President Clinton Delivers MIT Commencement Address

Office of the Press Secretary
(Lincoln, Massachusetts)

For Immediate Release June 5,1998


Killian Court
Campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge, Massachusetts

11:55 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Dr. Vest. I think you'rethe real thing. (Laughter.) Chairman d'Arbeloff, Dr. Gray,members of the Corporation, the faculty, especially to themembers of the Class of 1998 and your families, the Class of 1948and 1973, Mayor Duahay, members of the City Council. I thank theBrass Ensemble for the wonderful music before.

Let me say I am profoundly honored to be here on thesame platform with Dr. David Ho, and grateful for the work he hasdone for humanity. (Applause.)

When we met a few moments ago, in President Vest'soffice, with a number of the students and other officials of theuniversity, I said you had a good representation of speakerstoday -- the scientists and the scientifically challenged.(Laughter.)

But my administration has been able to carry on inno small measure because of contributions from MIT. Sixteen MITalumni and faculty members have served in important positions inthis administration, including at least two who are here today --the former Secretary of the Air Force, Sheila Widnoll, and theDeputy Secretary of Energy Ernie Monic. Four of your facultymembers and your President have done important work for us. Ithank them all.

And I come here today with good news and bad newsfor the graduates. The good news is that this morning we had ourlatest economic report: unemployment is 4.3 percent; there havebeen 16 million new jobs in the last five years; there arenumerous job openings that pay well. The bad news is that younow have no excuse to your parents if you don't go to work.(Laughter.)

MIT is admired around the world as a crucible ofcreative thought, a force for progress, a place where dreams ofgenerations become reality. The remarkable discoveries andinventions of the MIT community have transformed America. Earlyin your history, MIT was known for advances in geology andmining. By mid-century, MIT pioneered X rays and radar. Today,it's atomic lasers, artificial intelligence, biotechnology. MIThas done much to make this the American century. And MIT will domore to make America and the world a better place in the 21stcentury, as we continue our astonishing journey through theinformation revolution -- a revolution that began not as our owndid here in Massachusetts, with a single shot heard around theworld, but instead was sparked by many catalysts -- in labs andlibraries, start-ups and blue chips, homes and even dorm roomsacross America and around the world.

I come today not to talk about the new marvels ofscience and engineering. You know far more about them than I do.Instead I come to MIT, an epicenter of the seismic shifts in oureconomy and society, to talk about how we can and must applyenduring American values to this revolutionary time; about theresponsibilities we all have as citizens to include everyAmerican in the promise of this new age.

From the start, our nation's greatest mission hasbeen the fulfillment of our founders' vision -- opportunity forall, best secured by free people, working together toward bettertomorrows and what they called "a more perfect union."

Americans believe the spark of possibility burnsdeep within every child, that ordinary people can doextraordinary things. Our history can be understood as aconstant striving on foreign fields and factory floors, in townhalls and the corridors of Congress, to widen that circle ofopportunity, to deepen the meaning of our freedom, to perfect ourunion to make real the promise of America. Every previousgeneration has been called upon to meet this challenge. And aswe approach a new century and a new millennium, your generationmust answer the call.

You enter the world of your tomorrows at aremarkable moment for America. Our country has the lowest crimerates in 25 years, the smallest welfare rolls in 27 years, thelowest unemployment in 28 years, the lowest inflation in 32years, the smallest national government in 35 years, and thehighest rate of home ownership in our history. Such a remarkabletime, a period of renewal, comes along all too rarely in life, asyou will see. It gives us both the opportunity and the profoundresponsibility to address the larger, longer-term challenges toyour future.

This spring I am speaking to graduates around thecountry about three of those challenges. Last month I went tothe Naval Academy to talk about the new security challenges ofthe 21st century -- terrorism, organized crime and drugtrafficking, global climate change, the spread of weapons of massdestruction. Next week at Portland State in Oregon I willdiscuss how our nation's third great wave of immigration caneither strengthen and unite America or weaken and divide it. AndI thank Dr. Ho for what he said about immigration and ourimmigrants.

