John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks of Welcome to Participants in the Summer Intern Program for College Students

June 20, 1962

Ladies and gentlemen:

I am glad to see you in Washington. I appreciate your willingness to come down and submit yourselves to the living on the bull's-eye here. I sometimes wish I just had a summer job here!

I do want to say what an opportunity it is for us in the Federal Government to have you here. These programs of bringing young Americans, particularly college students, to Washington every summer to work in the various departments have been going on for a great many years. The Federal Government does not do this out of largess. It does it because it hopes that in the 1 or 2 months that you come to Washington and work with us that you will become sufficiently interested in Government as a career that many of you will come back; and in that way we can attract to the national governmental service the best of the talents of our country, those who are most interested, those who are most committed. This has been going on, as I have said, for a great many years.

What we have been attempting to do this year, however, is to spread your interests. Those who may work in the State Department or the Department of Defense, those who may work in the White House or in the Executive Office do get a very clear idea, whether it may be because of carrying messages from one part of the building to another or working in more sophisticated jobs, they get some idea of what the work of the Government department in their area may be. But what we are anxious to do is use this time while you are here to give you as much information as broadly based and as sophisticated as is possible. And therefore during the next 2 months, with your help and cooperation, we will attempt to bring to your attention some of the many facets of governmental service.

It is my judgment that there is no career that could possibly be open to you in the 1960's that will offer to you as much satisfaction, as much stimulus, as little compensation perhaps financially, as being a servant of the United States Government.

I think within all of us, and really in a sense, I suppose endowed almost by nature in addition to a natural desire to advance our own interests, there is also a parallel desire, and that is to be part of this great enterprise of public service. The totalitarian powers have exploited that. Even in Cuba Mr. Castro's emphasis, certainly at the beginning, was on a desire to improve the lot of the Cuban people. In China we had all of these examples of people spending their days off going out on illiteracy, health, building dams, doing all the things to build a better country. This is in all of us.

I think that it is a more difficult and subtle problem in a democracy, with a great deal of emphasis, of course, on individual liberty, on the right of pursuing our private interests, and so on, so that while there is this desire, frequently it does not have a chance to press itself. But the desire is there, and it is our hope that the desire is there stronger in these years than ever before. And I think the response to the Peace Corps indicates how real this feeling is, the willingness thousands of young Americans, and some not so young, to volunteer to serve their country and a much larger constituency than their country in dozens of countries overseas. I hope and in fact I know you would not be here if you did not feel the same way.

When you leave here in August I hope that you will come back in other days when you have finished your studies and be willing to give part of your time and life to the service of our country. When I say come back, I do not mean it in the geographic sense. It may be that your service will take place in your own community or your own county or your own State, but to contribute part of your lives, part of your effort, if not all, to the advancement of the great interests of this country.

I do not regard the great interests of this country in a narrow sense. Our interests are really the free world's interests. And I am constantly impressed day after day with the fact that this rather small country in the relative sense, only 6 percent of the world's population, that we are carrying the burden for the defense of freedom in nearly every part of the globe. It is the United States, as a member of the SEATO Treaty, who sent its troops to Thailand to help preserve the independence of Southeast Asia. It is the United States which is making the major effort in Viet-Nam. It is the United States which has the great number of troops stationed in West Germany today. It is the United States, when the moment of crisis comes in Berlin, that plays the large role. It is the United States that has poured out its billions of dollars of gold in order to help rebuild Western Europe. It is the United States which contributes to the economic and political and social development of Latin America through the Alliance for Progress. It is the United States on behalf of the free world that makes the great effort in space and makes the great effort in national security.

Our dollar payments which we hear so much about would long ago have been balanced, the United States would have had nearly all the gold in the world if in the last 15 years we had followed a narrow, parochial viewpoint instead of assisting those whom we regarded as heavily pressed. We should feel a great sense of satisfaction in that and a sense of pride. The United States today spends nearly four or five billion dollars a year for national security interests abroad which add to our gold drain. This is only one of the countless examples that could be given of the great role we play in the defense of freedom at a time of maximum danger.

So when we serve our country in 1962, I think we are serving the cause of freedom; and it is, of course, our hope that Western Europe and the Common Market outgoing institution which will with this great effort and not merely into itself and build greater prosperity merely for its own people. So this is the effort that we are engaged in and will be engaged in, in this decade and the next decade and the rest of this century, and therefore the opportunity for all of you will be very real.

In addition, I think the kinds of problems we face now are entirely different from the problems we faced in the administrations of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. And that is why I have tried to say recently that the slogans and clichés and the political arguments which so suited an earlier generation are not particularly adapted to the kinds of problems which we have now. Most of our problems are technical, administrative, sophisticated, and merely being a member of one or the other political party does not offer you a solution to the problem.

How to maintain our economy at a satisfactory rate of growth, how to mix fiscal and monetary policy in order to maintain employment and protect our balance of payments, how to absorb at a reasonable return to our farmers the productivity of our farms which is increasing twice as fast as our ability to consume it--all this in a very hungry world. How do we protect the public interest in the great variety of economic areas and political areas which absorb our attention? These are all very sophisticated and technical problems, and the great sort of passions and movements of the early part of this century-William Jennings Bryan and all the rest-are not involved today because now it requires the finest judgments upon which even experts differ, and to bring a solution to these kinds of problems in the midst of a very turbulent and large country involved in more traditional political dialogs requires the best of all of us.

So I am glad you have come to Washington. This Government needs your assistance. It needs the disciplines which you have acquired. Bismarck once said that one-third of the students of German universities broke down from overwork; another one-third broke down from dissipation; and the other one-third ruled Germany. The question is which third is here in Washington this summer. I am confident it's the future rulers of the United States.

Recently I heard a story of a young Peace Corpsman named Tom Scanlon who is working in Chile. He works in a village about 40 miles from an Indian village which prides itself on being Communist. The village is up a long, winding road which Scanlon has gone on many occasions to see the chief. Each time the chief avoided seeing him. Finally he saw him and said, "You are not going to talk us out of being Communists." Scanlon said, "I am not trying to do that, only to talk to you about how I can help." The chief looked at him and replied, "In a few weeks the snow will come. Then you will have to park your jeep 20 miles from here and come through 5 feet of snow on foot. The Communists are willing to do that. Are you?"

When a friend saw Scanlon recently and asked him what he was doing, he said, "I am waiting for the snow."

Well, I hope that spirit motivates all of you. You are most welcome here. And I want to say come rain or shine, I hope that when you leave in August you will have a chance to come to the White House and say goodbye.

Note: The President spoke at 10 a.m. at Constitution Hall in Washington.

The establishment of a seminar for some 6,000 college-age students working in temporary Government jobs in Washington during the summer was announced by the White House on June 17- See also Item 349.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of Welcome to Participants in the Summer Intern Program for College Students Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives