|For Immediate Release
|February 10, 1999
THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, when I waslistening to Stephen and Leslie and Justin and Pepe talk, I wasreminded of why I wanted to be President -- so that I could giveyoung people like them the chance to make America a better place.(Applause.)
I want to thank all those who are here today who havesupported our efforts. I thank Harris Wofford for his outstandingleadership of the Corporation of National Service. (Applause.) DebJospin and John Gomperts of AmeriCorps. I thank Governor Glendeningand Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for making MarylandAmerica's leading state for citizen service. They have really done-- (applause.) I thank my good friend, Prince George's CountyExecutive Wayne Curry; Senator Mike Miller, my longtime friend; andMayor Jacobs, thank you for making us welcome. Carson Dailey, thankyou for the work MTV did on those wonderful spots, the PSAs.
I would like to thank also the mother of the Lt.Governor, my good friend, Ethel Kennedy, for being here today.(Applause.) And I thank Mark Gearan, our Peace Corps Director, andI'll say a little more about the Peace Corps in a minute and itsrelationship to AmeriCorps.
I'd like to thank one person who is not here today, butwho was on the front lines of creating AmeriCorps, Senator BarbaraMikulski, your United States Senator from Maryland. I thank her.(Applause.) I want to thank the President of the University ofMaryland, on my right; and the President of the Student Government ofthe University of Maryland, on my left -- (applause) -- for making mewelcome. Avery and Dr. Mote, thank you. (Applause.)
You have already heard from Dr. Mote and others that sixyears ago I came here to celebrate the end of the Summer of Service,which was our dry run for this national service program. We wantedto work out the kinks and see whether we could make this idea go.There were three people who are here who were instrumental on thatday; I would like to thank them: Georgia Sorensen, Marilyn Smith andmy former White House staffer, whom I miss very much, Bill Galstone.Thank you all very much for whatyou have done. (Applause.)
And I thank the University of Maryland for the CollegePark Scholars, the Team Maryland Athletes -- (applause) -- thework-study students that are tutoring, and the others from thestudents and faculty who demonstrate the power of citizenservice.
Let me say to all of you, when I ran for President in1992 I wanted to get America working again and moving again, butI also wanted to bring America together again. It seemed to methat we had two great problems. One is that our economy was notfunctioning very well and we seemed to be getting weaker, butalso that we seemed to be letting our divisions overcome what wehave in common.
Martin Luther King once said that the old law of an eyefor an eye sooner or later leaves everyone blind. I alwaysbelieved that America's differences could be the source of ourstrength if we respected and we celebrated our differences, butwe understood that, underneath it all, there was something thatbound us together that was more important.
So, as I look back on the last six years, I think wecan all take a great deal of pride in what our country hasachieved together -- economically, the longest peacetimeexpansion in history; the lowest peacetime unemployment ratesince 1957, 42 years ago -- (applause) -- welfare rolls cutnearly in half; the lowest crime rate in over a quarter-century.I think those are great things.
But I think we can also celebrate the evidence that weare coming together -- over 90 percent of our children across allracial and ethnic lines immunized against serious childhooddiseases for the first time in history; the doors of collegeliterally open to all with the HOPE scholarship, the lifetimelearning tax credit, the more generous Pell grant, moreaffordable student loans, more work-study slots. Those thingsmatter.
But maybe most of all, those of you here in Americorps,and those in citizen service -- whether in the Peace Corps,serving our country in the military, or serving in some other way-- embody the determination of America to draw closer together aswe grow more diverse. And that, I think, is terribly important.
When you saw the four Americorps volunteers up herespeaking, and each of you identifying with them in turn -- ifthey worked in your project or you knew them -- you know theywere a picture of America, of the changing face of America, andthe best of America that never changes.
