Remarks at the Dedication of the Dwight David Eisenhower High School in Utica, Michigan
Thank you very much, Suzanne,1 and thank all of you for this wonderfully warm welcome. I thought I left the warm weather in Florida, but I am not so sure. Outside, incidentally, I think, listening on the public address system are even more than are inside.
My wife and I are very, very flattered that so many of you would welcome us on this occasion, an occasion which we want to share with you because it is a memorable one in terms of the dedication of this school to General Eisenhower. Participating in that dedication ceremony, we would like to have the president of the senior class, and it is Bill--we will get his name here--Bill Hellebuyck.
Before we show you this plaque, I am aware of the fact that we now have the 18-year-old vote, and I think of Bill and Suzanne, these wonderfully attractive young people--and I just want to say to Congressman O'Hara and to my good friend, Senator Griffin, they better watch out, they will be running some day.
WILLIAM C. HELLEBUYCK. On behalf of the entire student body of Dwight D. Eisenhower, it gives me great honor being able to say thank you, Mr. President.
THE. PRESIDENT. And thank you, Bill Hellebuyck.
Now I have just a few remarks that I would like to make to everybody here, but particularly to the students, those that are going to be attending this school in the years ahead and those who will be attending it in this next year.
Occasions like this are ones in which it is quite difficult to find the right words, particularly when a school is named for one of the very great men of our time. Now, the usual thing that you do, of course, is to talk about the man, but everybody here knows about General Eisenhower: that he was the man who led the forces of freedom to victory in World War II, and then was President of the United States who ended one war and kept the peace for 8 years.
We know of that. We know of his background and also of his great service to the country after he left the Presidency. I am not going to go into that for another reason. I would like to tell you a little story about General Eisenhower.
As I was trying to think, coming over here in the plane, what he would have liked for me to say, I remember a conversation I had with him very early in his Presidency.
We were riding by automobile from Quantico, the Marine Corps base, back up to Washington, D.C., and he was reminiscing about World War II and the generals who had served under him-Patton and Bradley and the rest, Simpson-all of them, of course, having a different talent, and Eisenhower having the genius to know how to put each general in that area where he could do the best.
As we were riding, I asked General Eisenhower, in the selection of men for leadership, what was the one quality that he looked for the most.
You know, how would you answer that question? I was thinking how I might answer it.
You say maybe intelligence or maybe hard work or maybe brilliance or genius or something like that. But his answer was something different. He said, "Based on all of the time that I have worked with men through the years, and women, I have found that the quality that is most important is selflessness."
In other words, not thinking of self, but thinking of duty, duty to country, duty to whatever particular assignment that one happens to have.
Consequently, I think that General Eisenhower today would rather have me talk not about him, but really about you, about your school, and perhaps we could begin with your teachers.
When he returned from Europe, as you know, he ran for President of the United States. Politics was rather difficult for him and particularly his first speech he made in Abilene, Kansas, where he had grown up. He went back to the little high school that he had attended, and his first words were, "I thank you humbly for your teachings." He was referring, of course, to that small town, which like this-perhaps this is a bigger town than Abilene. There was a high school. There was a community. There was a strong feeling of community pride. There was a church, which of course he had attended--many churches, of course, were there--but there was a very great loyalty to church and devotion, and also to school and community.
But General Eisenhower said, probably speaking to teachers by that time long dead, "I thank you for your teachings."
Now, if I could personally reflect for one moment about your teachers, could I tell you something of the effect that they have? Mention has been made of the fact that one of my daughters is a teacher and that Mrs. Nixon was a teacher until I married her. I had to have somebody support me when I was practicing law on occasion.
