Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to the Students and Faculty of Archbishop Carroll and All Saints High Schools

October 17, 1988

Thank you all, and thank you, Cardinal Hickey. Now, some of you may wonder why I've come here today. Well, I like great teams, and I couldn't think of two greater teams than the Lions and the Saints.

I understand that you just had student body elections. You know, I have to tell you, I was president of the student body in my high school, and I always had a dream that one day the President of the United States might come visit our school. Of course, every time we invited him, President Washington said he was busy. [Laughter]

By the way, a certain friend of mine has a message she wanted me to send you. Please, for your families, for your friends, for your country, and for yourselves: Just say no to drugs and alcohol.

Cardinal Hickey, Bishop Corrada, Father O'Malley, Sister Marcella Scully, Secretary Cavazos, and Dan Curtain—just before I came out here, my good friend Cardinal Hickey took me to view the altar before which Archbishop Carroll celebrated Mass. I was deeply honored that Cardinal Hickey gave me the opportunity to see where that great American man of God worshiped.

America's first bishop was a scholar, a patriot, a good shepherd in our nation's founding years. Saint Thomas Aquinas once wrote about qualities that marked the character of Archbishop Carroll. "Three things," he said, "are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe, to know what he ought to desire, and to know what he ought to do." I have come here today as a temporal leader, a man concerned with the affairs of state and the course of the country. And yet I have come to tell you, my young friends, that in all my years of public life, I have found that what Aquinas tells us is necessary for the salvation of man is also necessary for the strength and happiness of nations.

Now, we're in the middle of an election campaign, and everything I say is likely to be taken as political. But then, even if I don't talk about where I stand, it's sort of like the story of a CIA agent who was sent to contact another agent in Ireland. He didn't know the other agent, but he was told that his name was Murphy and that to establish their contact he was to say, "It's a beautiful day today, but it will be a greater day tomorrow." So, he made his way to this tiny town by the sea and walked into the local pub and said to the bartender, "I'm looking for a man named Murphy." And the bartender said, "Well, if it's Murphy that bootmaker you want, he's across the street on the second floor. If it's Murphy the farmer, he's just a mile down the road and on the left-hand side. And then my name is Murphy." And the agent said, "Well, it's a beautiful day today and it'll be a better day tomorrow." "Ah," said the bartender, "it's Murphy the spy you want." [Laughter]

So, you know where I stand even if I don't say so. But I hope you won't mind if, for the most part, I set aside the election. What I have to say to you today has to do not with the day-to-day politics but with the enduring truths that mold men and women and move nations; truths like faith, hope, and love. And, as Paul tells us, "The greatest of these is love."

I've found there are two kinds of people in this world: those absorbed in themselves and those who give love—love to their families, to their friends, to their communities, to their country, and to God. Yes, we show love in many ways: by saying we love, of course, and by putting our arms around someone, but even more, by how we live, by our courtesy, by our integrity, by studying and preparing for the future, and by service to humanity. Add it all up, and you'd say: by our values.

Some in our age are inclined to say, "Well, that's okay, but not very important. So, what else is new?" But this is important, and in many ways, it's also new. The American political philosopher James Q. Wilson has written that the most important change that he has seen since the mid-sixties in scholarly thinking about how to make our country better is the new understanding, as he put it: "Public interest depends on private virtue."

And to take just one area—education-Catholic schools across America are showing that private virtue and public interest do indeed live together. Yes, you have two of the best schools in this city, and you're some of the best students in this city. And what's true of you—how you stand out—is also true of the students of Catholic schools in most cities. Isn't that because you're not only learning the ABC's but also about right and wrong, good and evil, and the nature of God's love?

Your prayers, your dress code, your religious studies, your service to your community-all go hand in hand with your academic achievement. The public interest in your education depends on the private virtues you're learning, or as Aquinas might have said, it depends on you acquiring the elements of personal salvation.

Now, I don't want you to think I'm just talking here. I've heard a lot about your accomplishments. And I couldn't help remembering something General George C. Marshall said when he was asked why he was so certain that we would win the Second World War. And General Marshall said, "We have a secret weapon: the best blankety-blank kids in the world." And when I was told about all you do, I thought America still has a secret weapon. And it's still the best blankety-blank kids in the world.

It amazes me that while you're exploring the mysteries of God's love and all that goes with it and showing how this exploration goes hand in hand with getting a good education, others around our nation deny the public importance of the private virtues that you are mastering. If you can believe it, not long ago one State chapter of a national activist organization said that for public schools to teach the idea that fidelity in marriage is a traditional American value would be unconstitutional since, as they said, these values are rooted in religion.

