Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks in Texas to the Graduating Class of the Johnson City High School.

May 29, 1964

Mrs. Leonard and members of the faculty, members of the school board, members of the graduating class, my friends, ladies and gentlemen:

I am very happy to be here tonight--almost as happy and surprised as I was to attend my own graduation on May 25, 1924, some 40 years ago almost to the day. I only wish the people could be here now who thought then that it would take me 40 years to get my diploma.

I remember so well that night in May 1924 when my five classmates and I sat much as you sit tonight, hoping that the speaker would quit so we could get out and see what the world was all about.

Forty years later--40 years and many miles--the world of 1964 is not the world of 1924. The number of nations in the world has almost doubled since then, from 67 to 122. There are 75 million more people in this country than there were in 1924. Six times as many of our young people go on to earn college degrees. More than four times as many Americans own cars today.

The number of public schools with one teacher, the kind of school that I attended the first few years of my life, has dropped from 170,000 to only 13,000.

And while tuberculosis claimed the lives of 88 out of every 100,000 Americans in 1924, only 5 need fear it today.

The year I graduated from high school four United States Army pilots completed a flight around the world. The trip took 175 days and was called "the remaining accomplishment to complete the conquest of the air." Well, it was not the final conquest, for in our time, one Marine, Colonel Glenn, circled the globe in 88 minutes and 2 seconds before I picked him up at daylight one morning at Grand Turk Island.1 And that seems only the beginning.

1 See Item 725, note.

No one can know what changes will take place over the next 40 years, but we do know there will be many changes, changes greater and even more startling than since I left this school 40 years ago.

Many of you will live to see the day 50 years from now when there will be 400 million Americans in this country instead of 190 million, when four out of every five will live in huge urban areas. In the remainder of this century, we will have to build homes, highways, and classrooms equal to all those built since this country was first settled.

Who knows what role you will play in shaping those changes? for the lesson of the last 40 years is that Johnson City, Texas, is very much a part of the entire world. What happens in strange and distant places affects all of us who live right here. Above all, we know that you young people who walk out of here after this ceremony will help build, for better or for worse, the world that your children will one day inherit.

For some things have not changed in 40 years. America was in 1924, and is in 1964, a very young society. Our people are young, our hearts are young, and we are always pushing on for the dreams and the hopes and the beliefs of the youth.

This remains the land of the great experiment, for the American story in the history of life on this planet is just really beginning. Something new and something better is waiting for all of us.

I do not believe the building of this new world should be left only to men. You young ladies in this class tonight may not choose to take the course Ma Ferguson did in the year that I graduated, the year she became the first woman Governor of the State of Texas. I suspect, in fact, that most of you intend to marry and to raise a family. But you can still help shape the world of tomorrow. I know--from personal experience--that the abiding values and the abundant visions are learned in the homes of our people. So teach your children to believe in the Golden Rule, to believe in the brotherhood of men, and you have taught them the first requirement of a just nation in a peaceful world.

Forty years ago, almost to this very night, I left my high school diploma at home and I headed West to seek the fame and fortune that I knew America offered. About 20 months later I came back, back to Johnson City, with empty hands and empty pockets. I came back because I realized that the place to really begin was the place that I had been all the time.

So I have come back tonight from another journey, a journey that in the Providence of the Almighty has lead from the friendly hills of our country to the first house of our country. I have come here to say to you young people that whatever your aspirations, or whatever your dreams, whatever your talents, this is the place to begin.

For here, in this place, at this time, is the starting point of the path that leads to the future--your own future and your country's future. I cannot tell you what that future will be any more than I could have predicted, when I sat in your place, that I would be standing here tonight.

But I do know what it can be.

It can be a place where you will raise your families free from the dark shadow of war and suspicion among nations.

It can be a place where your children, and every child, will grow up knowing that success in life depends only on ability and not on the color of skin or the circumstances or the region of birth.

It can be a place where America is growing, growing not only richer and stronger but growing happier and wiser. For whatever the strength of our arms, or whatever the size of our economy, we will not be a great nation unless we pursue the excellence of our schools, the health of our people, and the steady, long struggle against social injustice. For the continually improving life of our own land is the secret source of our strength among the nations of the world. I predict tonight that any nation which fails to conquer these challenges, however great its other achievements, will be able to provide only a second class existence for its people, and only a second rank position for itself.

That future can also be a place in which, in a thousand towns like Johnson City, a boy, young in years but deep in dreams, can hope to come forth and to take his place among the leaders of the world.

This is the kind of future that we can have if all of you, each in your own way, help to build it.

You have been blessed by being born in a land of abundant promise and ample liberty. I know all of you will strengthen and preserve that same blessing for those who are to come, just as it has been provided by your parents who have made the sacrifice for you.

Because of that great faith, as I travel to far lands and I talk with the great men of this earth, I will always be honored to claim that I, too, came from Johnson City.

Thank you.

[Following the commencement address the President was presented with a tie tack, a replica of the school ring. He then resumed speaking.]

I want you to know that some of you may have to wait 40 years to get something this beautiful, but I hope it comes to you as it did to me.

I see in the audience tonight some of the members of the graduating class that finished with me a few years ago. I won't specify again how many. But I would like to ask them to stand so I can see how they look tonight. I would like for all of you to meet them.

Louise, stand up over there. Here is Kitty Clyde. Someone said that she had to work as hard this year to get you graduates through this school year as she did 40 years ago to get me through. I remember Louise had to copy my themes and Kitty Clyde had to help me on other things, and somehow or other we managed.

Is there anyone else here tonight from that graduation class? Georgie, are you here? Is John Dollahite here? John was always shy of the girls. There were just two of us, and I took his part, and somehow or other was able to take care of the four, although I guess John must have heard the girls were going to be here tonight and that is why he didn't come.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke in Johnson City, Tex. His opening words referred to Mrs. Kitty Clyde Leonard, Superintendent of Schools in Johnson City. Later in his remarks he referred to Mrs. Miriam A. (Ma) Ferguson, the first woman Governor of Texas.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks in Texas to the Graduating Class of the Johnson City High School. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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