THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release January 11, 2001
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO THE NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY
8:10 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.
Those are the AmeriCorps rowdies over there. Thank you very much.
Well, President Freeland, let me begin by saying I'm delighted to
be back at Northeastern. I remember so well when I spoke here to your
commencement early in my term. I remember the honorary degree I got. Now
that I have to make a living, maybe I can put it to some use. (Laughter.)
I remember the young man who spoke there, representing the students, all
the students whose hands I shook and whose stories I heard. This is a
great American urban institution of opportunity, and I am honored to be
back. I thank you for that. (Applause.)
Mayor Menino, Mr. Mayor, I thank you for being my friend, and for
proving that the ideas that Al Gore and I brought to the American people in
1992 and 1996 would work anywhere because you made them work in Boston.
Whether it was the economy, crime, welfare, education, you did it.
You might be interested to know, Mr. Mayor, we're still borrowing
from Boston. Just last week we announced that we're going to give federal
employees the same benefit you have given to Boston city workers -- time
off for medical screenings to catch cancer and other problems early on.
Thank you again, Mr. Mayor. (Applause.)
And to your representative, Mr. Capuano, I have never heard you
give such a vigorous public speech in my life. (Laughter and applause.)
And you even talked about things I'd forgotten I'd done. (Laughter.) But
your congressional district and this state have been wonderful to me. And
you have been great, and I thank you. And I thank you for what you've done
for them in Congress. (Applause.) And I want to thank Bill Delahunt, who
has been so great on many issues, but who's been particularly helpful in
pushing our criminal justice agenda in the United States Congress, giving
us the lowest crime rate in America in 25 years.
And I want to thank Jim McGovern for many things, but I think
everyone in Massachusetts should know that Congressman McGovern was the
number one advocate in Congress for one of the most recent initiatives we
announced, which is that the United States of America is going to provide a
free, hot, nutritious meal to 9 million children in poor countries
throughout the world if they will come to school in their countries. Thank
you, Jim McGovern. (Applause.)
Now, finally, let me say -- I don't know what to say about
Senator Kennedy. I met -- Ted Kennedy I met in 1978, in Memphis,
Tennessee, at the midterm convention of the Democratic Party. I was the
governor-elect of my state, 32 years old, looked like I was about 20.
(Laughter.) You all, in the last eight years, have taken care of that.
(Laughter and applause.) And they said to me that President Carter's
administration called, and they said, Governor, we want you to moderate
this panel in Memphis on health care.
And I had been a big supporter of President Carter, you know.
They said, we think that you can keep everything in a good humor. And on
our side, we're going to have Joe Califano, who was the Secretary of
Health, Education and Welfare. He was a very great fellow, by the way, and
the number one advocate in America for doing something about the dangers of
tobacco and a lot of other things. He had done a lot of great things.
And on the other side, we're going to have Senator Kennedy, who
thinks that we're too weak on health care. I said, you want me to bridle
Ted Kennedy? (Laughter.) And I'm 32 years old, and I -- so I said, okay,
I'll do it. (Laughter.) I just wanted to be on the program and see if I
could keep up, you know?
So we had this incredible meeting on health care. And I don't
even know if I've ever said this to him, but he got up and he talked about
his beloved son and the health problems he had had, how he had managed to
survive, and survives to this day, had a magnificent life, and how wrong it
was that his son had done well because of the good fortunes of his family,
but that other families didn't.
And he made an impression on me that day that had lasted over
these 22-plus years. And I promised myself that day that if I ever got a
chance to give health care to more Americans and keep more young children
like his son alive, I would do it. I owe him that, for 22 years.
And I have not had a better friend or stronger advocate in the
United States Senate these last eight years. And I can tell you that no
member of the Senate is more respected, even by the Republicans. They hate
to admit it in public, but you get them in private and they'll tell you the
same thing. He is the best and most effective member of the United States
Now, in these last eight years, Ted and Vicki and our families
have become -- we've become much closer. And he's taken a lot of risks for
his friendship with me. I know what you're thinking, but that's not the
risk you took. (Laughter.) He let me sail his boat into the Menemsha
Harbor. (Laughter.) I come from a landlocked state, and he still let me
sail his boat into Menemsha Harbor. I will never forget that. (Applause.)
And all I could do in return was help send Hillary to the Senate to give
him a little support, and I've done the best I could. (Applause.) Thank
Three former Presidents have spoken in this hall. Three
Presidents in whose tradition and footsteps I have tried to follow --
Theodore Roosevelt, the last great progressive Republican President --
Franklin Roosevelt, and your John Kennedy. (Applause.) When Franklin
Roosevelt spoke here in 1932, in the campaign, his first, he said, we are
through with delay, we are through with despair; we are ready for better
things. That's exactly how I felt when I came here in 1992. And
Massachusetts, and the city of Boston, as you have heard, more than any
other state in the Union, gave me a chance to work hard to bring better
things to the United States. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Applause.)
I am here, more than anything else, just to say thank you. There
are a few places I felt I had to go in the closing days of my term just to
thank people. A couple of days ago I went back to Chicago, which is my
wife's home town, and to East Lansing, Michigan, where they have a
basketball team you may have noticed -- they come over here sometimes. I
went there because those two states voted for me on St. Patrick's Day in
1992 and sealed my nomination.
I went back to New Hampshire today because -- (applause) --
anybody here from New Hampshire -- because that's where it all started, and
because I was pronounced dead by all the pundits, and the people of New
Hampshire decided they would lift me up. And since they raised me up, I
wanted to go back and thank them.
But as you have heard repeatedly, in election after election, and
in good times and bad, the one place that I knew would always be there to
stick with Bill Clinton, Al Gore and the direction we were taking America,
was Boston and the state of Massachusetts. And I could not leave office
without coming here to say thank you. (Applause.) Thank you.
Now, I mostly want you to think about the future, because most of
the people in this audience are young and because America is always about
the future. But I want to take a minute to walk down Memory Lane.
Eight years ago, when I came here, 10 million Americans were out
of work. The deficit was $290 billion, and rising. The debt of the
country had quadrupled in the previous 12 years, imposing a crushing burden
on our children. Welfare rolls, crime rates, drug abuse, teen pregnancy,
income inequality all were going up. What a difference eight years can
The one thing that hasn't been said tonight that I want to say
again is, I believe politics should be about uniting people, not dividing
them; should be about ideas, not insults. We had ideas in 1992 that we
believed could put the American people first and build our bridge to a new
century and a whole new aspect of human affairs.
All of you who are students here will live in a time where people
look, work, live and relate to one another in ways that are profoundly
different than the America in which I grew up. And it is important that we
hold fast to the basic values of this country -- opportunity for every
responsible citizen; a community of all Americans, and that we didn't have
the courage to implement ideas that will meet the challenges of this era.
That's what I tried to do. I tried to make politics in Washington about
you, not about the politicians and the pundits in Washington; about ideas,
not about insults; about how you were doing, not how we were doing.
In Boston, when I took the oath of office, unemployment was 6.9
percent. Today, it's 1.9 percent. (Applause.) Poverty is down, average
income is up nearly 20 percent. Crime has dropped, as the Mayor said, by
more than a third. And we've been there to help.
The same thing has happened in the nation. Unemployment is at a
30-year low; we have 22.5 million new jobs, the longest economic expansion
in history, the lowest minority unemployment ever recorded, the lowest
female unemployment in 40 years. (Applause.)
Now, because we turned those record deficits into record
surpluses in this last budget year -- it's the last one for which I am
responsible -- when it's over, we will have paid down $500 billion on the
national debt, meaning lower interest rates for college loans, home
mortgages, car payments, business loans, more jobs, higher incomes, a
brighter future for all Americans. (Applause.)
But there were ideas behind this. There were ideas behind
getting the crime rate down. Ideas practiced in Boston. You know, before
I became President, I noticed out there in the country, looking at
Washington, that most politicians thought the only way to be safe on crime
was just to talk tough. And if you were just for catching whoever you
could catch and putting them in jail and throwing the key away, you would
never get in trouble on crime. On the other hand, you'd never lower the
crime rate either.
