Remarks on the 40th Anniversary of the President's Commission on White House Fellows
Thanks for coming. Welcome to the White House. I understand you had a guest speaker at lunch. [Laughter] You probably wish she was back. [Laughter] I'm honored to be here, thanks to—as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the White House Fellows program.
I agreed to do this because I'm a big believer in the White House Fellows program. I think it is important, and I think it is a program that, when you analyze the results, you'll say, this is—it's made a difference in the life of our country. So I want to thank you all for coming. It's an honor to share this celebration with you. I view the White House Fellows program as an investment in the future of our country.
I've kind of taken advantage of the White House Fellows program. I've managed to find a few White House Fellows to serve in my Government, starting with the Secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao. Thank you for being here, Madam Secretary. And Colin Powell, who will be honored tonight with the John W. Gardner Legacy of Leadership Award. Well deserved, I might add. [Laughter]
I also appreciate the Administrator of the EPA for joining us. Thanks for coming, Steve Johnson.
I just said, thanks, to the President's Commission on White House Fellows. I guess you all are the deciders who get to be White House Fellows? And thanks for serving. It's a—it is an appointment I take very seriously. I appreciate you doing it. And I want to thank the chairman, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, for being the chairman of the Commission. And this is probably familiar territory to you here, isn't it? [Laughter] And I thank Janet Eissenstat, the director for the White House program. Thank you all. I'm also honored that Barbara Anderson has joined us, the president of the White House Fellows Alumni Association. And mostly, thank you all for coming.
The program began with a good idea. It was: Let's choose a handful of outstanding young leaders and bring them to Washington, DC, and put them to work at the highest levels of the executive branch and see what happens." [Laughter] I was pleased to learn this was the vision of John Gardner. He outlined the vision in a memo in 1957. But it was implemented by Lyndon Baines Johnson, my fellow Texan. [Laughter]
I don't know if any of the class—the first class of the White House Fellows are here. Is somebody here from—you guys don't look old enough. [Laughter] Welcome. Glad you're here.
If I had to just write the program, here's what I'd say would be the goals of the program. First, to show people how Government works so as to inspire people to become involved in Government. That's what I would say. I'd say, try to get people who have got talents and brains and desire and ambition and expose them to Government—trying to recruit people to participate in Government—at any level, whether it be the Federal Government or the school board. That's what I would hope the program would do.
Secondly, I would hope the program would teach somebody how to make decisions and how to manage organizations. If a White House Fellow hangs around the White House, he'll see decisionmaking. If a White House Fellow is involved in the Cabinet, they'll see decisionmaking in management. They'll see all kinds of things. And I would hope people would learn that in order to make decisions, you got to make decisions on principle. You can't be kind of just figuring it out as time goes on, you have to stand for something, no matter what the polls or focus groups may say. You make good decisions by believing something and not trying to find yourself in the midst of the decisionmaking process, I guess. And in order to lead, you've got to set clear goals that everybody can understand and then not be afraid to hold people account as to whether those goals have been met.
And thirdly, I would hope the White House Fellowship program takes really smart, bright, capable people and makes them understand that there's always a new horizon, that one should never be complacent if you've been given a lot of God-given talents, that you've got to keep striving for the best.
That's how I see the White House program. I mean, it's working. And the reason I know is I get to—first of all, I know people who have graduated from the program, and you've gone on to great success. You've taken your talents, and you've succeeded, and you've made a difference in your communities. And I want to thank you for that. That's important. The truth of the matter is, this country is really strong and vibrant because people reach out to succeed, people—ambition is, it seems like in America, is something that oftentimes lead to a better tomorrow.
I particularly think about those who go back to their communities and realize that to whom much has been given, much is required and become involved in saving people's lives through compassion and changing America as a result of putting your arm around somebody who hurts and says, "How can I help? What can I do to make a difference in your life?" It's kind of the—I view the White House Fellows as part of the de Tocqueville vision, what de Tocqueville saw about America. It's individuals of talent joining together to serve a cause greater than yourself and your communities.
One of my favorite activities as the President is to meet with the White House Fellows. I see a couple of my biking buddies back there. [Laughter] Sweet Lou. [Laughter] Get back to work, Lou. I don't know what you're doing here, Lou. [Laughter]
I love to sit down with the Fellows and talk about—and answer their questions, is really what it's like. And it's an inspiring experience for me. The questions are always good and right on target, and it's— I learned as much—probably more from them than they do from me.
And so one time, one of the guys said, "How do you—how can you handle all this business, and what do you do?" And I said, "Well, one of the things, I like to exercise. I like to stay fit as part of a daily routine." He said, "What do you do?" I said, "Well, I ride mountain bikes." And Lou happened to be the captain of the Stanford mountain bike—regular bike time, but felt like he was strong enough to ride with a 59-year-old. [Laughter] And it turns out, he was strong enough to ride. [Laughter]
At any rate, it's been fun. He's a part of Peleton One, and—as was Lauren. I'm not going to tell them about the other bikers that didn't quite it make from your class, Lou—[laughter]—but I really enjoy it. I got a chance to see the caliber and the quality of the people who come to Washington, DC, to serve, and I am impressed by the program.
I guess what I'm telling you is, thanks for being a part of it; thanks for seeing to it that the program continues on. I appreciate you helping to find people to come to Washington, DC, to be a Fellow. I want to thank you for setting a good example for others in the community in which you live. And thank you for allowing me to come by and celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the White House Fellows.
Finally, may God bless you all, and may God bless our country.
NOTE: The President spoke at 2:44 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to the First Lady, who spoke to the Commission earlier in the day; and Louis O'Neill and Lauren Zucker, White House Fellows 2004-05.
George W. Bush, Remarks on the 40th Anniversary of the President's Commission on White House Fellows Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/212019