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American College of Sofia

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First Lady

OCTOBER 12, 1998


Thank you very much, Desi. And I am delighted to be here with all of you. I want to thank our Ambassador. Ambassador Bohlen has worked very hard in Bulgaria on behalf of the partnership and friendship between our two countries. And she's also worked very hard on behalf of this American college, because she understands how important education is and how providing a good education and providing it in a setting that challenges such bright young people as yourselves is important for the future of Bulgaria. I want to thank Don Presley whom you heard from. Don is with the United States Government agency called USAID, the Agency for International Development, and his responsibilities include much of Eastern, Central, and Southern Europe and even into Central Asia. And what he tries to do is to look for ways that through the United States government we can support people in helping themselves and creating their own futures. And that is why USAID has helped support this college, because we know how important it is to have computers in the classroom, to have this institution that has such an excellent reputation, operating again to help create the new Bulgaria.

I am also very grateful to be here with the Director of the American College because Lu Persky is person that has spent most of his life working on behalf of international education around the world. As I was talking with him today, he told me that his last assignment, as many of you may know, was in Zaire. That was a very difficult assignment. He is, for many reasons, happy to be here in Bulgaria at the American College with all of you.

I was pleased that the alumni were introduced and the Ambassador was acknowledged because certainly, this American College could not have been revamped and revived without the support of people who understood its mission and were very committed to making it available to young people today. It is critical that we all understand the role of education, not only in your country, but throughout the world. And I've been impressed by everything I've heard about the educational mission here. I know you have extraordinary teachers and I know you have extraordinary students.

I'm also aware that as the school is once again back and open, it really represents a triumph of the human spirit and a commitment to the power of education. It was closed, it was as Desi said a jungle – grown over, neglected, ignored, its mission, people thought, never to be revived again. But then on September 15, 1992, almost 50 years to the day after the last American faculty members had been expelled. These doors for this institution for learning were reopened. Even in its darkest days when this college was closed and its grounds were turned over to the Secret Police, the community that understood the mission of the American College never gave up hope. The Board of Trustees in the United States preserved the college's endowment for 50 years.

There were Americans, Bulgarian-Americans, Bulgarians who believed that there would come a day when Bulgaria would be free again, determining its own destiny and understood how critical education would be to making sure that its destiny was all that it could be. The library was maintained at a monastery and many of you are living proof of the faith that all those people had for those long 50 years. Even in the darkest days when former teachers and students were persecuted because of association with this school and its ideals. Your predecessors believed that this remarkable institution would not only be opened again, but would lead again. And that is exactly what you're doing.

I had an opportunity to meet the students behind me who are members of your student government for a short visit. I met the students who were using your brand new computers and I'm well aware of the reputation of students who come from this school. I'm told that your average Scholastic Aptitude Test, the SAT scores are higher than those of many entering students into America's top colleges and universities. With your accomplishments academically, with every lesson learned, with every question posed, your are not only helping to secure your own personal future in the 21st century, you are in a very personal way fulfilling the promises of freedom, and hope, and prosperity, stability, and democracy that all those people who never lost faith, held on your behalf all those years here in Bulgaria and in the United States.

I'm pleased that the United States both through its government and many private citizens will continue to support this college. Not only to ensure that your tradition of excellence continues, but as a very visible reminder of our enduring partnership, of the friendship between the United States and Bulgaria. I am pleased that we are able to announce a gift today, a 100 volume set from the Library of America and I have a copy here from this set. This is happens to be the speeches and writings of President Lincoln that are still as eloquent and moving today as when he penned them so many years ago.

This collection brings together the writings of classic American authors, novelists, poets, historians, philosophers, and statesmen. And I know that you are in the process of rebuilding your library, and how important it is, not only to have your online library, but your own books as well that you can refer to and I hope that many of you find interest, and ideas, and inspiration in the books of this collection.

I also want to just say just a personal word about all of you whom I have had just a brief chance to meet. I met mostly students who are just graduating this year and they're very interested in going to the most difficult and select colleges and universities that they can enter. And many of you, both in the conversation I had with the student government leaders and in the computer room where I saw many students online looking at college information – are thinking of attending higher education in the United States and we welcome you. We are delighted to have students of your caliber, and your ambition and motivation. Join our students and literally students from all over the world in the finest colleges and universities in America.

But I hope with all my heart that you will take that education that you have received here at this American college and whatever university you attend in the United States and bring it home to Bulgaria. That you will be part of using this great gift that people have given to you of a first class world education to help build your country, to once again make it what it should be. The Bulgarian people are well known for being well educated, intelligent, and hard working. But many Bulgarians were, as you know well, forced out of Bulgaria and have made their fortunes and their successes elsewhere. I hope they will think of coming home or at least of helping as I met several Bulgarian-Americans who are giving back to Bulgaria.

But I hope that each of you will see what's happening in your country today as the great adventure it is and want to be part of be part of building a prosperous, successful, free, stable, future-oriented, hopeful Bulgaria. Thank you all very much.

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October 1998

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