Today, I ask you to focus on the challenges of theInformation Age. The dimensions of the Information Revolutionand its limitless possibilities are widely accepted and generallyunderstood, even by lay people. But to make the most of it wemust also acknowledge that there are challenges, and we must makeimportant choices. We can extend opportunity to all Americans orleave many behind. We can erase lines of inequity or etch themindelibly. We can accelerate the most powerful engine of growthand prosperity the world has ever known, or allow the engine tostall.

History has taught us that choices cannot bedeferred; they are made by action or inaction. There is no suchthing as virtual opportunity. We cannot point and click our wayto a better future. If we are to fulfill the complete promise ofthis new age, we must do more.

Already the Information Age is transforming the waywe work. The high-tech industry employs more people today thanthe auto industry did at its height in the 1950s. Auto and steelindustries in turn have been revived by new technologies. Amongthose making the most use of technology R&D are traditionalAmerican enterprises such as construction, transportation, andretail stores.

It's transforming the way we live. The typicalAmerican home now has much more -- as much computing power as allof MIT did in the year most of the seniors here were born. It istransforming the way we communicate. On any business day, morethan 30 times as many messages are delivered by e-mail as by thepostal service. And today, this ceremony is being carried liveon the Internet so that people all over the world can join in.

It is transforming the way we learn. With the DVDtechnology available today, we can store more reference materialin a 3-inch stack of disks than in all the stacks of HaydenLibrary. It is transforming the way our society works, givingmillions of Americans the opportunity to join in the enterpriseof building our nation as they fulfill their dreams.

The tools we develop today are bringing downbarriers of race and gender, of income and age. The disabled areopening long closed doors of school, work, and human possibility.Small businesses are competing in worldwide markets once reservedonly for powerful corporations. Before too long, our childrenwill be able to stretch a hand across a keyboard and reach everybook ever written, every painting every painted, every symphonyever controlled.

For the very first time in our history,it is nowpossible for a child in the most isolated inner-city neighborhoodor rural community to have access to the same world of knowledgeat the same instant as the child in the most affluent suburb.Imagine the revolutionary democratizing potential this can bring.Imagine the enormous benefits to our economy, our society, if notjust a fraction, but all young people can master this set of 21stcentury skills.

Just a few miles of here is the working classcommunity of East Sommerville. It has sometimes struggled tomeet the needs of population that is growing more diverse by theday. But at East Sommerville Community School, well-trainedtechnology teachers with equipment and support from Time WarnerCable have begun to give 1st to 8th-graders and early andenormous boost in life. First graders are producing small bookson computers. Sixth graders are producing documentaries. Thetechnology has so motivated them that almost all the 6th gradersshowed up at school to work on their computer projects overwinter break.

That small miracle can be replicated in everyschool, rich and poor, across America. Yet, today, affluentschools are almost three times as likely to have Internet accessin the classroom; white students more than twice as likely asblack students to have computers in their homes.

We know from hard experience that unequal educationhardens into unequal prospects. We know the Information Age willaccelerate this trend. The three fastest growing careers inAmerica are all in computer related fields, offering far morethan average pay. Happily, the digital divide has begun tonarrow, but it will not disappear of its own accord. Historyteaches us that even as new technologies create growth and newopportunity, they can heighten economic inequalities and sharpensocial divisions. That is, after all, exactly what happened withthe mechanization of agriculture and in the IndustrialRevolution.

As we move into the Information Age we have itwithin our power to avoid these developments. We can reap thegrowth that comes from revolutionary technologies and use them toeliminate, not to widen, the disparities that exist. But untilevery child has a computer in the classroom and a teacherwell-trained to help, until every student has the skills to tapthe enormous resources of the Internet, until every high-techcompany can find skilled workers to fill its high-wage jobs,America will miss the full promise of the Information Age.

We cannot allow this age of opportunity to beremembered also for the opportunities that were missed. Everyday, we wake up and know that we have a challenge; now we mustdecide how to meet it. Let me suggest three things.

First, we must help you to ensure that Americacontinues to lead the revolution in science and technology.Growth is a prerequisite for opportunity, and scientific researchis a basic prerequisite for growth. Just yesterday in Japan,physicists announced a discovery that tiny neutrinos have mass.Now, that may not mean much to most Americans, but it may changeour most fundamental theories -- from the nature of the smallestsubatomic particles to how the universe itself works, and indeedhow it expands.