So we said, no, let's put 100,000 police on the street. Let's do
more to keep guns out of the hands of children and criminals. (Applause.)
The Brady Bill kept 600,000 felons, fugitives and stalkers from getting
hand guns. We put 130,000 police on the street.
On welfare, the Democrats defended the programs that supported
the poor, as we should. Many in the other party said, oh, they don't want
to work, we ought to cut them off. I thought that was nuts. I had spent
enough time in welfare offices to know that people did want to work, but
you couldn't expect people to go to work if they were going to have to hurt
their kids. So we said, okay, require able-bodied people to work, but
train them, give them child care, give them transportation, and don't take
the food and the medicine away from the kids and the parents if they go to
work. And it worked. (Applause.)
There were people who said, well, the cities are economic basket
cases and nobody wants to put their money there. I thought that was not
true. And we revitalized the Community Reinvestment Act, a law that
basically says banks have to put money back into their communities. It
seems reasonable, but it had been on the books since the 1970s, and hardly
any money had been put back into poor communities. In the eight years
we've been in -- now, this law's been on the books for over 22 years -- 95
percent of all the money, $15 billion or more have been put back into
communities under the Community Reinvestment Act. (Applause.)
We created this empowerment zone program that the Vice President
ran. We created community development banks solely to loan money to people
who couldn't get money otherwise. We did a lot of other things to put more
housing in, to let poor people who were working have houses in different
kinds of neighborhoods. The economic justice issue that your Congressman
mentioned was very important, the environmental justice, because we found
that we couldn't get people to invest unless we cleaned up urban
brownfields, for example, and we stopped people from being exposed to
various kinds of pollution, just because they happened to be poor.
All over the country, poverty in the inner cities has fallen by
23 percent, and wages have grown even faster than in the country as a
In education, with the leadership of Senator Kennedy, we have
reduced the size of the federal government to its smallest size since his
brother was president. We got rid of the deficit and turned surpluses, but
we more than doubled our investment in education in these last eight years.
Thank you, Ted Kennedy, for that. (Applause.)
Just this year, when we took office only 3 percent of the
classrooms and 35 percent of the schools in this country had an Internet
connection. Today, 65 percent of the classrooms and 95 percent of the
schools are connected to the Internet, and thanks to the Vice President's
e-rate program, they can afford to log on and to use it for their students.
We never gave any money to cities for after-school and summer
school programs. Thanks to the leadership of Senator Kennedy, this year in
the budget we just signed, there's money to keep 1.3 million kids in the
United States of America in after-school programs so they don't get in
trouble and they do learn their lessons. (Applause.)
President Freeland talked about the college aid program. The
Pell Grant this year will be $3,750, a huge increase. Thirteen million
families are taking advantage of the HOPE Scholarship tax credit and the
Lifetime Learning tax credit. The Direct Loan Program has saved students
$9 billion in college loan costs. If your school is in it anywhere in
America, the average $10,000 loan is $1,300 cheaper for an American student
to pay off than it was when we took office. We are moving this country
toward a more educated society and a more united one. (Applause.)
The air is cleaner, the water is cleaner, the drinking water is
safer, the food is safer. We've cleaned up twice as many toxic waste dumps
in eight years as the previous two administrations did in 12. And we've
set aside more land in perpetuity than any administration since Theodore
Roosevelt 100 years ago. (Applause.) And all the way, people said this is
bad for the economy. It turned out not to be so.
We also have tried to help people balance work and family --
raising the minimum wage, raising the earned income tax credit for lower
wage workers. One of the things I'm proudest of about this economic
recovery is that, yes, we made more billionaires and millionaires, and
that's good, but we also had everybody doing better. And in the last three
years, working families in the lowest 20 percent of the income group had
the highest percentage increase in income. This program is raising all of
I remember when Senator Kennedy and Senator Dodd and some others
were pushing the Family Medical Leave law. It had already been vetoed once
before I became President because everybody said this is bad for business.
