Richard Nixon photo

Remarks to a Student-Faculty Convocation at the University of Nebraska

January 14, 1971

Mr. President, Mr. Chancellor, Governor Exon, Senator Curtis, Senator Hruska, all of the distinguished guests on the platform, and students, members of the faculty of the University of Nebraska, and I also understand that we have guests here from Nebraska Wesleyan and from Union College, and friends of the University of Nebraska:

I appreciate the honor that has been extended to me to visit this campus, and the opportunity to pick up a rain check in effect, because Secretary Hardin, 2 years ago on the 100th anniversary of this great university, invited me to come to the university at the request of the university officials1 and because I had another engagement at that time I was unable to do so. I told him then that sometime while I was in office I would come. I wasn't quite sure I could make it. I am glad I could make it this year in view of what has happened.

1 Secretary of Agriculture Clifford M. Hardin was chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln from 1954 to 1969.

And that allows me, before making this award, to 'tell a little story. You will recall that from time to time, because I am somewhat of a football fan, that I have called football coaches or captains after a great victory in a significant game. I read a story in one of the Nebraska papers to the effect that immediately after the Orange Bowl game some of the team were gathered around the phone waiting for the call from the White House. It never got through. As a matter of fact, I was not able to make the call because while I had seen the last quarter of the game, which was very exciting--wasn't that something, that last quarter?--in any event--it shows what the defense means--but in any event, when we came to the end of the long day of football that day, I had to go on to another engagement. I checked with the White House operator and asked if it might be possible to get through to the dressing room down in Miami. Usually the President can get through on the telephone. This time the operator said, "Well, it will be just a moment, Mr. President. All the circuits are busy." She said, "Everybody from Nebraska is calling."

I knew that was the case, and I knew that this great team and the University of Nebraska have pride for the whole State, for all the institutions of this State, whatever they may be, and all the people of this State. And I am, therefore, honored to be here to participate in your pride in that team.

Now having said that, I want you to know that I have gotten into a little trouble over the past couple of years in picking number one teams. In 1969---or '70, I should recall, the 100th anniversary of college football, you will remember that before the bowl games I said that Texas was number one, and since then I have never been able to go to Pennsylvania without a passport.

This year I didn't make that mistake because I sought and got very good advice. I was in Omaha in the last weeks of October. At that time Nebraska was number three in the Associated Press poll. And I had already been to Columbus, Ohio, where everybody said Ohio State was number one. I was in Indiana where everybody told me that Notre Dame was number one. I was in Texas where everybody told me that Texas was number one, and I was going to be in California where, of course, all Californians thought that Stanford was number one. And in Arizona, Barry Goldwater said Arizona State was number one.

So with Roman Hruska and Carl Curtis, I said, "What should I do?" They thought a bit and finally Carl spoke up and he said, "You know, Mr. President, I would wait until after the bowl games." That was vision, real vision.

So in this year of football, a year of many great teams, a year in which many can perhaps rightfully claim to be number one, to come to Nebraska, a great university clearly apart from its great records in the field of athletics, to come here to the only major college team that was undefeated, and to make an award is something that I am very proud to do, proud to recognize this university, to recognize its coach, to recognize its co-captains, to recognize its fine members of the team, and in so doing to present the plaque from the President of the United States.

Consequently, at this time, for the official presentation, I would like to have the coach, Bob Devaney, to step forward. [Applause] You ought to run for something in this State.

And now the co-captains, Jerry Murtaugh and Dan Schneiss, if they would step forward to represent the team.

I shall now read the plaque which I understand will be put in one of the lockers. But in any event [laughter]--the plaque's wording is as follows:

"The University of Nebraska 1970 football team, Champions of the Big Eight Conference. Victor in the 1971 Orange Bowl, and picked by the Associated Press Number One Team of the Nation."

[At this point, the President presented the plaque to the coach of the University of Nebraska football team, Bob Devaney, who spoke briefly. The President then resumed speaking.]

And now if I could come to the other part of my assignment, as was pointed out by your president a moment ago, I wanted to use this opportunity to address the great student body of this university and your guests about some of the problems we have in this Nation, common problems, for younger people and older people as well.

In beginning my remarks, it is quite clear from the feeling in this audience that this is a very exciting time for this university. You are beginning the second hundred years of a very great tradition, and you are beginning it as champions.

You can all take pride in your great team. It is a splendid thing to be champions. But a more splendid thing, I believe, is the process by which a team becomes champion, the long struggle through defeat, through doubt, and then on to victory.

There is satisfaction here, and for all of us there are valuable lessons as well. For as vital as the understanding we gain in the classroom is the deeper understanding of ourselves that comes from competing against others and competing against ourselves.

In these endeavors, we go beyond awareness of what we are and we discover a higher understanding of what we can be if we know and have the courage and if we have the will.

It is in this way that we learn to believe in our dreams.

Nothing matters more to the future of this Nation than insuring that our young men and women learn to believe in themselves and believe in their dreams, and that they develop this capacity--that you develop this capacity, so that you keep it all of your lives.