In any event, just running back over a lifetime and quickly sketching it, see if you don't remember some of your teachers this way. I remember a wonderful teacher I had in the fifth grade. Those were the days when you only had one teacher for the whole room and all the subjects. Her name was Miss Burum, and her specialty was geography. She loved geography. She loved the world. Because of her love of geography and all the nations of the world she inspired everybody in that classroom to want to travel, to see the world, to be interested in the world. It made an impression on me. I wanted to travel. I wanted to see the world. That is why I ran for President-I have seen so many countries as a result. [Laughter]
But it was part of the educational process far beyond that. The interest that was developed by a young student so many years ago came at that time. Then I remember another teacher in high school. Her name was Miss Ernstberger. She was tough, really hard. In fact, I found that my best teachers, looking back, were the ones who were the toughest. I mean by that they graded the hardest. I didn't like the grades, but I have to say the teachers were pretty good because they made me work hard.
I would like to say to all the parents, back up the teachers. They are usually right whenever they are handling problems. Miss Ernstberger I had when I was a sophomore in high school. I hated math. Math was hard for me. In fact, it was hard for me all my life.
I could never tell you how embarrassed I was, you know, when our children were growing up and going to grade schools. Now and then, of course, my wife, Mrs. Nixon, having been a teacher, could help them a lot with their homework, but they sometimes would ask me to help too, and I would try and they would ask me to help them with their math. So, I looked at the math book. It was that new math. I couldn't even learn the old math, let alone the new math. [Laughter]
Let me tell you what I learned from Miss Ernstberger. I didn't learn much math. The subject was geometry, a very, very difficult subject, and at the end of the year, I recall she gave an assignment of a problem. She said whatever members of the class could bring back the solution to that problem in the morning would get an A in the course. I recall that I stayed up all night long working on that problem. I finally got the answer.
It isn't the point that I got it, because I still hated geometry, even though I got the problem and the A. Incidentally, when I got the chance to elect subjects in college I didn't take any more math.
But the point I make is that from Miss Ernstberger I learned something that is terribly important--stick to it. And particularly the test of a person, of a boy or a girl, are those subjects that are hardest for you, not the ones that are the easiest. The teachers that can inspire you and make you put your nose to the grindstone and get it done, those are the ones you want to be thankful for.
Then I remember another teacher. This was a man, this teacher, and I was a freshman in college. He taught history. He loved history and he loved books. I remember him getting before the class and lecturing. He would have a book in his hand, some new book that we had not read, and he would fondle that book so affectionately. He would say, "This is a wonderful book. This is a beautiful book. You have just got to read it."
And what happened out of all that? He inspired some of us--I know he inspired me--with a love for history and for biography. So, I carried that throughout my life, and it helped me in years later in developing the background that I had to have for the law and eventually for politics and all the rest.
Since I am speaking in a school gymnasium, I don't want to leave out my coach. Now, let me say, being in this school gymnasium, on the floor, is something new for me. I was usually in the bleachers or on the bench. I was never out here. But I remember my coach very well. He was an American Indian. We called him "Chief," Chief Newman. He was an all-American football star for the University of Southern California back in 1923 or 1924. He was a great, great builder of men. He could take men who were not too talented in football and make stars out of them, except he couldn't do it with me. I never made the team.
But I learned a lot sitting on the bench talking to the coach. Believe me, that is the way to learn something about it. I was going to say I remember Chief Newman. I went out for 4 years, went out on the practice field, so I got into a few games after they were hopelessly won or hopelessly lost, you know, when they put the substitutes in, and finally the water boy, and then me. That is the way it worked.
I remember one year, the last year, I came up to the Chief and I said probably I shouldn't go out that year, because I really couldn't contribute too much, and he needed somebody to be on the taxi squad to run the other teams' plays, and he said, "Look, you really have to come out." Then he said something very interesting. He was a man who used to talk about winning and losing. His definition of being a good loser is something that affected me for the rest of my life.
You have all heard the traditional definition about being a good loser. "Oh, well, it is just a game; forget it. Be a good loser. Smile about it and try something else." Not the Chief. He hated to lose, and he told all of us on the team, he said, "You have got to hate to lose." He said, "The way to be a good loser is to commit yourself that you are going to try again and try harder." And when I told him, I said, "Chief, I really think I oughtn't to come out for the team this year," he said, "No, you ought to come out." He said, "Really, what is wrong is not losing. What is wrong is not not making the team. What is wrong is not trying. What is wrong is not playing the game. What is wrong is when you lose, not getting up off that floor and coming back and fighting again."