You know, it's a nice idea, letting somebody off for work when a baby's
born or a baby's sick or the parent's sick, or the wheels have totally run
off in the family, but it just is something we can't possibly afford. I
thought that was crazy, because I can tell you, once you become a parent --
everything else in life can be going right for you, and if your kid's
having trouble, nothing works. Nothing else matters. Nothing in the world
matters if something's wrong with your family. All the success in the
world, all the wealth in the world, nothing matters.
And I don't know anybody my age or younger that hasn't had some
conflict between work and patenting. Even upper-income people. This is a
big challenge for all of you, by the way, in the future. So the first law
I signed was the Family and Medical Leave law. And I heard all that going
on about how terrible it was going to be. Well, let me tell you something.
We've had the law on the books now for 7.5 years. You know what's
happened? Thirty-five million people have taken advantage of it, and 22.5
million new jobs have been created. We were right, and they were wrong
about that. You have to balance work and family. (Applause.)
The most important thing I worked on is embodied by the kids in
AmeriCorps, our national service program. Senator Kennedy and I were
together when we signed the bill on the South Lawn, and I signed it with
the same pen John Kennedy used to sign the bill creating the Peace Corps.
In the last 6.5 years we've had over 150,000 young people working in
community service and earning some money to go to college.
It's not all we did. We also fought for stronger civil rights
enforcement. We sought to reduce discrimination against gays in the
federal workplace and throughout the country. (Applause.) And I hope, by
the way, Senator, now that we've got a little bit better Congress, I hope
we will pass the hate crimes bill and the employment non-discrimination
bill and the equal pay laws in this session of Congress. (Applause.)
But in just the last year of my service, at a time when most
people say we couldn't get anything done because it was my last year. And
besides, they were having a presidential race and the congressional races,
and everything seemed so divided in Congress. Thanks to the support of the
people on this platform and people like them throughout the country, we've
passed the biggest and best education budget ever, the biggest increase in
head start ever.
We set aside for the first time, in the Lands Legacy Program, a
permanent fund to buy precious lands and greenspaces in cities from now on,
all over America, to protect land. Never happened before. (Applause.) We
got the first money ever from the federal government since World War II to
help repair schools that are in trouble, because we've got so many kids in
schools that are so old they're falling down, or so overcrowded, half the
kids are in trailers. (Applause.)
We passed legislation designed to get new investment in the
cities, the New Markets Initiative, a completely bipartisan initiative.
We did what I said, with Congressman McGovern's plan -- we're
going to provide over the next several years, if we keep working at it,
we'll be able to offer every poor child in every poor country in the world
a good, nutritious meal if they come to school. Sixty percent of the kids
in this world who are not in school are girls. This is a huge problem all
over the world, and just by feeding them we'll be able to get them to
school. That will change the whole future of the world the young people
will be able to live in. (Applause.)
And that's just part of what we did. What's the point of all
this? Here's the point I want to make for you, for you young people here.
Eight and a half days from now, when I walk out of the White House at high
noon on January 20th, I want you to know something: I will leave more
optimistic than I entered. I will be more idealistic than I was the day I
first took the oath of office as President.
This country can do whatever we have to do. We can meet any
challenge, we can seize any opportunity. But we have to remember basic
things. We really do have to put people first, and you really do have to
believe that we all are part of one community. Politics is about addition
and multiplication, not subtraction and division. (Applause.) It's about
teamwork. It's about working together.
And there are so many things out there for you. The best days in
this country are still out there, but there are some big challenges out
there. And I hope you will never forget these eight years. I hope you
will always be proud of the support you gave to me and to Al Gore and what
we did. (Applause.)
But believe me -- the greatest gift you could ever give me is to
never lose the fervor I sense in this room tonight. Never lose your belief
in your country. Never lose your belief in your capacity to change it for
the better. And never get tired when you don't win every election. Bear
down. Look forward. The best is still out there. I will always love
Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)
END 8:33 P.M. EST