As this great university looks to a new century so does our Nation. In this decade we Americans will celebrate the anniversary of the greatest experiment in liberty the world has ever known. It has succeeded for what, in the year 1976, will be 200 years. But like the continued success of this university, the continued success of the American experiment depends on one thing: on the qualities of heart and mind and spirit that our young people bring to both.

This Nation will not run on inertia. It could fail in one generation or it can last another 100 years or another 1,000 years. The answer lies in what you and your generation bring to the task of being an American and what you pass on to others.

These depend, in turn, upon what your Nation gives to you and gives to you now. And if we are to benefit fully from the energies and the ideals of our young people, we must break down the barriers to the exercise of those energies, the pursuit of those ideals.

Let me discuss one of those barriers that I know is on the minds of many of you here and many all over this Nation.

The war in Vietnam has taken a very heavy toll of our young men. This Administration has no higher priority than to end that war. But to end it in a way that we will have a lasting peace.

For one thing, I want to end it because this Nation has positive priorities, right here at home, that young men and women now occupied in war could turn their hands to in peace. Beyond this, I have some very personal reasons that I would like to end it.

Every week, as President of the United States, I write letters to the parents and the wives or even sometimes the children of men who have given their lives in Vietnam. It is no comfort to me that when I came into office I wrote 300 of those letters a week and that this week I will write 27. One is too many.

They were precious human lives and what they might have brought to America in peace no one will ever know. But them would have been poets among them and doctors and teachers and farmers; there would have been builders of America.

I want nothing in the world so much as to be able to stop writing those letters.

I know you realize, you who have studied history, that every American generation in this century has known war. I want yours to be the first generation in this century to enjoy a full generation of peace.

I have a plan which we are implementing to obtain that kind of peace. I can tell you confidently today it is succeeding. I believe yours will be a generation of peace. And then the question comes, and this is a bigger question, more profound: What will we do with the peace?

I am not one of those who believe that we will have instant tranquillity when we have peace. I was talking to a European statesman a few months ago about the common problems that we had in both of our countries with student unrest, and he said to me, "The problem with your youth is war. The problem with our youth is peace?'

What he meant, of course, was that the challenges of peace are as great as the challenges of war and as difficult to meet. There needs to be something more than the mere absence of war in life. Young people need something positive to respond to, some high enterprise in which they can test themselves, fulfill themselves. We must have great goals--goals that are worthy of us, worthy of our resources, our capacities, worthy of the courage and the wisdom and the will of our people. And we do have such great goals at home in America.

Consider, for example, the problems of our environment. To subdue the land is one thing. To destroy it is another, and we have been destroying it. And now we must undo what we have done. You must help in this venture. It will require all the dedication you can bring to it--your brains, your energy, your imagination, those special qualities you possess in such abundance---idealism, impatience, and faith. To preserve the good earth is a great goal.

Consider the problems of our cities. Through time, cities have been centers of culture and commerce, and nowhere has this been more true than in America. But today, many of our great cities are dying. We must not let this happen. We can do better than this. We must do better than this. Only if the American city can prosper can the American dream really prevail.

Consider the problems of rural America. We are a nation not only of cities but of towns, of villages and farms. In the soul and substance of rural life in this country the most abiding values of the American people are anchored. Rural America, too, needs our attention. We must create a new rural environment, a new rural prosperity, which will not only stem the migration from rural areas to the cities but which will bring people back to the heartland of America.

Consider the problems of overpopulation, the problems of education, the problems brought about by technology, the problems of achieving full and equal opportunity for all of our people, of health, the problems of prosperity itself, of poverty in a land of plenty. Those are just a few of the challenges that face us.

We must face them together. There can be no generation gap in America. The destiny of this Nation is not divided into yours and ours. It is one destiny. We share it together. We are responsible for it together. And in the way we respond, history will judge us together.

There has been too much emphasis on the differences between the generations in America. There has been too much of a tendency of many of my generation to blame all of your generation for the excesses of a violent few. Let me repeat what I have said over and over again during the past 2 years.

I believe one of America's most priceless assets is the idealism which motivates the young people of America. My generation has invested all that it has, not only its love but its hope and its faith, in yours.

I believe you will redeem that faith and justify that hope. I believe that as our generations work together, as we strive together, as we aspire together, we can achieve together--achieve great things for America and the world.

And so let us forge an alliance of the generations. Let us work together to seek out those ways by which the commitment and the compassion of one generation can be linked to the will and the experience of another so that together we can serve America better and America can better serve mankind.

Our priorities are really the same. Together we can achieve them.

I pledge to you that as you have faith in our intentions, we will do our best to keep faith with your hopes.

Let me cite one of the ways in which I propose to give substance to this alliance between the generations. One thing government must do is to find more effective ways of enlisting the dedication and idealism of those young Americans who want to serve their fellow man. Therefore, I will send a special message to the 92d Congress asking that the Peace Corps, VISTA, a number of other agencies now scattered throughout the Federal Government, be brought together into a new agency, a new volunteer service corps that will give young Americans an expanded opportunity for the service they want to give, and that will give them what they do not now have offered to them--a chance to transfer between service abroad and service at home.

