Remarks on Signing the National and Community Service Trust Act of
Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. I always wanted to be introduced by the host of the David Letterman Show. [Laughter] I was thinking about what my top 10 list would be, the best things about having Al Gore as Vice President. He educates me on things great and trivial, and that's 10. And numbers nine through one are, he has a vote in the United States Senate. He said, "And I'm always on the winning side when I vote." [Laughter]
I want to welcome you all to America's backyard, a fitting place to come to celebrate the opportunity to serve our neighbors and the opportunity to rebuild the American community. I have harbored this dream for years. It was stoked in me by so many thousands of experiences, I cannot even recall them all.
When the Vice President and I went across this country last year, I was deeply moved by forces that were both good and bad that kept pushing me to believe that this was more important than so many other things that all of us do in public life. I saw the wreckage, the insanity, the lost human potential that you can find now not only in our biggest cities but in every community. And yet, I saw even in the most difficult circumstances the light in the eyes of so many young people, the courage, the hunger for life, the desire to do something to reach beyond themselves and to reach out to others and to make things better.
I listened and learned from so many people. I saw the examples of the service programs that you have represented here on this stage. I watched people's dreams come to life. I watched the old and the young relate in ways they hadn't. I watched mean streets turn into safer and better and more humane places. I saw all these things happening, and I realized that there was no way any Government program could solve these problems, even if we had the money to spend on them, which we don't, but that the American people, if organized and directed and challenged and asked, would find a way.
I am in debt to so many people, all of whom have been at least referred to. But I would like to say a particular word of thanks to those who sponsored previous legislation for a limited basis. I want to say a special word of thanks to the Republicans and the Democrats who joined together in the Congress to make sure that this would know no party and that we would somehow reach beyond the normal debate and dialog to unify this country, starting with the Congress. I thank the people who helped me before I became President to understand more about national service, the people who wrote books and articles, the people who worked with me in the DLC and other organizations. I thank all of you because all of you played a role in this day. But most of all, I want to thank the young people of this country who were so wonderfully represented by these three young people, Reshard and Derek and Priscilla. Weren't they terrific? Let's give them another hand. [Applause]
I don't believe there was a stop on our bus tour across the country when the Vice President and I didn't mention our commitment to national service as a part of our drive to make college education affordable to all but also as part of our deeper desire to bring the American community back together.
I have to say a special word of appreciation to Eli Segal. I have known him for about half my lifetime. I can still remember when we were young with the dreams and the enthusiasms that these young people on this stage have today. I could not have known when we first met in our attempt to do the best we could by our country so long ago, that someday we would be standing here on this stage to do this. But I know this: This national service bill and this project would not be in the form it is and we would not be here celebrating today in the way we are if it had not been for his brilliant, dedicated leadership. And I thank him for that. Relying on the ancient adage that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, I am today forwarding to Senator Kennedy and the United States Senate the nomination of Eli Segal to be the Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
I also want to acknowledge, as has already been referred to, the roots of our history in all this day and people who have contributed to this day because of what they did in their time. Twice before in this century Americans have been called to great adventures in civilian service. Sixty years ago in the depths of depression, Franklin Roosevelt created the CCC and gave Americans the chance not only to do meaningful work so that they could feed themselves and their families but so that they could build America for the future. And down to this day there is not a State in this country that is untouched by the continuing impact of the good work done by the people who labored in the CCC.
Today we have two veterans of President Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps, William Bailey and Owen Davis. Would they please stand wherever they are? There they are. Thank you. It is with special pride that I will use President Franklin Roosevelt's pen set, with which he signed nearly every piece of legislation as President, to sign our bill here today.
We also point with pride, as the Vice President said, to the enduring legacy and the continued vitality of John Kennedy's Peace Corps, created by legislation which President Kennedy signed 32 years ago tomorrow. I want to acknowledge, as the Vice President did, the wonderful work of Sargent Shriver not only as the first Director and guiding spirit of the Peace Corps but for what he did with the VISTA program. And I want to acknowledge—[applause]— thank you—and to say with some pride that it was my privilege, influenced by people like the Vice President whose sister served with such distinction in the Peace Corps, to appoint the first Peace Corps volunteer to actually direct the Peace Corps, Carol Bellamy. And I thank her for her leadership. Thanks to the generosity of Sargent Shriver, I will also use the pen President Kennedy used 30 years ago—32 years ago to sign the Peace Corps legislation, to create a new national service corps for America. We will call it AmeriCorps.
When I asked our country's young people to give something back to our country through grassroots service, they responded by the thousands. You heard a couple of them here today. Eli's office was literally swamped with letters asking to serve. These two young people today represent 20,000 young people next year and 100,000 young people 3 years from now. And I hope, believe, and dream that national service will remain throughout the life of America not a series of promises but a series of challenges across all the generations and all walks of life to help us to rebuild our troubled but wonderful land. I hope that some day the success of this program will make it possible for every young American who wishes to serve and earn credit against a college education or other kinds of education and training, to do that. And I believe it will happen.
This morning our Cabinet and the heads of our Federal Agencies were directed to redouble their efforts to use service, community grassroots service, to accomplish their fundamental missions. We want them to help reinvent our Government, to do more and cost less, by creating new ways for citizens to fulfill the mission of the public. We believe we can do that. Already departments have enlisted young people and not so young people to do everything from flood cleanup to housing rehabilitation, from being tour guides in our national parks to being teachers' aides in our schools. In the coming months we will also challenge States and nonprofit organizations to compete for AmeriCorps volunteers. We'll ask our friends in higher education and the foundation world and in business to continue their leadership in the growing movement of national service.
But beyond the concrete achievements of AmeriCorps, beyond the expanded educational opportunities those achievements will earn, national service, I hope and pray, will help us to strengthen the cords that bind us together as a people, will help us to remember in the quiet of every night that what each of us can become is to some extent determined by whether all of us can become what God meant us to be.
And I hope it will remind every American that there can be no opportunity without responsibility. The great English historian Edward Gibbon warned that when the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free.
My fellow Americans, there are streets and neighborhoods and communities today where people are not free. There are millions of Americans who are not really free today because they cannot reach down inside them and bring out what was put there by the Almighty. This national service corps should send a loud and clear message across this country that the young people of America will preserve the freedom of America for themselves and for all those of their generations by assuming the responsibility to rebuild the American family. That is the dream which drove this idea to the reality we find today.
I am so proud of all of you who are a part of this. I am profoundly grateful to you. I ask you only now to remember that as we move toward the 21st century, the success of our great voyage—of this, the longest experiment in free society in human history—to remember that it is at the grassroots, in the heart of every citizen, that we will succeed or fail. Today we are taking a stand in this country for the proposition that if we challenge people to serve and we give them a chance to fulfill their abilities, more and more and more we will all understand that we must go forward together. This is the profoundest lesson of this whole endeavor. And it will be the great legacy of the wonderful people who make it come alive.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
NOTE: The President spoke at 11:15 a.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Summer of Service participants Reshard Riggins, Derek Gottfried, and Priscilla Aponte. H.R. 2010, approved September 21, was assigned Public Law No. 103-82.
William J. Clinton, Remarks on Signing the National and Community Service Trust Act of Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/217746