This discovery was made, in Japan, yes, but it hadthe support of the investment of the U.S. Department of Energy.This discovery calls into question the decision made inWashington a couple of years ago to disband the super-conductingsupercollider, and it reaffirms the importance of the work nowbeing done at the Fermi National Acceleration Facility inIllinois.

The larger issue is that these kinds of findingshave implications that are not limited to the laboratory. Theyaffect the whole of society -- not only our economy, but our veryview of life, our understanding of our relations with others, andour place in time.

In just the past four years, information technologyhas been responsible for more than a third of our economicexpansion. Without government-funded research, computers, theInternet, communications satellites wouldn't have gotten started.When I became President, the Internet was the province ofphysicists, funded by a government research project. There wereonly 50 sites in the world. Now, as all of you know, we areadding pages to the Worldwide Web at the rate of over 100,000 anhour, and 100 million new users will come on this year. It allstarted with research, and we must do more.

In the budget I submit to Congress for the year 2000I will call for significant increases in computing andcommunications research. I have directed Dr. Neal Lane, my newAdvisor for Science and Technology, to work with our nation'sresearch community to prepare a detailed plan for my review.

Over the past 50 years our commitment to science hasstrengthen this country in countless ways. Scientific researchhas created vast new industries, millions of jobs, allowedAmerica to produce the world's most bountiful food supplies andremarkable tools for fighting disease. Think of what today'sinvestments will yield. Dr. Ho will unravel the agonizingriddles of AIDS. There will be a cure for cancer; a flourishingeconomy that will produce much less pollution and move back fromthe brink of potentially devastating global warming. High-speedwireless networks that bring distance learning, tele-medicine andeconomic opportunity to every rural community in America.

That is why, even as we balanced our budget for thefirst time in 29 years, we have increased our investments inscience. This year I asked Congress for the largest increase inresearch funding in history -- not just for a year, but sustainedover five years. It is a core commitment that must be part ofhow every American, regardless of political party or personalendeavor, thinks about our nation and its mission. (Applause.)Thank you -- those are the people who received the researchgrants over there. (Laughter.)

I want you to know that we are also working toaddress the threat to our prosperity posed by the Year 2000 Bug.I tried and tried to find out what the class hack project was forthe Class of '98 and I failed. But I did learn that in the year2000, the graduating class is proposing to roll all of ourcomputers back by 100 years. And I am determined to thwart you.I will do my best. (Laughter.)

The second thing we have to do is to make sure thatthe opportunities of the Information Age belong to all ourchildren. Every young American must have access to thesetechnologies. Two years ago in my State of the Union address, Ichallenged our nation to connect every classroom to the Internetby the year 2000. Thanks to unprecedented cooperation atnational, state, and local levels, an outpouring of support fromactive citizens, and the decreasing costs of computers, we're ontrack to meet this goal.

Four years ago when you came to MIT, barely threepercent of America's classrooms were connected. By this timenext year, we will have connected well over half our classroomsincluding 100 percent of the classrooms in the nation's 50largest urban school districts. (Applause.)

But it is not enough to connect the classrooms. Theservices have to be accessed. You may have heard recently aboutsomething called the e-rate. It's the most crucial initiativewe've launched to help connect our schools, our libraries, andour rural health centers to the Internet. Now some businesseshave called on Congress to repeal the initiative. They say ournation cannot afford to provide discounts to these institutionsof learning and health by raising a billion dollars or so a yearfrom service charges on telecommunications companies -- somethingthat was agreed to in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 thatpassed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both Houses.

I say we cannot afford not to have an e-rate.Thousands of poor schools and libraries and rural health centersare in desperate need of discounts. If we really believed thatwe all belong in the Information Age, then, at this sunlit momentof prosperity, we can't leave anyone behind in the dark.

Every one of you who understands this I urge tosupport the e-rate. Every one of you here who came from a poorinner-city neighborhood, who came from a small rural schooldistrict, who came perhaps from another country where this wasjust a distant dream, you know that there are poor children nowwho may never have a chance to go to MIT unless someone reachesout and gives them this kind of opportunity. Every child inAmerica deserves the chance to participate in the informationrevolution. (Applause.)