Well, God's love shows most strongly, of course, in the greatest gift of all: the gift of life. And here, as you know, there is great resistance to any talk about values. Recently, those who call themselves pro-choice have taken to discussing children who might be born deformed. Perhaps it would be better, they say, to spare the infant the struggle of life. I can't help thinking of Christy Nolan, who earlier this year, received one of the world's most coveted literary awards. Why Christy Nolan? Well, you see, there were complications at his birth, and he almost died. And there were some who suggested that he should be allowed to. But doctors saved him, only in the process he was left totally paralyzed. He cannot walk, talk, or control his limbs. He writes using what he calls a unicorn stick attached to his forehead, pecking out his words on a typewriter, a page a day. In his message accepting the award, Christy Nolan wrote, in that manner, "Imagine what I would have missed if the doctors had not revived me on that September day long ago." Well, imagine what so many, denied the right to life, have missed. Imagine what we've all missed for their absence. Think of the cost to all of us because of the denial in public life of this most basic of values. I can't help wondering if those who call themselves pro-choice have ever stopped to think that the fetus, the unborn child, never has a choice.

In no area is the importance of private virtue to the public interest clearer than in another area: the area of drug abuse. When we came into office 8 years ago, we found a drug epidemic that few in the Government seemed to care much about. We started arresting and sending to jail drug dealers and drug kingpins in larger and larger numbers. In the last 8 years, Federal narcotics convictions have more than doubled, and we have seized tons of cocaine and tens of thousands of tons of marijuana. And there's other good news, too. After much prodding, pushing, and bludgeoning from us, a reluctant Congress is expected to pass a tough, new drug bill in the next few days. It would give our law enforcement officers new and better tools for helping them protect us all. And, to help protect the lives of the innocent, it would provide for the death penalty for those who commit murder in the course of a drug-related crime. I hope this means our liberal congressional friends are dropping their nostalgia for the do-your-own-thing-in-your- own-time-baby sixties and are joining us whole-heartedly in this fight against drugs.

But important as all this government activity has been, for my money the turning point in the fight against illegal drugs came when a certain little lady opened her heart and spoke with a mother's love to America's young people. Her message was simple: Have the courage of the values that God placed in your soul. I've told this story before. Nancy was in Oakland, California, some time back speaking in a schoolroom, and a little girl stood up and said, "But what do we do when someone offers us drugs?" And Nancy said, "Just say no." Today there are over 12,000 Just Say No clubs in schools across the country. You know something? While the number of drug users soared during the 4 years before we took office, it's dropping now. And earlier this year we got the best news of all: High school students are saying no to drugs, including cocaine, as never before.

But what Nancy has been saying to so many young people is what the priests, the nuns, and the teachers say to you each day: that you must have values to guide your lives. Too often values aren't taught, or can't be taught, in our public schools. But they are taught here. And may I say, because you're here, each of you is greatly privileged. But with each gift goes an obligation, and yours is to act as examples to your friends who aren't as fortunate to go to these schools and who may be tempted by those who would lead them astray.

I know that your parents all make great sacrifices so that you can come here. It's a measure of their love for you. For years I've been urging Congress to recognize the public interest in your education and to allow your parents to support your education either through tuition tax credits or vouchers. We need a Congress that shares and supports the values of the American people. We hear the cry, "But what values do you mean?" Well, that's easy, just for starters: Love thy neighbor as thyself.

In this past Lenten season, the Holy Father invited Cardinal Hickey to give the yearly retreat for him and his household-an honor never before accorded to an American priest or bishop. In his meditations, the Cardinal said, "To obey God, the author of our freedom, is to respect our freedom." And he added, "In the logic of the Gospel, harmony with God's will is the true definition of history."

So, this is my message to you, as a secular leader, but also as a man standing in humility before God: to seek what the Cardinal calls true freedom, to reach for what Aquinas called the necessities of salvation. For if you do, if these lessons become part of the instruction you carry with you when you end your studies here, America will be stronger; the world will be better; and there will be no limits to what, in this sweet land of liberty, you can do with your lives.

Let me just, if I can, say a few words on my own about this nation of ours. You know, I received a letter. We're quite unique. I received a letter from a man one day. He pointed out something I had never thought of. He said, "You can go to live in France; you cannot become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Spain, and you cannot become a German or a Spaniard." And he went on, naming Japan, China, and other countries. But he said, "Anyone from any corner of the world can come to America and become an American." And this country is the only one you can say has that peculiar melding of people together, revealing as no other area ever has, that we are all the sons and daughters of God.

You know, I don't say this very often, and sometimes people may call it mysticism. But I have always believed that there was some divine power and plan that placed this great continent between the two great oceans to be found only by people who had that extra love of freedom and that courage within their hearts to uproot themselves from their native land; leave, many times, family and friends; but to come here and to create this nation that we have created for ourselves here. I have to believe that that is true, just as I believe that Lincoln spoke the truth I've learned in these 8 years as never before when he said, "I could not perform the functions of this office for 15 minutes if I did not know that I could call upon one who is stronger and wiser than all others." Thank you all. God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 10:56 a.m. in the gymnasium of Archbishop Carroll High School. He was introduced by James Cardinal Hickey, Archbishop of Washington, DC. In his opening remarks, the President referred to Bishop Alvaro Corrada, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington; Father John P. O'Malley, principal of Archbishop Carroll High School; Sister Marcella Scully, principal of All Saints High School; Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos; and Daniel F. Curtain, secretary of Catholic education for the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to the Students and Faculty of Archbishop Carroll and All Saints High Schools Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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