Now, out here in this audience there are a lot of young people--grade school, junior high, high school. You are going to win some battles and you are going to lose some. You all aren't going to get into politics, some will, but it is very hard to lose and it is a lot of fun to win. I know. I have done both. [Laughter] But I can assure you, however, that in life it will be that way. Sometimes you will apply for a job and you won't get it and you will think it is the greatest setback, but just remember it isn't losing that is wrong; it is quitting. Don't quit. Don't ever quit. Keep trying, because this country needs the very best that you, the young generation of America, can give to it.
Now I want to relate all of that to present day, shall we say, politics. As you know, there is an election this year. It will be very exciting, as all elections are. It is going to be particularly significant because for the first time in the 195-year history of this country, men and women 18 to 21 years of age will have the chance to vote.
The important thing, let me say to all of you who may be voting for the first time-naturally, I have an interest; I have an idea of how you ought to vote [laughter]--and I am sure others would tell you something else [laughter]--but the main point is getting in and playing that game. Be for the candidate of your choice. Don't sit on the sidelines. Don't fall to participate, because the more that we have your participation, the participation of all of our people in our voting procedure, the better this country is going to be.
It has often been said that politics is too important to leave to the politicians. Now, that means, of course, that "politicians" may be a bad word, and I don't agree with that, because politics is an honorable profession. But, on the other hand, what it does mean is that citizens ought to get in, too, and whatever you do in your life-and the majority of you will not get into politics, you will get into business, you will work at a job, some of you may teach, some of you may be heads of families, whatever the case may be but whatever you do, take some time out of your life to work in the field of making this country a better country, of making our government a better government.
Be a Republican. Be a Democrat. Pick the party of your choice. But the main thing is, play that game, because it is the most important game in life and we need the best, and young America has so much to give. You see, you have enthusiasm, you have vitality, you have idealism, and a nation needs your enthusiasm, your vitality, and your idealism.
Here is what I think: I think when we look at the 18- to 21-year-old vote--for the first time they vote in 1972--that you are going to be good for America because I believe in America's young people. I believe in you. I know your idealism. I know your enthusiasm. And I know that this country, which is going to be 200 years old in just 4 years--and that is pretty old--at that time will need an infusion of youth. We don't want to become old. We want to stay young, and the only way you stay young is to have young people participating in politics.
So we want you. Get in there and fight for the candidate of your choice. Will you do that?
Now I think General Eisenhower would have wanted me to say one other thing to this group, since I have referred to politics, and I know that all of you will understand when I say what I am just about to say.
America at this time in our history is in an enormously significant position. We think of the young America, 3 million people, weak, poor, but it excited the imagination of the world because it stood for something other than military strength or economic power. We think of the America today, a strong nation, a rich nation, the richest in the world, and America still means something more than military strength and economic wealth.
It is a spirit, a spirit that is ours. It is what we stand for. It is what we do. It is how we treat each other. America has a meaning in the world.
I know General Eisenhower would want me to say, "Love your country." Don't love it because it is always right, because it isn't. Love it because we have a system that allows you to change those things that are wrong. Love it because there is more right about America than in any country in the world, and believe me that is the case.
And in that connection, I know that General Eisenhower would want me to mention peace, peace in terms of not just bringing an end to a war which has long been a very difficult problem for the United States, but more in terms of the long term. How can we have a peace that is not just an interlude between wars, but one that would last?
That is why Mrs. Nixon and I went to the People's Republic of China. We cannot have lasting peace in the world, peace that you young people can enjoy, if 800 million people, one-fourth of all the people in the world--and incidentally one-fourth of the ablest people in the world-are isolated from the rest of the world. We have to communicate with those people.
Our systems of government are different. Our philosophies are different. But what we have to build is a world in which differences between governments do not lead to a situation where people cannot be friends, and that is what we have done, and that is why we have opened the communication. It reduces the possibility, for example, of war in the Pacific involving perhaps the People's Republic, or others.