The third thing we have to do is to make sure thatall the computers and the connections in the world don't go towaste because our children actually have 21st century skills.For five years now I've done my best to make education our numberone domestic priority, creating HOPE Scholarships, expanding PellGrants, to make the 13th and 14th years of education as universalas the first 12 are today. We've passed tax credits, reformedthe student loan program, expanded work-study, created AmeriCorpsto open the doors of college to every young person who is willingto work for it.

We're working to make our public schools the best inthe world, with smaller classes, better facilities, more masterteachers and charter schools, higher standards, and end to socialpromotion. But the new economy also demands that our nationcommit to technology literacy for every child. We shouldn't leta child graduate from middle school anymore without knowing howto use new technologies to learn.

Already, 10 states with an eye to the future havemade technology literacy a requirement of graduation from highschool. I believe we should meet this goal in the middle schoolyears. I believe every child in every state should leave middleschool able to use the most current tools for learning, research,communication, and collaboration. And we will help every stateto meet this goal.

If a state commits to adopt a technology literacyrequirement, then we will help to provide the training that theteachers need. I propose to create a team of trained technologyexperts for every American middle school in every one of thesestates, and to create competitions over the next three years toencourage the development of high-quality educational softwareand educational web sites by students and professors incommercial software companies.

All students should feel as comfortable with akeyboard as a chalkboard; as comfortable with a laptop as atextbook. It is critical to ensuring that they all haveopportunity in the world of the 21st century.

Today I pledge the resources and unrelenting effortsof our nation to renew our enduring values in the InformationAge. But the challenges that we face cannot be met by governmentalone. We can only fulfill the promise of this revolution if wework together in the same way it was launched together, withcreativity, resolve, a restless spirit of innovation.

While this mission requires the efforts of everycitizen, those who fuel and enjoy the unparalleled prosperity ofthis moment have special responsibilities. The thriving newcompanies that line Route 128 in Silicon Valley -- I challengethem to use their power to empower others, to invest in a school,embrace a community in need, endow an eager young mind withopportunity; not to rest until every one of our children istechnology literate. Many of you are doing such work already andmany of them are; but America needs all such companies toparticipate.

And, finally, to the graduates of the class of 1998,I, too, offer my congratulations and, as your President, mygratitude for your commitment, for challenges conquered, forprojects completed, for goals reached and even surpassed. You,your parents and your friends should be very proud today, andvery hopeful, for all the possibilities of this new age are opento you. You are at the peak of your powers and the world willrightly reward you for the work you do.

But to make the very most of your life and theopportunities you have been given, you, too, must rise to yourresponsibility to give something back to America of what you havebeen given. As the years pass your generation will be judged andyou will begin to judge yourselves not only on what you do foryourself and your family, but on the contributions you make toothers -- to your country, your communities, your generation ofchildren. When you turn your good fortune into a chance forothers, you then will not only be leaders in science andindustry, you will become the leaders of America. Twenty-firstcentury America belongs to you -- take good care of it.

Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)

What's New - June 1998

National Ocean Conference

Equal Pay Act

Family Re-Union Conference

Portland State University Commencement

Ocean Conference

South Asia

Thurston High School Remarks

National Ocean Conference

Presidential Scholars

Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act

ISTEA Legislation

SAVER Summit

Speaks to DLC

National Ocean Conference, Plenary Session

New Efforts to Protect Our Oceans

The Opening of the Thoreau Institute

Oceans Announcements

Fight Against Drugs

Welcoming Ceremony in Xian, China

Korean President Kim Dae Jung

Roundtable Discussion in Xiahe, China

President Kim of South Korea

Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act

21st Century Community Learning Grants

Pritzker Awards Dinner

Nominations of Bill Richardson and Richard Holbrooke

Remarks to Religious Leaders

Family Re-Union Media Advisory

Meeting With Economic Advisors

Conference Address

A Fair, Accurate Census

New Data On Teen Smoking

Roundtable Discussion Remarks

Landmark Agricultural Bill

Conference Remarks

Denver Broncos, Super Bowl Champions

Family Re-Union Press Release

U.S.-China Relations in the 21st Century

Roundtable Discussion in Shanghai, China.

MIT Commencement Address

Commencement Address to MIT Graduates

President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House | White House for Kids
White House History | White House Tours | Help
Privacy Statement


Site Map

Graphic Version

T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E