Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill

October 12, 1993

Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much, President Spangler, President Friday, Chancellor Hardin, my good friend, Governor Hunt, and other distinguished platform guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I must say I have thought for a long time about what it might feel to be in a vast crowd of North Carolinians and have them do something besides root against one of my athletic teams from Arkansas. [Laughter]

I began to think of this moment in August when I was on vacation, and I spent an evening with a person who used to be one of your great sons, James Taylor. And I asked him to sing "Carolina in My Mind" so that I could begin to think about what this day might mean to all of us. Five other Presidents have come to this great university to speak. None has ever had the opportunity to speak to a crowd like this, on this occasion of your 200th birthday as a university.

I'd like to begin by thanking the students whom I have met and especially those who gave me this beautiful leather-bound book of essays, three of them, about the theme for this bicentennial celebration that the students chose, community. For it is in many ways what ought to be America's theme today, how we can be more together than we are apart.

This university has produced enough excellence to fill a library or lead a nation, in novelists like Thomas Wolfe and Walker Percy; in great defenders of the Constitution like Senator Sam Ervin and Julius Chambers, now one of your chancellors; and Katherine Everett, a pioneer among women lawyers; and Francis Collins, a scientist who discovered the gene for cystic fibrosis; and journalists like Charles Kuralt and Tom Wicker and Deborah Potter and my Pulitzer Prize-winning friend, Taylor Branch; and leading business men and women like the head of the Small Business Administration in our administration, Erskine Bowles, who's here with me tonight and who, I dare say, is the ablest person ever to hold his position, probably because of the education he got here at the University of North Carolina. These are just a few of the many thousands of lives who have been brightened by what Mr. Kuralt so warmly referred to as the light and liberty this great university offers.

There are few certainties in this life, but I've also learned that when March madness rolls around, I'll be hoping my Razorbacks are there, but I know that Dean Smith's Tar Heels will always be there.

As one who grew up in the South, I have long admired this university for understanding that our best traditions call on us to offer that light and liberty to all. Chapel Hill has always been filled with a progressive spirit. Long before history caught up with him, as Mr. Kuralt just said, your legendary president, Frank Porter Graham, spoke this simple but powerful truth: "In the South, two great races have fundamentally a common destiny in building a nobler civilization, and if we go up, we go up together." What a better life we might have had if more had listened to that at a single time.

Your great State has also understood that education goes hand-in-hand with the expansion of democracy and the advancement of our own economy. Under the leadership of men like Luther Hodges and Terry Sanford and Bill Friday, this university joined with your other State's great universities, the State government, and the corporate community to begin building an advanced research center to attract new businesses and jobs. Now the Research Triangle has more than 60 companies, more than 34,000 employees; it is the envy of the entire Nation about what we can do if we strive to make change our friend.

Tonight we celebrate the day this university began, the laying of a cornerstone that marks a milestone in the entire American journey, because on this day, near this place, 200 years ago, the cornerstone was laid for the first building in the first university in a Nation that had only recently been born.

It was, to be sure, a time of hopeful and historic change, when the future was clear to those who had the vision to see it and the courage to seize it. It was a time of heroes such as William R. Davie: a fighter in the Revolution, a framer of the Constitution, a Princeton graduate who wanted a State university here to make education accessible to more than the privileged few. On October 12th in 1793, when General Davie laid the foundation for this university, he laid a foundation for two centuries of progress in American education.

Historians tell us now that there was then a joyous ceremony, that "the maple leaves flamed red in the eager air." Great joy there was, but remember now, it was in the face of great uncertainty. The wounds of the Revolutionary War had yet to heal. The debts had yet to be repaid. And the new democracy seemed still untested and unstable. Yet, in spite of all these problems, the Americans of that time had the courage to build what had never before existed, a great new republic and a public university.