If you look around the world today, at many of thechallenges that I face as your President and that the UnitedStates faces -- the sad trip that the First Lady and I recentlytook to Jordan for the funeral of our friend, the King of Jordan,who survived decades of assassination attempts -- literallydecades of assassination attempts, probably 50 in all -- to standas a symbol of peace among people in a very tough neighborhood,who use religion as a reason to find their differences moreimportant than their common humanity. All over the world todayyou see that. If the United States wants to lead the worldtoward peace and freedom and prosperity in a new century in a newmillennium, it is actually quite an advantage for us to havewithin our borders people from all races, all religions, allethnic groups, all cultural backgrounds doing all kinds ofdifferent things.
But we cannot do good around the world unless we aregood at home. And, therefore, we have to find this magicalbalance, being honest about our differences of opinion on mattersfrom the serious to the mundane -- and I'll leave it to you todecide whether it was serious or mundane when the President askedme take sides in the basketball game. (Laughter.) You've got agreat team here, though, I'll tell you that, I've watched it.(Applause.) We have to find a way to do that, to say, this iswhat I believe, this is where I stand, this is what I'm for --and also to say how lucky we are to stand on the verge of a newmillennium in a totally global society, where people are beingbrought closer together than ever before, and we are finding waysto relish, to celebrate, to honor our differences in a way tobring us closer together, instead of driving us apart.
AmeriCorps is the living, breathing symbol of theanswer to that. Where we do not ask people to check theirdifferences at the door, but we do ask them to reaffirm ourcommon humanity. We do not ask for a handout, but we do ask fora hand up for everyone who needs it, and we say we are goingforward together. That is what you represent. That is myfondest hope for America. And I thank you for your service.(Applause.)
You know, all during the 20th century, the tradition ofcitizen service grew stronger in America. In the greatDepression I remember my parents telling me about the chancePresident Roosevelt gave able-bodied, unemployed people to workin the Civilian Conservation Corps -- the CCC. They clearedtrails, they fought fires, they planted trees. They built wholestate parks -- the Appalachian Trail, Skyline Drive in Virginia;parks in my home state that Hillary and I have stayed in, withrather interesting names like Petit Jean, and Devil's Den. Ihave in the back office of the White House an old CCC cap -- acap that one of the volunteers wore in the '30s, that I foundwedged in between a chimney and a wall, in a cabin in a statepark in the mountains of north Arkansas. And I have kept it withme all these long years, to remember the unifying power ofcitizen service in one of the most difficult moments of the 20thcentury for the United States.
President Kennedy in the 1960s asked young people toserve in the Peace Corps -- to teach English, to provide healthcare, to bring running water and electricity to some of the mostremote villages in Africa, Asia and South America. Mybrother-in-law served in the Peace Corps in Colombia. And theother night, he was getting together with some of the people whoserved there with him. When we were getting ready to come outhere today, and Senator Wofford came in with Mark Gearan, thepresent Peace Corps Director, we were celebrating the fact that,if our new budget passes, we will have more people serving in thePeace Corps in the next two years than have ever served in anygiven year. We'll be back at an all-time high.
And we were lamenting the fact that we just had towithdraw our Peace Corps volunteers from Eritrea and Ethiopia,two countries that I have felt particularly close to in the lastcouple of years, because of the trouble the two countries arehaving -- the threat to go to war. And the Peace Corpsvolunteers, going all the way back for decades, have volunteeredto try to come in and solve the conflict and deal with thedisputed area of land. I don't know if they will accept it, butthink of that. All these years later, people that were thereyears and years and years ago remember what it was like -- not togive a handout, but to give a hand up, and to ask people tounderstand that their differences are not as important as whatthey have in common.
So I thank our Peace Corps volunteers, I thank MarkGearan, and I thank all of you in AmeriCorps, because you are inthe rich tradition of America's citizen service, from the CCC tothe Peace Corps to AmeriCorps. Now, six summers after I first came here, AmeriCorps isthriving. There now have been over 100,000 people serve inAmeriCorps in just four years of the full-time program.Everywhere I go around the country I see you -- I see you in allkinds of different contexts. I was in San Jose right before theelection and there were a lot of -- the Peace Corps volunteershad just come to start their mission, and so I saw them standingon the street as I pulled into the hotel. And I asked them allto come see me and we took a little picture -- and they were fromeverywhere.
