Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to Students at Carlmont High School in Belmont, California

October 22, 1994

It's nice to be back in California. It's nice to be here in Belmont. It's nice to be here at Carlmont High School. I'm honored to be the first President to come here. And it's only fair that I came here to see your principal, since he didn't get to come and see me. Now that should not be interpreted as a sign of dissatisfaction with the lady who got to be the principal of the year, but he would have made an awful good one. [Laughter] And he sounds to me like the principal of the year here.

I want to say how very honored I am to be here with all of you. I thank Mayor Rianda for her welcome, Mayor Davids for what he said. I thank them for their leadership and their devotion to public service at the grassroots level, where so many of our problems and challenges have to be met. I thank Congressman Lantos and Congresswoman Eshoo for not only being my friends but for their extraordinary service in Washington. I can tell you that there is this popular feeling, I think, that nearly everybody who goes off to Washington has something bad happen to them and forgets about the folks back home; they do not. And they represent you well, and you should be very proud of them. I'm also very pleased to be joined today by your State treasurer, Kathleen Brown, and your State insurance commissioner, John Garamendi. Thank you, John. I'd like to introduce one other person, too, who is my partner in these education endeavors, a former colleague of mine and former Governor of Vermont and now the Deputy Secretary of Education, who's come all the way from Washington with me today, Governor Madeleine Kunin. Please make her feel welcome. [Applause] I want to say a little more about Senator Feinstein in a moment, in connection with this work, but I appreciate what she said today.

But let me begin by saying that, as all of you know, I had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in this magnificent State of yours a couple of years ago. And since I have been President, I think I've been back here a dozen times. I've worked on emergencies for California, like the earthquake and the fires. I've worked on trying to get the economy of this State going again, to sell computers overseas, to sell the farmers' rice to Japan for the first time, to start the shipbuilding industry in the southern part of the State, to help the defense conversion momentum really get going here so we could build a lot of jobs out of this defense downsizing and not just lose them. I've tried to do things that would help you deal with the crime and the immigration problems, real, concrete steps, not just talk about it. Ten thousand more police officers will come to California under the crime bill. We have doubled the number of immigration officers along the southern border of the State. We've begun to have a real impact in dealing with the problem of illegal immigration.

But what I want to say to you is that over the long run, if we are going to have a bright future for the people of the United States, and if California is going to work—and it can work, you look around at the students here, look at all the different ways they found to say welcome to me up there—if this country is going to work, and this State is going to work, then schools like this school have to work all across America. We have to prove that there is strength, not weakness, in our diversity. We have to prove that all children can learn. And we have to prove that with all the changes that we're going through in America today, we can still give our kids an old-fashioned, safe upbringing and a good education, because that is the key to the future of the global economy.

One of the least known stories, perhaps, of the recent concluded session of Congress is that it was the best session for education in at least three decades. [Applause] That's worth clapping for. I appreciate that. This Congress expanded the Head Start program, making more children eligible and making younger children eligible. This Congress passed the Goals 2000 bill, writing into national law our national education goals, world-class standards, and saying that we would help to develop means of measuring whether we're meeting those standards but emphasizing that education reform has to come from the grassroots, school by school.

Just a couple of days ago I signed the elementary and secondary education act, which dramatically reduces the Federal regulations telling schools how to spend the money we give them to help kids who need extra help in school and encourages schools to do things that will actually prove that children can learn without regard to their racial or economic background. The bill also, as Senator Feinstein said, helps to support safe schools initiatives and promotes the concept of character education when basic civic values to be taught in the schools are developed at the community level.

We also passed a bill for young people who don't go to college but do want to get good education, an apprenticeship bill to help every State in the country develop a system to guarantee that even those who don't go to college will have a chance to get some further education and training and get a good job with a prospect of a growing income.

Finally, and perhaps most important, we dramatically reorganized the system by which the National Government makes college loans available, not only to low income but also to middle class young people.

One of the things that's always bothered me in the last couple of years is seeing the cost of a college education go up faster than any other essential part of a family's budget, even more rapidly than health care costs. In my own State, I saw young people start college and then drop out because they either couldn't get loans or they were convinced they would never be able to repay them. Then I saw young people get out of college with big debts and take jobs that paid higher wages, not because they wanted them but because they were afraid they couldn't afford to do something they really wanted to do, like work with people in the community to help kids get a better start or be schoolteachers or police officers or do other things, because they were afraid they could never repay their college loan.

Under this system, you won't have to worry about that anymore when you become of age and you get out of high school. You'll be able to choose to borrow money and pay it back over a longer period of time at a lower interest rate as a percentage of your income, so that if you choose to serve the public and you choose not to get rich, you at least won't be driven into the poor house by the cost of your college education.