I intend to place this new agency under the dynamic leadership of one of the ablest young men I have ever known, the Peace Corps Director, Joe Blatchford, and I intend to make it an agency through which those willing to give their lives and their energy can work at cleaning up the environment, combating illiteracy, malnutrition, suffering, and blight, either abroad or at home.

To the extent that young people respond to this opportunity, I will recommend 'that it be expanded to new fields, new endeavors, for I believe that government has a responsibility to insure that the idealism and willingness to contribute of our dedicated young people can be put to constructive use.

As we free young Americans from the requirements of the draft and of the war, from the requirements of forced service, let us open the door to voluntary service. And for those who want to serve but cannot devote their full time, the new Center for Voluntary Action will open new opportunities for millions of Americans of all ages to the extent they wish to contribute their 'time, their talents, their heart, to building better communities, a better America, a better world.

Let me turn now to another way in which you can contribute. You all know that in the year 1970 we have taken a step which could have a very dramatic effect on your future and the future of America. We have provided you with the most powerful means a citizen has of making himself felt in a free and democratic society.

You now have the right to vote. Today in a new and exciting and dramatically promising way, you, each of you 18 or over has a voice in the future of America. The whole history of democracy in this country is a chronicle of the constant broadening of the power to participate. Each new group receiving the franchise has had a beneficial effect on the course of America. Each new group has given freshness and vitality to the purposes of government. And now it is your turn to do the same.

So much is in your hands now. To those who have believed the system would not be moved, I say try it. To those who have thought that the system was impenetrable, I say there is no longer a need to penetrate; that door is open. For each of you, as for each of the rest of us, there are going to be some disappointments. There will be defeat. In the hard logic of life, for anyone to win, someone else has to lose. For some to know victory, others have to know defeat. This is part of democracy.

For it is in the very nature of a free society that no one can win all the time, no one can have his own way all the time, and no one is right all the time. If we suffer a setback or if we lose on an issue, the answer is not to blame the system but to look within ourselves to see how we can strengthen our resolve and intensify our effort or perhaps to see whether the other fellow just might have been right all the time.

Defeat, therefore, can be an occasion for learning, for weighing the wisdom of our own purposes, examining the strength of our own resources.

I have seen two of Bob Devaney's teams play in the Orange Bowl when they lost. But defeat, instead of disheartening them, brought that experience which later led to victory..

I know that there are those who reject politics, who scorn the political life, and I can assure you that politics attracts its share of bad people, but so do all the other professions. This does not reflect on the political system, for politics is a process, not an end in itself, and the process can be as good or as bad as the people that are part of it.

It may be tempting to suppose, like the ostrich, that what we choose not to be involved in will, therefore, not involve us. But we cannot make a separate peace, not one of us can. We are all committed, whether we choose to be or not. You can reject this, you can come to the task of being an American like Nietzsche's ropemakers, who "pull their threads in length and themselves, they are always going backward." Or you can accept the commitment. You can accept the challenge. You can accept the high adventure of being an American citizen.

In the end, the history of this time will reflect your choice, and it will record that you were the first generation of young Americans to be given this chance. And therefore, I urge you to choose well and to choose carefully.

There is an old excuse: This is a world that I never made. That won't do any longer. You have now the opportunity, the obligation, to mold the world that you live in, and you cannot escape this obligation.

There is a story of an old and very wise teacher in early Athens. There was no question the teacher could not answer. There seemed to be nothing in life the old man did not understand. And finally, one of his students hit upon a way to defeat the old man's wisdom.

The student determined that he would catch a bird and hold it concealed in his hands. He would ask the old man to guess what he was holding. If the old man guessed it was a bird, then the boy would make him say whether the bird was alive or whether it was dead. And if the teacher guessed that the bird was dead, the boy would open his hands and let the bird go, free and alive. But if the wise man guessed that the bird was alive, then the boy would crush out its life and open his hands to reveal a dead bird.

And so it progressed, just as the boy had planned, until he asked the wise man, "Is the bird alive or is it dead?" And the old man said, "My son, the answer to that question is in your hands."

In your hands now rests the question of the future of this Nation, of its promise of progress and prosperity, of the dream of democracy and the future of freedom, of whether men can continue to be governed by human wisdom.

And I believe that these things rest in good hands, and that as we put our hands together, your generation and mine, in the alliance we forge we can discover a new understanding, a community of wisdom, a capacity for action, with which we can truly renew both the spirit and the promise of this great and good land we share together.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:36 p.m. at the university's Coliseum in Lincoln, Nebr.

Joseph Soshnik was president and Durward B. Varner was chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

An advance text of the President's remarks was released on the same day.

Richard Nixon, Remarks to a Student-Faculty Convocation at the University of Nebraska Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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