That is why we have gone to the Soviet Union. We have gone there and we have negotiated. We have very great differences. Our philosophies are totally different. Theirs is Communist; ours is free. But we realize that we either have to learn to live with our differences or our children are going to have to die for them. We don't want that to happen. So that is why we have negotiated a limitation on nuclear arms. We have begun to negotiate it, and more, we trust, will come.
That is why we have negotiated agreements that will peacefully settle some problems, and that is why we also have moved toward cooperation.
Let me tell you one interesting thing about cooperation. We have a wonderful program in our country which has been supported by Senator Griffin, of course. I remember the leadership meeting, in which he participated as one of the leaders of the Senate, in which we made the decision to go forward with the program on cancer.
Congressman O'Hara, of course, supported it in the House of Representatives. It is bipartisan. Everybody is for it. We are spending $100 million to try to find an answer to cancer in the United States.
Let me tell you something. When I was in the People's Republic of China and when I was in Russia, I found leaders of those countries asking me about our program on cancer, "Had we found something? Would we share it?" And my answer was, we were making progress. Whatever we found we would share.
But more important, and this is what developed out of our Russian trip, we have now worked it out so that Russian doctors and American doctors, instead of exchanging information and then working separately from each other to try to find cures for diseases, will work together in the same room to try to find them.
Let me ask you this question: You have all studied the history of nations. Where is the genius, that wonderful genius that will find the answer to cancer? It may be a woman. It may be a man. It may be a black person. It may be a white person. It might be an American, but it might be a Russian and it might be a Chinese.
What we have got to do is to build a world in which, in fighting the great plagues of disease and hunger, we work together with people in the world and not against them. That is what we are trying to do.
You sometimes wonder, I know, what people abroad think of us. Let me say, Mrs. Nixon and I have traveled to 80 countries, countries with many different political systems. They don't all agree with us on many things, but you can be sure of one thing. They respect the United States of America and in many of those countries they love America. As I said, not because we are rich and not because we are strong, but because we stand for something which is in their eyes very good.
I noted--and I asked Suzanne about this--that she was of Polish background. I remembered, as she was introducing me, my visit to Warsaw, right after I had been to the Soviet Union. Mrs. Nixon and I laid a wreath at the Polish War Memorial, and then we got into our car and started to move through the huge crowds over to the residence, and there were such big crowds and they were cheering and we stopped the car. We got out for a minute to talk to the people.
Now look at Poland. Here is a country that for 25 years has had a Communist government, a government different from ours in its philosophy. Here is a country that for 25 years has not heard too much that is favorable to the United States of America. But when we got out of that car the people swarmed around. They shook hands. Some of them cried. And they said, "Niech zyje Ameryka." It means "Long live America." They then said, "Sto lat, sto lat." That means, may you live 100 years.
They didn't do that for me or for Mrs. Nixon. They did it because they love America. And let me say, let you in the Eisenhower High School set as your goal participating in your government to make it a government worth loving, worth respect in the world. Let you participate in your government so that America can play a role in building a peaceful world, peace for you and your children in the years to come, because, let us always be worthy of the faith, the confidence, the hope, of our own people and the people of the world.
I dedicate this high school, then, to the teachers whom I hope you will learn from, who devote so much to you. I dedicate it also to the memory of a man and of the country he loved, and I hope you will always honor and love your country. And I dedicate it finally to your parents. Remember, they have sacrificed a great deal for you to be here.
My father only finished the fifth grade. He wanted to go on to school but his mother died. They were very poor, and he had to go to work. His greatest desire for his children was for them to get a college education because he only finished the fifth grade.
I remember, sometimes people would remark he didn't have very good grammar. That didn't matter. What mattered to me was not the words but the heart and the character.
Be proud of your parents. Be proud of your school and love your country.
1 Suzanne M. Jaroszynski, chosen for her citizenship and scholarship as a student representative of the high school, introduced the President.
Note: The President spoke at 2:45 p.m. in the gymnasium of the high school. He spoke in part from a prepared text.
Richard Nixon, Remarks at the Dedication of the Dwight David Eisenhower High School in Utica, Michigan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/254774