Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at the Presidential Scholars Awards Presentation Ceremony

June 23, 1993

I want to thank you all for being here and welcome the Members of Congress who are here and those who were here who had to leave for a vote. I want to say a special word of-it's a good vote— [laughter] —I want to say a special word of thanks to the Marine Band for being here to play for us today. Thank you. Since my office is just over there, when they come out here to play for you, they also keep me in a far better frame of mind as I work through the day.

I thank the Commission on Presidential Scholars for all the work that they have put into selecting this year's recipients. I especially want to thank my good friend Governor Florio of New Jersey for his work as Chairman. I asked him to serve as Chairman because I admire the courage and conviction with which he has conducted himself as Governor of New Jersey and particularly the bravery that he showed in dealing with the educational needs of the people of his State.

The Secretary of Education, Dick Riley, formerly was Governor of South Carolina, and in that connection he labored mightily for years to improve the education of the children of his State and served as a mentor of mine. And I thank him for his leadership.

As I look out at this group today of proud parents and family members and friends and educators, I'm reminded once again of the curious mix of things that produces the sort of achievement that we see embodied in the young people on this stage today. There are, unfortunately, still a lot of people in the United States who believe that how much you learn and how well you do in life depends primarily on your IQ. And yet we know that if you strung all the people on the globe together from first to last by IQ, you couldn't stick a straw between any of the two. A remarkable combination of ability and intangible things like encouragement and love and support as well as personal effort and drive and commitment go into making up really gifted learners who are committed to doing it for a lifetime.

All the young people who have been acknowledged today have great natural talents, and they should be grateful for what God has given them. But every person on this stage today, not only them but me, we're all here because of the people who helped us along the way.

There's a young man who was supposed to be here today named Justin Konrad, from the State of Maine, who on June the 5th was in an automobile accident that claimed the life of one of his friends and claimed part of one of his legs. Today he's in a hospital in Maine recovering from his injuries. I talked to him this weekend when I was up in Maine, and he's already talking about going to Harvard and majoring in government and playing sports. When he gave his—let me see if I can pronounce this—salutatorian's address at his high school graduation, he gave a speech about optimism. And he still has it, and I hope all of you will be able to keep it as you go through college and you pursue your careers. Keeping a positive frame of mind may sound like an obvious and easy thing. It becomes increasingly difficult with a difficulty of circumstances, but more important with every passing day.

Last Saturday, just before I spoke with Justin by phone, I was speaking at the commencement of Northeastern University in Boston, and I met another young student there graduating from college named Doug Luffborough. He was the person who was designated by his fellow students at Northeastern to speak on their behalf. Doug's mother is a cleaning woman who earns $7,000 a year and who, in addition to her regular job, cleans a private school part-time to pay tuition for another of her sons. For a while, the mother and all of her children were actually homeless.

It's remarkable that this young man ever got to go to college at all. The advice he got from one of his counselors was to give it up and start looking for a job. But his mother believed in him and refused to let him aim low. When she couldn't get a baby-sitter, she took him along to work. And he watched her day-in and day-out never give up hope, and by her example he learned a powerful lesson. When he came to Northeastern University, the school made it possible for him to work part-time while going to school, and his on-the-job experience helped him to get a very good job when he graduated. He's shown an amazing amount of responsibility, but his mother stood by him, his school stood by him, and he had an employer who stood by him.

So no matter how heroic individuals are, they still need help to make it, and support. Chances of success increase dramatically when other people believe in you, give you opportunities, and ask you to take the responsibility to make the most of them. And I want to thank every person here today who made it possible for these young people to be up on this stage and to have the kind of life they're going to have.

I also want to say that this administration is working hard to open the doors of college education to all young people, to make it possible for them to get loans to go to college and to pay them back on much more favorable terms than has been the case in the past. And we are trying to pass, with strong bipartisan support, a national service program which will make it possible for tens of thousands of young people to earn credit against those loans before, during, or after their college years by giving something back to their communities where they live. Vice President Gore has just returned from California where he kicked off our Summer of Service program, which B the beginning of this national service effort.

I know that a lot of you have been involved in service programs. I want to recognize one of the scholars, MarLeice Hyde, from Valley High School in Afton, Wyoming. Where are you? I want to tell you about her. She organized the junior volunteer program at her local hospital, which contributed over 1,000 hours of community service at the hospital, while holding two attending courses, jobs, evening college and meeting the responsibilities that come from being the oldest of six children. Let's give her a hand. [Applause] Congratulations.

Finally, let me say a word about our educators. We often spend our time talking about what's wrong with our educational system, but we ought to also acknowledge that there is a great deal that is right with it. And a lot of these young people today might not be here were it not for their teachers, their principals, the people who worked with them and believed in them. We think that the educators of America who are trying to do a good job shouldn't have to go it alone and should have some way of knowing whether they're meeting the competition around the globe. That's why Secretary Riley has worked so hard with his Goals 2000 program and with the legislation now moving through Congress to embrace world-class learning standards that all American schools will be given the opportunity to meet and that :all American parents and students can judge their own progress by. I am very encouraged by that work and very grateful for the cooperative spirit that we see now in Washington between everybody involved in the educational endeavor. We think that Goals 2000 will turn a nation at risk into a nation on the move in education.

Let me say in closing that I've thought a great deal about education this summer because I just celebrated under this same tent a couple of weeks ago my 25th college reunion. I saw some of my classmates: One of them runs a refugee center for Palestinians in Jordan; one came all the way back from Cambodia where he had his life at risk monitoring the elections in that troubled country where once so many people were killed by tyranny. Many of them have made incredibly valuable contributions to their lives. And all of us were sitting here 25 years later in this very spot remembering with incredible vividness actual specific things our teachers had said to us in class. We had a contest to remember how many verbatim sentences we could remember from different professors we had. And every one of us concluded at the end that none of our lives would have been possible if we hadn't had the benefit of a world-class education.

I hope this Presidential scholarship brings to all of you on this stage those kinds of memories 25 years from now. I hope you will do everything you can to make the most of the opportunities before you. And I hope you will take some time along the way to enrich the communities from which you came and the people who made it possible for you to be here today.

Thank you all. Congratulations, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:42 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White House.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Presidential Scholars Awards Presentation Ceremony Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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