Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Graduation Exercises of the Capitol Page School.

June 11, 1968

Dr. DeKeyser, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, pages, and members of the pages' families:

I am sorry that I have had to delay you, but I have been out to the hospital to visit with General Eisenhower and Justice Douglas, Senator Russell, and dozens of our fighting men who have contributed themselves, their bodies, their arms and their legs, to preserving our independence and giving us this glorious free land of ours where we have more liberty than any people in all the world and where we have more prosperity and more of the good things of life than any other people anywhere because of:

--men like General Eisenhower, who served in uniform for many years;

--men like Justice Douglas and Senator Russell, who has been Chairman of the Armed Services Committee throughout all that period;

--boys from all the States of the Union, with smiles on their faces, with their chins up and their chests out, most of them wounded severely. Some of them lost an arm, some a leg, but all of them are proud of their service and welcoming the opportunity, and some of them, I am sad to say, were even saying they hoped that they could go back, because they do so much want to contribute their part to whatever their obligations as citizens happen to be.

So you young men who are here graduating this morning have completed your work at a very unique institution of learning. Next January, so shall I.

I never had the privilege of being a page in the Congress. I was a temporary page in the State legislature when I was a little boy. I was a doorkeeper in the Congress more than 35 years ago. But after 37 years in public service, next January I am going to graduate and, I hope, go back to the classroom.

I hope that most of you young men will choose some kind of a public career, too.

All my life I have said that I wanted to be a teacher or a preacher or a public servant. A little part of my life I have spent teaching; a good part of my life I have spent in the public service.

I hope that you will choose a career of public service. It is a vocation that I highly recommend for those who seek deep, personal satisfaction and who seek self-fulfillment.

You young fellows have had an insider's view of the best legislative body in all the world. Congress, I think, offers a classic example of how different kinds of people, from different sections of the country, with different colors and different educations and different backgrounds, under different, conflicting pressures, can get together and work together for the common good of all.

As we meet here in the East Room of the White House this morning, a very critical time in our Nation's history, we Americans are facing exceedingly difficult questions about our country, about order, about lawlessness, about violence, and about progress. I think it is important and I think it is crucial that we make some vital distinctions and that we try to answer some of these questions that are being raised.

For instance, we must distinguish between the twisted logic of a political assassin and the inherent decency of the vast majority of the people. We must distinguish between those who reject outright our entire social and political system and hate it, and who want to destroy it, and those who are trying to use positive forces to improve, to change, and to reshape our society.

We must distinguish between compassionate understanding of our fellow citizens' problems and blind permissiveness, between the sometimes heedless impatience of youth and the need to readjust, and we do need to readjust some outworn values and change some of our traditional beliefs.

Now, this is a very difficult period. But with understanding and with perspective, we are going to see it through. There are no short cuts. There are no overnight miracles.

I think most of our people understand this. We have gone through many sad moments since that terrible day in November 1963, but our Nation pulled itself together. We united for a period. We were strong. We faced the problems that came. We had a period where we provided more solutions than any time in our history.

Now the time has come again where I hope most of our people understand. I hope they have the endurance. I hope they have the wisdom to work with--not against-those who want to progress and to move forward.

So I hope you young men will devote your energies in the years ahead to fulfillment of our promise as a great nation.

Mr. Rayburn, who was quite a hero among the pages and among the Congress for more than half a century, used to say that "any mule can kick a barn down; it takes a good carpenter to build one."

The easiest thing in the world you can do is find what's wrong with this room--the rug is not the right color, the lights are too bright, the windows are too many, the shades are too long. You can kick it down, but I hope that before you do that, you will ask yourself the question:

"Is what I say and what I do going to build my country, going to make it stronger and going to make it more united; or is it going to divide it?"

Is it going to create suspicions? Is it going to produce hate? What is going to be the effect? What are the consequences of your act?

