George Bush photo

Remarks to Students at Conestoga Valley High School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

March 22, 1989

Chad, thank you, and Mr. Wirth, thank you, sir, for having us here. I'm sorry we had a little bad weather a week or two ago, and postponing this visit. Thinking back, regrettably quite a few years, to my own school days, I can imagine one thought that might have run through your mind: I hope he comes back -- anything to get out of class. [Laughter] So, I apologize for any inconvenience on the tests. But I want to thank the students; the parents; the teachers here; Mr. Wirth, your principal; and Chad Weaver, the student body president. Listening to him and his poise up here, I don't know how Senator Specter or Governor Casey or even I might feel. This guy might run against us someday. He sounds terrific -- [laughter] -- pretty tough.

I am particularly grateful to the Governor of the Commonwealth for being here with us and Senator Specter, a most respected leader in the United States Senate, for taking the time out to come here. Your own Congressman has a vote, an important vote, on our side of the aisle -- his side -- today that keeps determining the leadership there that keeps him. I think he planned to be with us if that vote hadn't taken place. But I do want to pay my respects to Bob Walker. And then my special introduction to you -- one who you know well and who has been a symbol of propriety and leadership and enthusiasm for Pennsylvania -- and that, of course, is your own ex-Governor and now the Attorney General of the United States, Dick Thornburgh. What a job he is doing! And the other -- I'm not sure he's been here, but he's been almost every place else; I expect he's been to Lancaster. But Bill Bennett, a former Secretary of Education, is now the first drug czar. Why in the United States we use the word "czar" to establish a real leader, I don't know. But he's tough as the czars were, and he is going to help us whip the scourge of drugs. And here he is, Bill Bennett. [Applause]

You know, we often think of drug abuse as an urban, inner-city phenomenon. Millions of Americans think of their own communities, and they say it can't happen here. Well, the people of rural Pennsylvania know that's not true. And in the past couple of years, drug abuse has escalated here. And the good news is you're fighting back. Your community is too proud, your traditions here too deeply rooted for an invader to threaten your safety and well-being without a fight. And when drugs come here to the Conestoga Valley, that's proof that the drug epidemic is a national problem. Look, Lancaster is a strong community, a place where small town values is not a cliche. It's a way of life. And you know what matters: family and faith and being a good neighbor and a member of the community. The rising problem here simply shows how vulnerable every American city and town is to the menace of drug abuse. And recognizing this fact is the first step towards finding a solution. And Lancaster is on its way.

This morning you heard from Thomas Hipple and Peter True, two young men who for reasons of their own have made a commitment to help others understand the lasting damage that drugs can do and prevent their peers from making what can be a life-shattering choice. What Tom and Peter are doing takes tremendous courage and commitment. And I'm here to say that you're not alone in this -- battling the drug problem. You have partners in your community and in others across the United States, and you have partners in the war on drugs in Washington, right there on Pennsylvania Avenue. And as I said in my Inaugural Address -- and I will keep saying it because I feel driven by this commitment -- I am committed to the ending of the scourge of drugs across the United States of America, and I need your help.

Our task is not just to deplore the drug problem but to take action against it. What the banners that I've seen here say to me is that this valley and the people of Lancaster are ready to take action to stop the drug scourge. And one of the most powerful weapons against drug use is education.

And of course, there's another side to the drug program. I'm going to be going down with Dick Thornburgh and Bill Bennett, down to Wilmington later on, on my way back to Washington. And there we'll be talking about interdiction, stopping drugs from coming in, and also enforcement, the law enforcement side that Dick Thornburgh has the responsibility for -- our effort to stop the illegal drugs, shut down the trade. But this morning, I want to talk to you all on the means of prevention, on drying up the demand for illegal drugs.

Antidrug education and awareness can help provide the kids and the young adults with both the reasons and the willpower to resist the lure of drugs. And that's the aim of an antidrug education program called DARE -- D-A-R-E -- Drug Abuse Resistance Education, and that's helping, as the people involved with DARE like to say, "drug-proof" our children. The program was pioneered, incidentally, by the Los Angeles Police Department and the L.A. public school system. I've been out there and witnessed the program in action, and DARE sends these police officers into the classroom to work with the kids, build their self-esteem, teach them that they can refuse when they're pressured to try drugs. And the DARE program is teaching youngsters something else: that the police and their schools are united in a common effort to stop drug abuse. In the 6 years since the program began in California, DARE has caught on nationwide. And this year, in 1,200 communities in 45 States, 3 million children will participate.

DARE is just one example of the kind of program that can provide our children both the reasons and the willpower to resist the lure of drugs. There is no one right answer when it comes to battling drug abuse. Each community will find what works best, and we'll learn from each other.

I'm told that right here in Lancaster you have a program called High-Risk Youth in the elementary schools and another called SCIP, the School Community Intervention Program, in place -- that one's in the high schools and in the junior highs. And they aim at identifying young people whose circumstances and family situations make them most vulnerable to the lure of drugs. Targeting these youth for special attention is crucial, and with High-Risk Youth and SCIP, you're doing something to stop drug problems before they begin.

For my part, I'm going to see that drug education receives the funding it needs. Most of the funding, as you know, comes from local school boards and States. I think it's 7 percent of the funding is Federal. But our budget this year for 1990 calls for a full $1.1 billion for drug prevention and antidrug education activity. And even in these tight budget times, that's up 16 percent over 1989. I've urged Congress to provide $392 million for the Drug Free Schools and Communities program, funds that go to the States and institutions of higher education.

And then as I mentioned earlier with great pride, and I'll say it again, I have selected Bill Bennett to serve as the Director -- this is his official title, I told you the nickname -- the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to map the strategy and oversee the antidrug campaign. And I'll tell you, I picked him because he's knowledgeable, he's tough, and he is determined and, most importantly though, he cares deeply about the young people of this country.

