Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to the White House Seminar Students.

August 19, 1964

IF I COULD ask your indulgence for a moment, I would like to present to you some participants in my seminar. Mrs. Johnson.

[Mrs. Johnson responded briefly, telling the students they were doing "exactly what I would have liked to have done when I was your age." She expressed the hope that through their experience they would understand their Government better and would want to have a part in it to make it better in their time.

[The President then introduced his daughters Lynda Bird and Luci. Lynda Bird spoke briefly welcoming the students to the White House. The President then resumed speaking.]

I hope that none of you will assume from the sign over there that Congress was going to come down here and be with us this morning. We know when Congress is coming. The big question is--when will they be leaving?

This is a nonpolitical occasion, I regret very much to say. It must be that way because you are bipartisan. Out of the 5,000 here, one lady spent the summer working in the office of Senator Goldwater. I am told that she was a Democrat when she came and I trust she has not moderated her convictions.

Personally and as your President, I am proud of you. I am proud to see you. I am glad that you are members of both parties. I am happy that you are taking an active and constructive interest in your Government which is served well by members of both parties.

I stand before you this morning as an example of what can happen to someone who is your age who comes to Washington to work for awhile, and then carries it to an extreme.

This city is your city. Wherever you go, whatever you do, I hope Washington will mean to you what Paris meant to Ernest Hemingway, as he describes it in the book which many of you are reading. May the memories of your Capital be always for you a "Moveable Feast" of constant delight and continuing pride.

You will carry with you the memories of libraries and museums, concerts and coffee hours, folk festivals and, by all means, discotheques. But my wish for you is that from this experience you will carry for the rest of your years a stronger and a surer faith in the role and the worth of the individual.

Your Government is large. You are sons and daughters of a massive age, an age when men and nations have been much concerned with massive force and massive power and massive struggles.

But I hope that your experiences and your observations have instilled into you a new and lasting faith in the fact that is paramount.

On this earth, there is no force so strong, none so powerful, none so finally decisive as the influence for good or evil of the committed man or the committed woman.

The course of this Nation, the contest of this world, will finally be decided not by the force of the atom, not by the strength of arms, not by the weight of industrial production. The future will finally fall to those that are most committed to their cause.

I know there are those who say of your generation that you are apathetic, that you are indifferent, that you are cold, hard, unfeeling, and uncaring security chasers seeking only a sports car, a split level, and an annuity.

Well, this I do not believe.

I know there are those who consider it correct to play it cool--right to remain reserved--not good form to show great faith.

But for myself, I believe that this generation of young Americans is a committed generation, anxious and asking to be permitted to fulfill that commitment. Where other generations of Americans have had a rendezvous with war, I believe that your generation, God willing, will keep a rendezvous with peace.

Whether at home or faraway, I believe it will be your destiny to fight wars men have never fought before--wars against poverty, wars against disease, against illiteracy, against discrimination, against all those things which blight the lives and the hopes of our fellowman.

As you are committed, I want you to know that your President is committed, too--committed to the future and not to the past, because we live in an age when the times men know in their youth are old history before men themselves have grown old.

The times of my generation's youth are old history now.

I came here--I was schooled here--in exciting and memorable years of our national history. None whoever knew those times can ever really forget them.

Your generation has no memory--as mine does--of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. Your generation did not know--and I pray will never know--the Great Depression and the experience of the Great Recovery.

With due respect, but without regret, we leave behind 1934 and turn to work for the promise of 1964. For the answers of the Roosevelt years and the answers of the Coolidge years, and the answers of the Wilson and McKinley years do not serve as replies to the questions of our age or the answers of our time or the replies to today.

No man of our times understood this so well as John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He understood, as we must all understand, that in these times the Government of the United States must be lean and trim and not large and soft. He understood that power must be principled--that when nations acquire the capacity to destroy human life they must assert the courage to redeem human life; that when nations are sure of their strength they must never be unsure of their search for peace.

This is the course that we follow in our land today.

No man can say that the road ahead will be easy, that our footing will always be sure, that there will be no obstacles, no perils. Wherever the strong and the free may walk, danger will stalk their trail.

I believe that--30 years from now when you are nearing the age that I have attained--you will look back upon these 1960's as the time of the great American breakthrough--toward the victory of peace over war, toward the victory of prosperity over poverty, toward the victory of human rights over human wrongs, toward the victory of enlightened minds over darkness.

Thomas Wolfe has written: "The true discovery of America is before us . . . the true fulfillment of our spirit, of our people, of our mighty land is yet to come."

Come, give us what youth alone can give us, and together let us make that discovery.

Thank you for coming here.

Note: The President spoke shortly before noon on the South Lawn at the White House. The group was composed of more than 5,000 college students, summer employees of the Government.

Early in his remarks the President referred to the temporary stage and backdrop that had been erected on the South Lawn for a "Salute to Congress" ceremony to be held later in the day (see Item 527).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to the White House Seminar Students. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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