got plenty of folks here with you. Jessica was just 7 years old on her family farm when she heard the screams of her 4-year-old brother. He had crawled into a pigpen and was attacked, trampled, and bitten by 450-pound sows. She went into the pen with the sows, dragged her brother to a safe spot, went back through the pen and went to her mother for help.

I can only tell you that this is something I have a limited, similar experience with. When I was 6, I was attacked by a ram on our farm, and I was darn near killed. I know how terrifying it is when you're that age to be attacked by an animal that can take your life. To think that this young girl at her age, to have that amount of courage to save a member of her family is really astonishing. Let's give her a hand. [Applause]

After I got bloodied by that ram, I got into politics thinking I wouldn't get knocked around so much. I think you ought to stay on the farm. [Laughter]

The Young American Medal for Service is presented to Kelly Elizabeth Broxton from Gaithersburg, Maryland. Who's here with you? They couldn't contain themselves. They started clapping early. Stand up. This is great. Kelly taught over 300 students about basic first aid, certified first aid training, and how to get treatment for substance abuse. She also organized a youth council that recruited students from 19 other schools to perform community service projects. Good for you. Congratulations.

Dennis Chisholm, Jr., of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Your family is standing. Give them a hand. [Applause] Dennis volunteered his many talents during the school year and 5 days a week in the summer to work in a center for children with disabilities. He helped other children develop motor skills and build their self-esteem through a range of physical and creative activities, including music and even computers.

I think that I should note that we have just celebrated this week the 3d anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a major piece of civil rights legislation. But like every other piece of civil rights legislation we ever signed, it can only work if there is change in the hearts and minds of the rest of the American people. And this young man has helped other people to see the abilities of people with disabilities. We're all in his debt.

Another person who has done much the same is Sarah Elizabeth Greensfelder of Baltimore. Sarah has taken part in all kinds of community service programs: at blood drives, the Special Olympics, Johns Hopkins Pediatric Center, in nursing homes, or with housebound senior citizens. When she was selected for this medal she had volunteered over 900 hours for helping others, the equivalent of working full-time for half a year. Let's give her a hand. [Applause] Where's your family? They should stand, too. Let's give them a hand. [Applause] That's good. Look at that. You've got a whole back row. Thank you.

Now I'd like to ask—I'm not going to leave you over there—Gennie Sue Sluder of Clatskankie, Oregon—did I say it right?

Ms. Sluder. No. [Laughter]

The President. How do I say it? Say it.

Ms. Sluder. Clatskankie.

The President. Clatskankie, Oregon— [applause] —stand up. Gennie started a program called Help Hungry Kids. She went to the school board and managed a statewide campaign that asked students at all 235 high schools in Oregon to donate $1 and two cans of food apiece for needy children. Now she's at George Fox College, and she's working at two jobs to put herself through school. But when she was in high school she thought of a way to organize a plan for every person her age in the State to help children who were less fortunate. A very impressive accomplishment.

I want to say again on behalf of all the people of the United States, it is a great honor to have these fine young people, their families, friends, and supporters in the White House today. They've made us all very proud, and they've reminded us again of what is most important about our citizenship, our roles in our families and in our communities, and in a very real sense, what it means just to be a person. They're great. Let's give them one more hand. And thank you all for being here.

NOTE: The President spoke at 6:05 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Presenting the Young American Medals for Service and Bravery Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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