And then when I went home to Arkansas after theterrible tornadoes a couple of weeks ago, in both the communitiesI visited there were AmeriCorps volunteers there and there werepeople there who, believe me, would never have come to Arkansasin their lives if they hadn't been in AmeriCorps. (Laughter.) Iknow it was good for the people they were helping and I think itwas pretty good for them.
This has been an astonishing encounter for tens ofthousands of people. Now, all of you know what it's like -- Ilove talking to people who have been in AmeriCorps because Ialways hear two things -- number one, they're proud of what theydid to help people -- teaching a child to read, or immunizing achild, or having a playground that's safe in an area that used tobe dominated by gangs, or cleaning up some polluted site, ordoing something to preserve the environment. I love that.
The second thing I always here is, "I like the peoplewith whom I serve;" "I met people I never would have met;" "I gotto know people I never would have gotten to know;" "we were allso different and, yet, when we worked together, we grew together,and it made my life different and better." That is whatAmeriCorps needs to do -- and that is what America needs to do.
America needs to think of itself as sort of a giantAmeriCorps, the Peace Corps at home, getting things donetogether. Getting things done together. (Applause.) If ourbudget passes this fall, we can boost the number of AmeriCorpsvolunteers by one quarter, to 50,000 members. In our new budgetwe want to keep expanding AmeriCorps every year so that by theyear 2003, and there forward, every year 100,000 young peoplewill be serving in AmeriCorps. (Applause.)
But I want to challenge the young people of thiscountry -- and the not so young who are willing to do it -- tosign up for AmeriCorps, to see for yourselves what you can do tosolve America's problems and reap America's promise. I want tochallenge high school students, as well. Maryland has done awonderful job as the Governor and the Lt. Governor said, beingthe only state in the country to actually require communityservice as a part of a public education. In our balanced budgetwe propose to allow high schoolers for the very first time tojoin AmeriCorps by serving part-time during the school year andfull-time in the summers.
And I want to challenge, again, the young people beyondthis room, to dedicate a year or two of your lives to a causelarger than yourselves. It may be your best chance to change thelives of others for the better, and to enrich your own life inthe process.
Today, so many young people have the time and freedomand energy they will never have in the future, to tackle the kindof challenge Americorps represents -- to pack a bag at a moment'snotice, to fight a forest fire, or move into our most remote
towns or Native American reservations to teach children, or workwith churches in some of our toughest neighborhoods. At the endof your service, as all of you know, Americorps will provide helpto pay for college or pay off student loans. So I ask you all tohelp me reach others -- to take advantage of this opportunity, touse this moment to prove that this generation of young people,far from being a generation of cynics and slackers, is instead ageneration of doers and patriots. (Applause.)
Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend quoted somethingher father said. I would like to close with a quotation fromSenator Robert Kennedy, in a speech he gave to college studentsin South Africa when I was a young man. It resonated around theworld, and every person my age, which was then your age now --every young person I knew, without regard to their party or theiropinions or anything else, was riveted by the notion that aUnited States Senator could go to South Africa and talk to theyoung people about building a different future, a long timebefore, for the first time in over 300 years, all South Africanshad a chance to choose their future.
This is what he said: "Each time a man stands up foran ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes outagainst injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, andcrossing each other from a million different centers of energyand daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down themightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
That is still true today. For those in AmeriCorps, Ithank you for sending forth those ripples of hope. I thank youfor bringing out the best in yourselves and others.
For those who could still yet serve, I ask you to jointhe rest of your fellow citizens in building that bridge to the21st century that all can walk across, arm-in-arm, to the bestdays of America.
Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)
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