These initiatives are important, and they're going to have an impact. But there's a role for each of us in the war on drugs, and I hope you'll join me in asking what you can do to help, especially to advance the antidrug education and awareness. You know, we can all play a part in increasing awareness about the ravages of drug dependency. We must get the message across that drugs are not a form of entertainment or a helpless, harmless means of escape. Drugs are a poison, to users and to our communities. But a widespread awareness of the dangers of drug abuse depends on sending consistent signals, on sending a clear message that using drugs is not fashionable, is not fun, and above all else, it is not safe.

For too long -- and this isn't the fault of the young people here -- because for too long, our culture, our popular culture glorified drug use. I think that's changing now, and that's a real change for the better. Consider the anti-drug- abuse campaign on television. Not long ago, I was told a story about a little girl, 4 years old, who's getting the message. She got up from in front of the television to tell her parents something important. "Drugs," she said, "fry your brain like an egg." We've all seen that commercial the little girl was talking about. Whether you're 4 or 14 or 40, the message gets across. And let's carry that message, all of us. And I would say right here: I hope that the movie producers and the movie directors and those involved in the entertainment business will stop, will put an end to the glorification or its humorous treatment of narcotics.

And let's shed some of the perceptions about the drug problem that are comforting, but are completely incorrect. There's no room for saying, "Drug abuse doesn't affect me." Think about the costs of drug abuse: the lost time, the waste, the crime, the accidents that can be traced to the influence of drugs. Twenty-three million Americans used illegal drugs last year. Countless thousands died. And the fact is that none of us -- none of us -- is immune to the problems that drug abuse can cause. So, together, let's you and me send a message on drug abuse to the so-called casual user: Face up to the fact that your so-called recreational drug use contributes to the drug culture -- to the crime, the death, and degradation associated with the drug trade.

The other day I was in New York, and I talked to a group of DEA agents, drug enforcement agents, who lay their lives on the line for us, as they try to interdict narcotics and stop it right there in the street. But there was a team that had worked in a white-collar business, in the brokerage business, of all things, down on Wall Street. They looked like they belonged on Wall Street -- nice clean-cut guys, you know -- a wonderful looking young man and a young woman. And they said that in that culture there, if people stayed over and worked overtime, their reward might be some cocaine to stay on a little later in the office. It isn't just the impoverished; it isn't just those who are fighting trauma in their lives. There's this whole concept that recreational drug use has been condoned, and we've got to stop it. We have got to make people understand, whatever walk of life you're in, that drug use is bad, it's death, it is degradation. And so, the fight is not going to be just in the ghettos, where the impoverished and the hopeless are; it's going to be all across the board.

To parents: Your children know more than you realize about drugs. Make it your business as a parent to know about drug abuse yourself. Educate yourselves. Don't hide from the reality of drug abuse in our communities and then hope for the best -- hope that someone else will solve the problem. Your children depend on you to help separate the fact from the fiction, to help them make a choice and then stick with it, when it comes to resisting drugs.

To the kids: Let's send the message that drugs are dangerous; that you don't need drugs to feel good about yourself or to win approval from others; that your parents, the people in your schools and your community care. But most of all, you must understand that the decision against drugs is yours to make, no one else's. When it's time to draw the line against drugs, the final choice is yours.

I get a lot of mail. Some of it is very serious, some of it very disturbing, and some of it quite amusing. Get a lot of letters from school kids. I got one not long ago from a girl in California -- fifth grader. She told me how she wanted to change the world -- wonderfully idealistic -- and that making the world a better place meant putting an end to drug abuse. And then she wrote, "I don't know if I can do it all by myself. I need your help." Well, she does, and she's going to get it. And, yes, I can help, and so can all of you. And that's the answer we owe our children. But there's something else that the little girl who wrote that letter needs to know. There is something that she can do, that all of us here can do, to bring ourselves one step closer to winning the war on drugs. We can take a stand and say, "We don't do drugs." And anytime anyone of us takes that stand, that is another battle won. As a community, we must work to make it as easy as possible for our children to make the choice against drugs. We can do it by creating an environment -- a safe, secure space, if you will -- where our kids can acquire a sense of self and self-confidence so secure that no amount of peer group pressure can push them into taking drugs.

I mentioned that I'm going to talk about enforcement later on today, but I don't want to leave here without saying to you the enforcement side of this equation is absolutely essential, whether it's in the corridors of this outstanding high achievement school or whether it's downtown Lancaster or wherever it is. The authorities must enforce the law, and we must make an example of those who are pushing drugs onto the lives of the others around here. You know, most Americans want to see their towns restored to a time when drugs came in from the prescriptions from the local doctor. But with your hard work and commitment, that day will come sooner. It must come.

So, my message to you today is: Don't do drugs. Keep fighting back. Fight for your community, for your children. The war on drugs will ultimately be won one day, one battle at a time -- the battles each and every one of us wage to keep our families and communities free from drug abuse. We've learned a hard lesson. Unless we join together and fight, it can happen here. But if we do work as a team and as a community, it won't.

And so, let these banners be a battle cry -- and that Conestoga Valley, in Lancaster, in communities like yours all over the country, we will join together, turn the tide, and bring the drug epidemic to an end with finality -- over -- history. Now, we need your help.

Thank you very much. Thank you all.

Note: The President spoke at 9:17 a.m. in the gymnasium. He was introduced by Chad Weaver, president of the student body. Prior to his remarks, the President met with participants in a drug rehabilitation program and their families.

George Bush, Remarks to Students at Conestoga Valley High School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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