Richard B. Cheney photo

Remarks by the Vice President at the INTEL Science Talent Search Awards Gala

March 13, 2001

I do appreciate the invitation to be here this evening, and I want to thank Intel and everyone associated with the science talent search. This is a proud evening for the young people that I've just met, as well as for their parents and their teachers. My congratulations to each and every one of you.

Much of the public debate these days is centered on how to improve our country's schools. This is clearly the main concern of most Americans, and it's the top priority of the president and our administration.

As we carry on the discussion, we need to step back now and then and recognize the good. For all the problems in education today, American schools are still producing the finest young scientists, engineers, physicians and mathematicians in the entire world.

Earlier today, I met with the French ambassador in my office, and I remembered that the first representative that America posted to Paris was a scientist and inventor named Benjamin Franklin. Many look at Franklin's life and see the epitome of what makes an American, the qualities of optimism and practicality, the independent cast of mind, and the drive to work, succeed and to rise in the world. Whether your family has lived here since Franklin's time or, if, like some talent search finalists over the years, your life began on another continent, this is your country. And as young scientists, you really are keepers of an amazing legacy of creativity, enterprise and human progress.

The story is told of Joseph Fritz, an engineer in the steel industry in Pennsylvania during the 19th century. A new machine had been designed to improve the steel-making process, and Fritz and some others were given the job of making the thing work. It was a huge undertaking. Their crew labored for weeks and months. When they finally had everything put together, Fritz looked around and said, "Alright, boys, it's finished. Let's start it up and see why it doesn't work."

Invention and discovery are like that sometimes. The people who really make a difference are the ones who keep at it, who find out what doesn't work and why, who go on learning and experimenting and giving the best they have to give. For six decades, the science talent search has rewarded this kind of effort. As we review the history, we see that doing well in this competition is a strong indicator of future achievement. Finalists and semi-finalists have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize, the Fields Medal and the National Medal of Science as well as membership in the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering.

The talent search has also helped change the face of American education. In 1942, only 1 out of every 25 high schools in America offered science courses. The founders of the program found this unacceptable in a nation fighting a world war and preparing for world leadership.

This competition has provided constant motivation to schools to strengthen their course offerings in science, technology skills and advanced math. There is still more to be done. The government should support the effort wherever possible so that all of our students might be offered challenging curricula and text books.

President Bush and Education Secretary Paige are proposing a math and science partnership fund to improve course offerings in schools across the country, and new initiatives draw even greater numbers of talented teachers into these fields.

The plain truth, as Craig Barrett has often pointed out, is that the modern economy has made advanced math and science and technology skills as basic to a sound education as the RRRs. Students who learn them are preparing for the jobs of the future. At the same time, such knowledge equips young people to meet what President Kennedy called "the greatest challenge of modern science," to expand life and hope for the world's inhabitants.

The finalists we recognize tonight have already shown themselves equal to the task. They've set before us new possibilities for the treatment of disease, faster computing, more resilient crops and safer vehicles. In their work, we find new insights into applied mathematics, a better understanding of the natural world around us and even, I am told, an idea of how we might build a sweeter sounding violin.

All of this goes to show that the pursuit of knowledge, attended by youthful idealism and guided by moral purpose, is inherently good. It ennobles the seeker and brings to an imperfect world an extra measure of hope and gladness and beauty. Every time this happens, every time a new generation applies the old virtues of perseverance, patience and discipline, every time God-given talents are put to their highest and best use, then we have the cause to celebrate, and that is why we've come here this evening.

Once again, on behalf of the president and millions of Americans, I congratulate the finalists, and I commend the parents and teachers who have encouraged you every step of the way. They and I share the excitement of knowing that what we see know is only the beginning. The sun is just now rising over your professional lives. For each of you, my wish is that your career will be a continuing story not only of high achievement, but high purpose, integrity and humanity.

Thank you very much.

Richard B. Cheney, Remarks by the Vice President at the INTEL Science Talent Search Awards Gala Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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