In spite of the obstacles, they decided to bet on the future, not cling to the past. That is the test for us today, my fellow Americans. Alexis de Tocqueville carried this uniquely American optimism, this faith in education, this commitment to change, when he wrote in his wondrous "Democracy in America": "The Americans have all a lively faith in the perfectibility of man. They judge that the diffusion of knowledge must necessarily be advantageous, and the consequences of ignorance fatal. They all consider society as a body in a state of improvement, humanity as a changing scene, in which nothing is or ought to be permanent, and they admit that what appears to them today to be good, may be superseded by something better tomorrow."

For two centuries now, we've held fast to that faith in the future. For two centuries we've kept the courage to change. And for two centuries we've believed with Frank Porter Graham that we must go up together. Our Founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor to a common cause. We fought a vast and bloody Civil War to preserve that common cause. Every battle to expand civil rights has been to deepen and strengthen that common cause, our ability to go up together.

Now, after 200 years, and after 200 years of this university, we find ourselves a people of more than 150 different racial and ethnic groups confronting a challenge in this new era which tests our belief in the future, tests our courage to change, and tests our commitment to community, to going up together. Tonight we can best honor this great university's historic builders and believers, a dozen generations after our Nation and this university began, by meeting those tests.

The cold war is over. The threat of nuclear annihilation is receding. Democracy and free markets are on the march. Mandela and de Klerk, Rabin and Arafat have given people hope that peace can come out of any conflict.

A global economy is taking shape in which information and investment move across national borders at stunning speed. And competition for jobs and incomes is intense. Expanding trade is critical to every nation's growth, and our greatest asset is no longer natural resources or material structures. It is the strength, the skills, the mind, and the spirit of our people.

This is a world America has done a very great deal to make through two World Wars, the Civil War, the cold war, the establishment of global economic and trading missions, through the attempts to build the United Nations and other instruments of peace and harmony, of progress and democracy. It is full of hope. But as we all know, it is not without its heartbreak.

There is less danger of a nuclear war between two nations but more danger of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of people irresponsibly prepared to use them. The oppression of Communist control has disappeared, but that disappearance has reopened ugly ethnic and religious divisions. The United Nations can do more good than ever before, but clearly there are limits to what outside forces can do to solve severe internal problems in some nations. We cannot withdraw from this world we have done so much to make, and we must face its difficulties and challenges. Through great trials we have stood with President Yeltsin for democracy, peace, and economic reform in Russia. In so doing we have helped the Russians, but we've made ourselves safer and better, too.

We have sponsored and supported the peace process in the Middle East, for which you just clapped. And so doing, of course we have contributed to a better life for the Arabs and the Jews, but we have enhanced our own security as well.

We have helped to save nearly 1 million Somalis from death, starvation, anarchy, and strengthened our argument that the world's poor and deprived need not turn to terrorism and violence for redress. In so doing we have advanced our interests, but some of our finest young soldiers have perished.

Tonight before going on, I want to express here in North Carolina my profound gratitude and deep personal sympathy to the families of the six servicemen from Fort Bragg who were killed in Somalia: Sergeant Daniel Busch, First Class Earl Fillmore, Master Sergeant Gary Gordon, Master Sergeant Timothy Martin, Sergeant First Class Matthew Rierson and Sergeant First Class Randall Schugan. May God bless their souls and their families, and may we all thank them.

Our Nation is grateful to them; so are most of the people of Somalia. I have ordered strong new steps to protect our troops, to ensure the return of our missing or captive Americans, to complete our mission in that nation in no more than 6 months, to finish that job quickly but to finish that job right.

Just as we know we cannot withdraw from the world, we know here at this great university, that we cannot lead the world unless we are first strong at home. After all, in the beginning it was our values, our ideals, our strength, our willingness to work, to make the most of what was here on this continent that made us the envy of the world.

And here at home, this new economy of ours offers much hope and opportunity. Yet every positive development seems to bring with it some jarring dislocation. The global economy not only rewards the educated, it punishes those without education.