The last thing the Congress did was to pass a program that's already being felt here in California, the national service program, AmeriCorps, to give young people the chance to serve their communities and earn money for their college education. This year, 20,000 young Americans are doing it; year after next, 100,000 young Americans are doing it. If the Congress will continue to support it, I am convinced we can have as many as a half a million young Americans paying their way to college by solving the problems of this country one on one, person by person, at the grassroots level all across America. And I thank the Congress for that record of education reform.

Now, having said that, let me come to the point. Education still does not occur in Washington. Education occurs school by school, class by class, student by student. The magic of education is in what happens between the teachers and the students, what the role of the principal is, whether the parents are supportive at home, what is going on inside the student. None of that can happen in an atmosphere of fear.

We all know stories, horrible stories of children being shot or cut or terrorized. When I was in California last year, I did a town meeting and a young man from northern California told me that he and his brother changed schools because they thought the school they were in was so dangerous. And then when they lined up to register in the new school they thought was safer, somebody just came in the school door and shot his brother, standing right there in line to register. He just happened to be in the wrong place.

You would not believe the letters I get from children of all ages begging me to do something about the violence that terrorizes their lives. You may have seen me read a letter that I got from a young man from New Orleans, when the crime bill was being debated, who said, "I know you can do something about crime, and I am frightened." That young man was shot a couple of weeks after he wrote a letter to me.

I got a letter after the crime bill was signed from the son of a friend of mine in my administration who said, "I have a nice family. We have a high income. We live in a good neighborhood. I go to a good school. My friends and I are still scared every time I go downtown to the movies. I feel better now that the crime bill has been signed."

We cannot operate in a country where children are afraid and cannot feel, much less think. You cannot learn in that kind of atmosphere. That is why, as the principal said, we're trying to be tough and firm and strong in some of these critical areas. That's why we had to pass the Brady bill. That's why we had to pass the crime bill. That's why we adopted Senator Feinstein's amendment to ban assault weapons on the streets of our cities. And that's why we come here today to sign this executive order. I know here in this high school you already have a zero tolerance policy for guns, and I applaud you for it. I applaud your principal, and I applaud the students who support it. Now students all over the country, their parents, their teachers, their principals will be required to meet the challenge that you have met, to follow your example. Students have to take the lead to take responsibility for this. We can do better, and we must.

"Zero tolerance" is a commonsense policy. Why does anybody need to have a gun in school? That's why this order directs the Secretary of Education to withhold funding the States that don't comply with the law. Young people simply should not have to live in fear of young criminals who carry guns to school.

And again I will say, just like the assault weapons, this bill is in the Federal law because Senator Feinstein sponsored it and demanded it. And we got it thanks to her efforts and those of Senator Dorgan, and I thank them both.

As I sign this order, just before I do, I want you to think about it, all of you students here. What are you going to do? What are you personally going to do about what's going on? That's really what counts. We can have this rule, and fewer people will bring guns to schools. We also need fewer guns on our streets. One of the things in the crime bill is the banning of juvenile possession of handguns unless the juvenile is under the supervision of an adult. We are doing all we can to pass laws. But in the end your future will be decided by what is inside you, what you decide to do.

I think all Americans have been very moved— I know I certainly have—by the sight of the Haitian people getting their freedom back and President Aristide going back, to bring democracy back to Haiti. You know, one of his biggest challenges after all the violence that those people have suffered is to make sure that his own supporters now do not resort to violence to retaliate. Why is violence going up so much among young people in our country? Violence begets violence, begets violence, begets violence. It has to end somewhere.

And if you watched President Aristide back in Haiti, perhaps the most gripping thing was when he stood there—having had many of his friends killed, having had children that he tried to help terrorized—standing there saying to the masses of his people, "No to violence, no to retribution, yes to peace, yes to reconciliation." And if they are saying that inside their heart, that will do more than any law.

So I say to you, as your principal said, we've done some tough things to try to give you a bright future. And we're not ashamed of them; we're proud of them. If we can think of other things to do, we will do them as well. But in the end, what you say inside is even more important. You must say no to guns, no to gangs, no to drugs; yes to education, yes to hope, yes to your own future.

The 21st century can be the best time this country and this State ever knew because of all of you, because of our diversity, because in a global society we will be the great global nation, because everybody can be an American. You don't have to be of a certain race or ethnic background or religious conviction. You just have to come here and share our land and share our values and make the most of your own life. That is what you have to do.

But in the end, you will have to do it. So I say to you, I'm proud to sign this order to give you the chance to say yes to your future. And I hope and pray you will do it.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:11 p.m. In his remarks, he referred to Carlmont High School principal Michael Johnson, Mayor Pam Rianda of Belmont, CA, and Mayor Tom Davids of San Carlos, CA. The memorandum on implementation of safe schools legislation was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on October 25.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to Students at Carlmont High School in Belmont, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under





Simple Search of Our Archives