Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to Students, Teachers, Parents, and AmeriCorps Volunteers in Philadelphia

April 28, 1997

Thank you. Thank you very much. I am so pleased to be here. Thank you for making me feel so welcome. I want to say to all of you, I have looked forward to coming to this school since I knew I was coming to Philadelphia, because I knew when I came here the people who come with me, including the press corps, would see what we're talking about when we talk about service and we say that everyone can serve, everyone can make a difference, and if all young people serve, we can turn this country around and put it in the right direction for every single child in America.

I want to thank so many people. I thank your principal, John Krauss; the superintendent and my longtime friend, David Hornbeck. And thank you, Harris Wofford, for doing a wonderful job with the Corporation for National Service. I kind of hated to hear David Hornbeck say we had more AmeriCorps volunteers in the Philadelphia schools than anywhere else because now somebody will think that he was doing the home folks a little home cooking. [Laughter] But I'm glad you're here. And you ought to be here in Philadelphia, where our country got started.

I want to thank the young AmeriCorps volunteers I just saw inside who work with Youth Build, Antoine Jackson and William McBride. I saw them in the school there. I'd like to thank your wonderful Congressman, Tom Foglietta, and Congressman Don Payne from New Jersey and Congressman Sam Ford who came all the way from California to be here with us today. We're glad to see them. I'd like to thank Latifah Beard and the other students here at the student council—the student body—who gave Hillary and me the gifts. And I'd like to say that I thought Tiffany and Daryl did a very good job introducing the First Lady, didn't you? [Applause] And finally, I'd like to thank Jahi Davis for speaking on behalf of all the AmeriCorps volunteers. He helped me with the President's Service Awards last night, and he said what he had to say today better than I ever could.

I just want to say to all of you that when I ran for President for the first time, starting now more than 5 years ago, I had a dream that I could give young people in this country a chance to serve in their communities, to help children, to make places safer, to make the schools work better, to deal with the health problems and the worries and the fears of our children and build up their hopes and, at the same time, earn a little money for a college education. That's how AmeriCorps was born.

I really dreamed that someday I could walk into a school like Nebinger Elementary and see what I saw today, two young people tutoring 5-year-olds, talking to them about their lives and their future. One of the young men actually dropped out of high school before joining AmeriCorps, but now, because of AmeriCorps, he wants to be able to help young people from now on and to go on with his own education. We learn that by giving and serving other people, we're actually helping ourselves.

I told somebody the other day that if we could get everybody in America to serve, we'd have the happiest country on Earth and people would see that service is selfish. Did you ever see an unhappy person who was really helping somebody else? Aren't you all happier because you're in Youth Build, because you're in the National School and Community Corps?

And that's what the Presidents and General Powell and others have come together to do here in Philadelphia at this Presidents' Summit of Service. We want to try to help guarantee that our children have a better future. And what I want to do is to challenge every young person in America to serve as a volunteer or as a fulltime community service person.

Let me tell you, since AmeriCorps opened its door just 4 years ago, we've had 50,000 young people—and some not so young—50,000 serve in communities the way these young AmeriCorps volunteers are today. And it's making a difference for America's future. More importantly, the average AmeriCorps volunteer helps to generate another 12 part-time volunteers who come along and help. That, too, makes America strong.

And what I asked America to do today was to support me in making it possible for many more young people to serve, like Jahi and the other AmeriCorps volunteers have done, because I found out that here in Philadelphia there's another movement going on spearheaded by a minister who's a friend of mine named Tony Campolo. He's going around to churches and saying, "You ought to support young people the way AmeriCorps supports young people and pay for them to have living expenses so they can serve a year in community service work."

Today I said, if those young people do that through their churches or their synagogues or their mosques, through their community organizations, we will make sure, number one, if they're in college and they've got a student loan, that they don't have to pay any interest on the student loan during the year that they're working and no interest builds up. And number two, if they're willing to go out and meet the same standard of hard work and long hours that the AmeriCorps volunteers meet, they will also become eligible for the scholarship. That could bring 50,000 more young people into the kind of community service we see with Youth Build and with the National School and Community Corps.

And finally, let me say, you know what the project was that kids were working on in the class I just visited? Every one of them was talking about how they like to serve. Every one of those young children had to say, "I like to help. I like to do something," and then draw a picture of what they like to do. No one is too young to serve. No one is too old to serve.

We are the most diverse country in the world with a big democracy. We have people from all different races, all different ethnic groups, all different religions. But when we live together and work together and reach across the lines that divide us, we are the most interesting, the most powerful, the most vital country in human history. If we serve, that's the kind of country we'll be in the 21st century for all these children. That's my promise to you, and I want it to be your promise to yourselves.

God bless you, and keep it up.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:46 p.m. at the George Washington Nebinger Elementary School. In his remarks, he referred to students Latifah Beard, Tiffany Way, and Daryl Way.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to Students, Teachers, Parents, and AmeriCorps Volunteers in Philadelphia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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