Between 1972 and 1992, while the work year got longer for most Americans, our wages stagnated. The 75 percent of our people who don't have college degrees felt it profoundly. Those who began but didn't finish college saw their wages fall by 9 percent just since 1979. For those who didn't go on to college, wages fell 17 percent. For those who left high school, wages dropped 20 percent. We got a lot of new jobs out of international trade, but we know we also lose some every year to competition from countries with lower wages or higher quality or sometimes unfair practices. We know that our health care is the finest in the world, but millions of us are just a pink slip away from losing their health insurance or one illness away from losing a life's savings.

Most of our people are law-abiding citizens who love their families more than their own lives. But America leads the world in violent crime, has the highest percentage of its people behind bars, has 90,000 murders in the last 4 years, and more and more of our children are born into and grow up in family situations so difficult that it is hard even to make the arguments that the rest of us have taken for granted all of our lives.

More and more of our children are growing up in a world in which the future is not what happens when they graduate from the University of North Carolina but what happens 15 minutes from now. We cannot long survive in a Nation with young people for whom the people has no allure and on whom the future has no claim. All of us who come here in gratitude to this great university, and others like it, are here because we believed in tomorrow. And that must be our urgent task: to restore that tomorrow for our young people.

What is the point of all this for today? It is simply this. We are living in a time of profound change. No one can fully see the shape of the change or imagine with great precision the end of it. But we know a lot about what works and what doesn't. And we know that if we do not embrace this change and make it our friend, if we do not follow what de Tocqueville said we were about 150 years ago, if we do not follow the traditions on which this university was founded, then change will become our enemy. And yet all around our great country today I see people resisting change. I see them turning inward and away from change. And I ask myself why.

At a time when we know it's a matter of fact that every rich country in the world gains many new jobs through expanding trade, I see people saying, "Well even though my industry will get more jobs, we shouldn't have a new trade arrangement with Canada and Mexico which could one day engulf all of Latin America." And when I listen to the arguments, I hear instead of arguments against this agreement, I hear the grievances of the 1980's, the grievances of times when workers were fired without thought, when investments were not made, when people were abused. Instead of a reasoning argument about what will build America tomorrow, I hear a longing for yesterday.

But I tell you my friends, as certainly as it was true 200 years ago today, yesterday is yesterday. If we try to recapture it, we will only lose tomorrow.

But I think we can say we know some things about why we are resisting these changes and what we might do to make ourselves more like the founders of this great university, more like the founders of our great Nation, more like most of the students here on any given day at this university. When do people most resist change? When they are most insecure. Think of any child you ever raised. Think of any personal experience you ever had. Why is it that great universities provide wonderful libraries and beautiful lawns and space and time to study and to learn and to grow? So people can feel personally at peace and secure. It is that which enables us to learn and to grow and to change. And I say to you tonight, my fellow Americans, the mission of this university, the mission of every university, must be to be in the vanguard of helping the American people to recover enough personal security to be able to lead the changes that we are so urgently called on to make.

What does that mean? What does that mean? I would argue among all things, it means at least three: First, we must make Americans more secure in their families and at work. In a world transformed by trade and technology it is no longer possible for a young person to go to work and keep a job until retirement or even often to stay with the same company. The economy is creating and losing millions of jobs constantly. Most people now who are laid off from their jobs never get the same old job back. Young people beginning their careers, on average, will change work seven times in a lifetime. The best jobs those young people here in the audience may ever have may be jobs yet to be created in companies yet to be founded based on technologies yet to be discovered.

Economic security, therefore, can no longer be found in a particular job. It must be rooted in a continuing capacity to learn new things. That means we must have a system of lifelong learning beginning with higher standards in our schools. Almost two decades ago, your Governor, Jim Hunt, began an education reform program that included higher standards in these schools. Those efforts inspired other Governors around the country, including the then-Governor of South Carolina, now our Education Secretary, Dick Riley, and me. And I thank him for that.

Now, we are trying to adopt a whole new approach in our national effort to raise standards in education. We believe the right standard for America isn't whether we are better than we were but whether we're the best in the world. This cannot be a Democratic or a Republican concern. It must be an American imperative. We know we have to expect more of our students and our schools. We have to regulate their details less but hold them to higher standards and measure whether our kids are really learning enough to compete and win in the global economy.

Then we have to ensure that every young person in this country has the opportunity to get a college education, every last one who wants it. We have already this year reorganized the student loan programs to lower interest rates and ease the repayment terms and open the doors of college education to thousands of young people by giving them a chance to be in the national service program, to rebuild their communities from the grassroots up, and earn a part of their college education.

For the three-quarters of our young people who do not get 4-year college degrees, we must merge the world of learning and the world of work to offer young people classroom training and on-the-job training. And for those who lose their jobs, the unemployment system is no longer good enough. We must create a continuous reemployment system so that people are always learning, even into their fifties and sixties and seventies, as long as they are willing to be productive citizens and to keep going and growing.

Another big part of job security that is often missed is that most workers are now parents, or at least most parents are now workers. And we can no longer force people to choose between being a good parent and a good worker. They must be able to be both. That is why people who work hard for marginal wages should not be taxed into poverty but lifted out of it by the tax system, and it is what this Government has done. For the first time ever we can say now, if you work 40 hours a week and you have children in your home, you can be lifted out of poverty.

And that is why we have said you ought not to lose your job if you have a sick child or a sick parent. You ought to be able to take a little time off without losing your job because it is important to the fabric of America to stick up for the American family.

A couple of Sundays ago when I came into the White House from my early morning run, I saw a father, a mother, and three daughters there taking a tour on Sunday morning, an unusual time. And I went over and said hello to them and learned that the family was there with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, because one of the daughters was desperately ill, and she wanted to see the President and see the White House. I talked to that family for a while, and then I came down and had my picture taken with them. And as I was walking away the father said, "Mr. President, don't you ever think it doesn't matter what goes on up here. If it hadn't been for the family leave law coming in this year, I would have had to choose between spending this time with my precious daughter who may not make it, or working to support my family so that the rest of us could go on. No parent should ever make that choice, and I don't have to now."

That is what I mean by providing the American people the personal security they need to proceed to change in this world.

The second element, after education and training, of our personal security must be health care. This is the only advanced nation in which people can lose their health care, where we don't have health care that is always there and that can never be taken away. Even though we spend 40 percent more than any place else in the world, what does that mean? Lost productivity in small businesses, people really insecure about changing jobs because they've had someone in their family sick and they know if they change jobs that preexisting condition will keep them from getting new health insurance. So people walk around like this, millions of us all the time, 37.4 million Americans without any health insurance but many millions more knowing they could lose it like that.

How can you be secure enough to change, to take on new challenges, to start new businesses, to take new risks, if you think that you may have to let your family go without basic health care? My fellow Americans, it does not happen in any other advanced nation, and it is time for us to say as a people it will no longer happen here. No more.

And this last point I would make to you: If we are to be personally secure enough to make the changes and meet the tests of this time, we must protect our people better against the ravages of violence. Our people have the right to feel safe where they live, where they go to school, and where they work.

My fellow Americans, I was in California the other night and I talked to people all across the State in a hooked-up town hall meeting. And this young African-American boy, a junior high school student, said, "Mr. President, my brother and I, we don't want to be in gangs. We don't want to have guns. We don't want to cause any trouble. We want to learn. We want a future. And we thought our school was too unsafe. So we decided to go to another school and enroll in it because it was safer. And on the day we showed up to register for school, my brother was standing right in front of me, and he was shot," because he got in a crossfire of one of these mindless, arbitrary, endless shootings that occur among children on our streets and in our schools today. We have to stop this. We cannot let those children be robbed of their future.

I know this State grieved recently when your native son Michael Jordan's father was killed. And I know we all wish him well as Michael embarks on a new journey in his life. But let us not forget that 22 other men and women were killed in that same county in your State this year. Ten foreign tourists were killed in Florida this year, and the State grieved over it. But in our Nation's Capital, in one week this summer, more than twice that many people were killed. They were not famous, but they were the President's neighbors.

It is heartbreaking. What can we do about it? We can put more police on our streets, not to catch criminals just alone but also to prevent crime. It works. Thirty years ago there were three police for every violent crime. Today there are three crimes for every police officer. We have to give these people the help they need. And when they work the same neighborhoods and walk the same streets and talk to the same kids, they help to prevent crime.

And I say this in North Carolina, coming from a State where in my home State, half the people have a hunting license or a fishing license or both, and we have to shut down factories and schools and towns on the opening day of deer season because nobody shows up anyway. But we still ought to pass the Brady bill so we don't sell guns to people with a criminal or a mental health history.

And we should not allow in city after city after city our police officers to go to work every day knowing they will walk the mean streets of our cities with people who are better armed than they are, because this is the only country in the world where teenagers can have assault weapons designed only to kill other people and use them with abandon on the streets of our cities. We can do better than that.

Do you know, my fellow Americans, that I learned just last week that someone shot today with a bullet is 3 times more likely to perish because they are likely to have 3 times as many bullets in them as they did just 15 years ago. It is time for us to stop talking about law and order and thinking about how we can organize ourselves to protect our culture, to protect our heritage, to keep our rights as sports men and women but to protect our kids' lives and their future. The time has come to face this problem.

What has all that got to do with this? Because this is what the Founders did. They faced the problems of their time and gave the rest of us a chance to live in the most successful democracy ever known. The idea of the public university, born here in North Carolina, played a major role in revolutionizing opportunity for millions and millions and millions of Americans who never even came into this State but got that opportunity in other States because of the example set here.

This is the challenge of our time, and we must meet it so that we can change: economic security, health care security, personal security. None of us can be secure until we are prepared to take personal responsibility for making these changes, and of building a new sense of community, each in our own way. Our jobs won't be responsible unless we are willing to learn new skills for a lifetime and until we all treat each other like indispensable partners, not disposable parts.

Our health care won't be secure, even if we pass our health care bill, until all of us practice more preventive care. Our families won't be secure until fathers and mothers begin to realize that they have to put their children first. Our communities won't be secure until people who disagree on everything else stop shouting at each other long enough to realize that we have to save the kids who are in trouble the same way we lost them, one child at a time. And it imposes a responsibility on each and every one of us.

But I tell you, my fellow Americans, I honestly believe that as you start the third century of this university's life we could be looking at the most exciting time America has ever known, if we have the security and the courage to change. We want to revitalize the American spirit of enterprise and adventure. We want to give our people new confidence to dream those great dreams again, to take those great risks, to achieve those great things.

The security I seek for America is like a rope for a rock climber, to lift those who will take responsibility for their own lives to greater and greater pinnacles. The security I seek is not Government doing more for people but Americans doing more for ourselves and for our families, for our communities, and for our country. It is not the absence of risk. It is the presence of opportunity. It is not a world without change but a world in which change is our friend and not our enemy.

We honor today the men and women who had the courage to create a new university in a new nation. We must, like them, be builders and believers, the architects of a new security to empower and embolden America and the University of North Carolina on the eve of a new century.

The only difference between America two centuries ago and America today is the difference between dawn and high noon of a very beautiful day.

In the words of your great alumnus, Thomas Wolfe, "The true discovery of America is still before us. The true fulfillment of our spirit, of our people, of our mighty and immortal land is yet to come." Let us believe in those words and let us act on them, so that 200 years from now our children, 12 generations removed, will still celebrate this glorious day.

Thank you, and Godspeed.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:24 p.m. in Kenan Memorial Stadium. In his remarks, he referred to C.D. Spangler, Jr., president, William C. Friday, president emeritus, and Paul Hardin, chancellor, University of North Carolina; James Taylor, entertainer; and Luther H. Hodges and Terry Sanford, former Governors of North Carolina.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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