You have been a very fortunate lot. This is a great country. The problems that we have are problems that they have in Germany, in the streets of Paris, in Italy, in Latin America, in Canada, and all over the world. The question is--not the problem--but the question: How do we deal with those problems? What do we do about it?

If we sit and do nothing, we can expect no rewards. But you young men are not going to be satisfied with the status quo. You are not going to be satisfied to stand still. You must not be.

There has never been a period in our national history when the need was greater for new ideas and new solutions to old problems--problems we have neglected for a century. We are faced with that.

In the Congress at this moment you have $78 billion worth of requests to deal with social problems--problems that the Commission on Civil Disorders recognized, problems that the Crime Commission pointed out, problems we outlined yesterday to the Eisenhower Commission on Violence, problems we reviewed with the leadership this morning.

We have a lot of sick people in this country, but the country is not sick. The country was never stronger, was never richer, never more powerful, never had as many boys and girls in school or young men and women in college, never had more resources being applied to education and health and poverty.

But that doesn't mean that we have answers to those problems. Just as we need good doctors when we have a shortage of doctors, just as we must have good pilots when we have a shortage of helicopter pilots, we have a shortage of outstanding young men and women who are needed in the city halls and the courthouses, the Congresses and the statehouses, the Presidency, and the Cabinet itself.

I am going back home and I am going to try to help produce some of those. I may even produce some Republican public servants. It is not important, really, what party they belong to. What is important is what they stand for, what they do about it, and whether they put on the uniform like the men who protect our independence.

The Fourth of July is coming up pretty soon. We are going to have many Fourth of July speeches about how great our land is and how much we appreciate our freedom, our liberty, and our independence that was won for us.

Well, let's show them how much we appreciate it. Let's do something about it. Let's build a stronger nation. Let's try to heal the wounds, instead of deepening the divisions.

Men in public life sometimes see the divisiveness and can't do anything about it. On March 31st I thought this country was divided. I didn't know how much I contributed to that divisiveness. I hoped I didn't contribute anything. I never tried to say any mean things or hateful things.

But I felt in the atmosphere that perhaps if I did not indicate that I had any personal ambition whatever, that it might somehow contribute to improving the political atmosphere and the divisions among us. This might make me better able to unite the Nation, to lead them, and ask them to stand up and rally around us instead of going off in all different directions, and it might say to the world that we were genuinely interested more in peace than in anything else.

It took a few days, but we did, finally, as a result of that proposal, go to a conference table. Ambassador Harriman, Ambassador Vance, and Secretary Rusk are, every day in every way, trying to find an answer.

You have to have more than a desire--you have to have strength. You have to have more than a hope--you have to have judgment. We are trying every way we know how to bring peace in the world. We need all the help we can get--in private life, if that is where you need to go.

I hope those of you who have this training will go into public service. There can be no more worthy, no more honorable calling. You can have no better experience for that than the experience you have had.

I congratulate you for listening to this speech which I assume will be your final speech at least as students. You have listened to a lot of speeches. If you were in the Senate you have heard some longer ones than the one I have made. If you were in the House maybe they have been under the 5-minute rule.

In any event, I congratulate you and I salute you. I express the hope that some day some of you will be standing where I am, trying to heal and to build and to lead a nation that is worthy of the very best we can produce.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:21 p.m. in the East Room at the White House before presenting diplomas to graduates of the Capitol Page School. In his opening words he referred to Dr. Henry L. DeKeyser, principal of the Capitol Page School.

Later he referred to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was recuperating at Walter Reed Army Hospital from a heart attack suffered on April 29, William O. Douglas, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, Sam Rayburn, Representative from Texas 1913-1961, who served as Speaker of the House of Representatives 1940-1947, 1949-1953, 1955-1961, Ambassador at Large W. Averell Harriman and Cyrus R. Vance, U.S. negotiators at the Paris peace talks with North Vietnam, and Dean Rusk, Secretary of State.

During his remarks the President referred to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Graduation Exercises of the Capitol Page School. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives