President Clinton Speaks To The Boys Nation Class of 1998

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 24, 1998


The Rose Garden

9:25 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Good morning. Andthank you, Sheriff Riley, for that introduction and for yourwonderful work for the education of our young people.

I'd like to welcome your Boys Nation director, RonEngel; your legislative director, George Blume; your director ofactivities, Jack Mercier, celebrating 35 years with Boys Nation -- hewas here when I was here, back in the Dark Ages -- your nationalchairman for the American Legion, Joseph Caouette; President Sladek;Vice President Rogers.

We've got a good representation for former Boys Nationpeople here -- I know Fred Duval, my Deputy Assistant, who was inBoys Nation class of 1972, has already spoken to you. I'd also liketo recognize Sean Stephenson, class of 1996, now an intern in CabinetAffairs. Thank you for what you're doing here. And I'd like toacknowledge someone who has worked with Boys Nation year after yearas long as I've been here in facilitating this event, a long,longtime friend of mine, Dan Wexler, who is leaving the White House.This is his very last event. And thank you, Mr. Wexler, for awonderful job for the United States. (Applause.)

As some of you may know, a few days ago we had a reunionhere at the White House for our 35th anniversary of our Boys Nationsummer, and Nightline ran two nights on our reunion. I asked yourpresident if he'd seen either one of them; he said he saw the firstone, the second one he was here on duty. But I had an opportunity tomeet with about half the men who were with me 35 years ago, and wewere reminiscing. It was exactly 35 years ago on this day, July 24,1963, that President Kennedy spoke to us right here in the RoseGarden about our future. He made us believe that together we couldchange the world. I still believe that, and I think it is no lesstrue for your generation. Indeed, I believe you will live in thetime of greatest possibility in all human history.

Today I want to talk with you a little bit about what wehave to do as a country to make the most of those possibilities,specifically about what we have to do to strengthen our educationsystem.

When I was here, President Kennedy complimented us forsupporting civil rights legislation which the nation's governors haddeclined to do. I was very proud of that because two delegates fromLouisiana and I and one from Mississippi were four Southerners whobroke from the pack and ensured that the legislation would pass. ButI have to say that, looking back over the years, we knew then thatour school systems were separate and unequal, and that we never couldmake them what we ought to do until we integrated our schools so thatwe could integrate our country. What we did not see then and what weknow now is that equal access to public schools does not guaranteethe educational excellence that should be the birthright of everyAmerican on the edge of the 21st century.

Today we enjoy a remarkable amount of peace andprosperity and security. We have the lowest unemployment rate in 28years, the lowest percentage of our people on welfare in 29 years,the lowest crime rate in 25 years. On October 1st, we will realizethe first balanced budget and surplus we have had in 29 years. Wehave the highest home ownership in history, and the government hasplayed an active role in this, but it is the smallest government wehave had in 35 years -- since I was here where you are today.

Still, the world is changing fast, and it is full ofchallenges that we have to meet. We must build an alliance ofnations, committed to freedom and human rights and to fightingagainst terrorism and organized crime and drug trafficking; againstweapons of mass destruction, and racial, ethnic and religiousviolence that bedevils so much of the world. We must build a globalalliance against the global environmental and health challenges weface, including the degradation of our oceans and especially theproblem of climate change.

Those of you who come from Texas and Arkansas andOklahoma and the other places in the South that have beenexperiencing record heat know a little about this. But it's worthpointing out that the nine hottest years on record have occurred inthe last 11 years -- 1997 was the hottest year ever recorded; eachand every month of 1998 has broken a record. So unless somethinghappens, notwithstanding this cool morning we're enjoying now, 1998will be the hottest year on record. Unless we act now, by the timeyou're my age, you will have a much, much more severe problem toconfront.

We have a lot of challenges here at home. We have tosave Social Security and Medicare for the 21st century in a way thatprotects the retirement age of the baby boomers without bankruptingour children and our grandchildren. Until your generation -- thatis, you and all the people younger than you, starting the year beforelast -- entered school, my generation -- and I'm the oldest of thebaby boomers -- were the largest group of Americans ever. When ourfathers came home to meet our mothers after World War II, there was asense of enthusiasm and exuberance which manifested itself inunusually large families. (Laughter.) And we all enjoyed being partof the baby boom generation, at least I think most of us did. Butall us now, I think without regard to our station in life, are quiteconcerned about the potential burdens we might impose on ourchildren.

Not so long ago I had to go home to Arkansas because wehad some serious tornadoes. After I toured the damage sites I haddinner at the airport in Little Rock with about 20 people I grew upwith. And I try to stay in touch with them and we just went aroundthe table, and most of them are just middle class working people.Everyone of them was absolutely determined that we had to make thechanges now to prepare ourselves to retire in ways that didn't imposeundue burdens on our children. Because when we begin to retire, whenall the baby boomers get into their retirement age -- that is over 65-- at present birth rates and immigration rates and retirement rates,there will only be about two people working for every person retired.

Now, this is a significant challenge. But it can bemet. It is in this way like the problem of climate change. If weact now and take modest, but disciplined steps now, well ahead of thetime when we have to face the crisis, then we won't have to take big,dramatic, and maybe draconian steps later. So, especially savingSocial Security is important.

And I'd like to say just a couple more words about it,because I want all of you to think about it; it's important. Theidea behind Social Security is, number one, even though yourretirement may be a long way off, you can know that it's going to bethere for you. Number two, even though most Americans have somethingother than Social Security to retire on -- and you should begin assoon as you get into the work force to save and plan for your ownretirement, because if you save a little bit when you're young,you'll have a whole lot when you're older -- Social Security actuallyis responsible for keeping about half of our senior citizens out ofpoverty. And beginning about 10 or 15 years ago, we achieved aremarkable thing for a society -- we had a poverty rate among seniorsthat was lower than the poverty rate for the society as a whole. Wewant to continue that, and we can.

Thanks to your fiscal discipline, we're going to havethe first budget surplus we've had, as I said, in 29 years. And thisgives us some money to help to pay for the transition. I believe itis very important to set aside every penny of this surplus until wesave Social Security. Now, that's a big challenge here inWashington, because, after all, it's an election year and it's morepopular to give tax cuts or even to have big new spending programsthan to say to people, okay, we've got this money, but we don't wantto spend it right now. We may well be able to afford new spendingprograms, we may well be able to afford a tax cut, but we need toknow how much it's going to cost to fix Social Security and how wecan make it as small a burden as possible today and tomorrow.

That's why I have said save Social Security first. Ifit doesn't take all the money of the projected surplus, then we canfigure out what else to do with it. I believe that is important.Some people here disagree with me; some want a tax cut before we fixSocial Security. I am determined not to let that happen, because Ithink we should invest in your future, not squander it.

I do not believe that those of us who are adults shouldenjoy a limited small tax cut now and sacrifice your future tomorrow.And I'm going to do what I can to stop that. I think there is broadsupport for this position among both Democrats and Republicans inWashington, and I hope very much that by the time you're out in thework force and having children of your own, that this will beyesterday's problem and you will not have to confront it. And we'regoing to do our best to see that that happens.

Let me talk a little about, very briefly, some otherchallenges we face. We have to provide access to affordable qualityhealth care to all Americans. More and more Americans, probably alot of you here, are in managed care plans. Managed care has done alot of good; it's cut a lot of inflation out of health care costs.But health care decisions ought to be made by doctors and patients,not by accountants and insurance company executives who aredetermined to save money whether or not it's the right thing to dofor the patients. That's the idea behind the patients' bill ofrights we're trying to pass up here in this session of Congress.

I think it is very important that we recognize that inspite of all this economic growth there are still areas of ourcountry which have not reaped the benefits of American enterprise.There are inner city neighborhoods, there are Native Americancommunities, and as a lot of our farmers have been telling Americalately, there are a lot of rural American communities that still havenot felt the benefits of the economic recovery. If we can't find away to expand opportunity to these areas now, when we're doing sowell, we will not be able to do it the next time a recession comesalong. So that, I think, is a very important challenge.

I think it is very important we build an America, asSecretary Riley says, that crosses the boundaries of race andreligion and culture; that respects, revels in our diversity; thatenjoys our heated arguments, but that recognizes that underneath itall we are bound together by those things that the framers laid outso long ago. We all believe in life, liberty and the pursuit ofhappiness. We all believe that we have constituted a free governmentof willing citizens because there are things we have to do togetherthat we can't do alone. We all believe that America will always beon a permanent mission to form a more perfect union.

So I say to all of you, even though I think it's a greatthing to have vigorous debates, I love them, I think it's a goodthing that we have different opinions, I think it is a terrific thingthat we have people in America who come from every other country onEarth -- just across the Potomac River here in Fairfax County, thereare students from 189 different national, racial and ethnic groups inone school district, and they come from 100 different languagegroups. That is great for America in a global society. But we stillhave to find a way to be one America, to recognize that what we havein common as human beings, as children of God, is more important thanwhat divides us.

And finally let me say we have to build a world-classsystem of elementary and secondary education. You heard SecretaryRiley say that we have done a lot of work to open the doors ofcollege to everyone who is willing to work for it. And just abouteveryone in the world believes that America has the finest system ofhigher education in the world. Now we have the HOPE Scholarship, a$1,500 tax credit for the first two years of college; tax credits forthe junior and senior year, for graduate school, for adults who haveto go back for continuing education; a direct student loan programthat allows you to borrow money and then pay it back as a percentageof your income so you don't ever have to worry about borrowing money,making you go broke later, just to get an education; more work-studypositions, more Pell Grants. We have the AmeriCorps program foryoung people who want to do national service for a year or two andthen earn credit for college. And this has been a very, very goodthing.

But almost no one believes that every American hasaccess to world-class elementary and secondary education. And if youthink about all the other challenges I have mentioned, they all relyon a well-educated, responsible citizenry. You have to bewell-educated, and you have to be a good citizen to say -- take theSocial Security challenge -- don't give me a little bit of money now,save me a huge headache later. Save my children, save mygrandchildren. I'll give it up right now so we can do something goodfor tomorrow.

You have to be well-educated to imagine what the worldwould be like if this climate change continues and the polar ice capsmelt and the water levels rise, and the Everglades are buried, or theLouisiana sugar plantations are under water, or Pacific islandnations are buried; to understand what it means when the climatechanges and mosquitoes bearing malaria go to higher and higherclimates and infect more and more people, and then they get onairplanes and meet you in the airport, and now people in Norway comehome with airport malaria. It sounds funny, but it's happening.You have to have an education to understand these things.

It helps to be well educated to understand theimportance of diversity and respect for diversity, and still what wehave in common. So every other challenge we face requires us to meetthe challenge of educating all our citizens.

We've come a long way since 1963, when most of theschools in the South were segregated, and when I was here -- listento this -- one-quarter of our high school students dropped out ofschool before they graduated, less than half went on to college.Today almost 90 percent of high school students do graduate, andnearly 70 percent will get some further education.

Many of you are here, as I was 35 years ago, in partbecause of a special teacher who has had a positive influence on yourlife. Our schools have always been the cornerstone of our democracy.At a time of increasing diversity through immigration, they are moreimportant than ever. Ninety percent of our children are in ourpublic schools, and in an age of information and ideas, a strongeducation system is now even more important to you than it was to mewhen I was your age. Now is the time to strengthen public education,not to drain precious resources from it. That is America's firstpriority, and it is our administration's first priority.

If our schools are to succeed in the next century,however, it will require more than money. We have to raise standardsfor students and teachers. We have to heighten accountability. Weshould widen choices for parents and students. We have to expectmore of everyone -- of our students who must master the basics andmore, and behave responsibly; of our teachers who must inspirestudents to learn and to be good citizens; and of our schools whichmust be safe and state-of-the art.

We've worked hard to strengthen our public schools, topromote higher standards and to measure student progress; to do whatwe can to improve teaching, and to certify more master teachersthroughout the country; to give schools the means to meet ournational education goals and to help students not going to four-yearcolleges make the transition from school to work; to get more aid tostudents in schools with special challenges; and to hook all theclassrooms and libraries in our country up to the Internet by theyear 2000; and to have more public school choice.

But we clearly have to do more. I have called forsmaller classes in our early grades, and 100,000 new teachers to fillthem -- teachers that pass rigorous competency tests before they setfoot in the classroom. I've called for an end to social promotion sothat no child is passed from grade to grade, year after year, withoutmastering the materials, and for extra help for those who don't pass-- like the summer school program in Chicago.

Chicago now has mandatory -- mandatory -- summer schoolfor children who don't make the social promotion hurdle. And thesummer school there is now the sixth biggest school district in theentire United States of America. I don't think I have to tell youthat more children are learning and the juvenile crime rate is waydown. We need more of that in America.

These are important investments. We have to also domore. We need to build more schools and modernize more schools. Iwas in Philadelphia the other day where the average school buildingis 65 years old. They are magnificent old buildings, they're verywell built, but they need to be modernized. A child that goes toschool every day in a school where a whole floor is closed off or theroof leaks or the rooms are dark or the windows are cracked gets asignal, a clear signal, that he or she is not as important as we allsay they are day in and day out.

I have been to school districts in Florida where therewere more than a dozen trailers outside the main school buildingbecause the schools are so over-crowded and the districts don't havethe funds to keep building schools to deal with the new students. Wehave to do that.

We have to finish our effort to connect all ourclassrooms to the Internet. We have got to, in other words, makethese investments that will make our country strong.

President Kennedy said, our progress as a nation can beno swifter than our progress in education. That is more true nowthan ever before, and I hope in the remaining few days of thiscongressional session our Congress will put progress abovepartisanship, leave politics at the schoolhouse door, and make theeducation of our children America's top priority.

We know our schools are strengthened also by innovationand competition brought about increasingly in our country by morechoice in the public schools children attend. Public school choicegets parents and communities more involved in education, not just inhelping with homework or attending parent-teacher conferences, butactually in shaping the schools.

Some of you, having gone to public schools of choice,may know this from experience. David Haller, for example, fromArkansas, attends a school that's very close to my heart, in the townI grew up in -- the Arkansas School of Math and Science in HotSprings, which I help to found as Governor.

Across our nation, public school choice, and inparticular, charter schools, are renewing public education with newenergy and new ideas. Charter schools are creative schools,innovative schools, public with open enrollment, strengthened by thecommitment of parents and educators in the communities they serve.They can be models of accountability for all public schools, becausethey are chartered only when they meet rigorous standards of qualityand they should remain open only as long as they meet thosestandards.

According to new data from Secretary Riley's Departmentof Education, parents are choosing charter schools more and moreoften because they're small, safe, supportive, and committed toacademic excellence. We can do more of this.

I am pleased to report some interesting progress. WhenI was elected President, campaigning on the idea that we should havemore of these charter schools, there was only one such school in thecountry. It was in the state of Minnesota. I am pleased to tell youthat this fall there will be 1,000 of them, serving more than 200,000children. We're well on our way to meeting my goal of creating 3,000such schools by the beginning of the next century. And again I askCongress to help us meet the goal and finish its work on thebipartisan charter school legislation that is now making its waythrough Congress.

The Department of Education has released a guide book tohelp communities learn from each other's successes. I commend it toyou. Charter schools do very well in general, but they face a lot ofchallenges, including finding the funding to get started and keepgoing. Lack of access to start-up funding, as the report I releasetoday shows, is the biggest obstacle facing more rapid development ofthese schools. To make it easier for parents and educators toinnovate, I have proposed to increase the $80 million for start-upfunds this year to $100 million next year. That's up from $6 millionwhen we started in 1994.

Now, let me just say one other thing. A lot of you aregoing back for your senior years, you'll be leaving your hometownschool, some of you will be going a long way away to college. I urgeyou to go wherever your dreams take you. But in the years to come, Ihope you won't forget about your schools. I am very impressed by allthe resolutions and the legislation that you have passed, and I havebeen given a review of it this morning before I came out here. ButI'm also impressed by the commitment that so many of you haveexpressed to citizen service. I hope you will always take part ofyour time to be servants to young people who are younger than youare.

Some of you may become teachers or professors, but mostof you won't. Wherever your life's travels take you, every one ofyou can find some enduring connection to education. I hope some ofyou will consider sometime during your next few years joining ournational service program, AmeriCorps, and serving young people inyour community and building up some more scholarship money. Butwhatever you do when you get out of school, I hope you will maintaina connection to young people and to their schools.

You can volunteer your time, you can mentor someone whoneeds guidance. You can remember that only a very few young peopleever have the experience you're having now, but hundreds andthousands more can hear about it from you and be inspired by it, tobelieve in our country and to believe in themselves and theircapacity to learn and live out their dreams.

As I get older and older I think more and more, as isnatural, I suppose, about people who are coming along behind me.It's hard to get used to -- most of us will tell you that we consideranyone who is a year younger than we are to be young, however old weare. I never will forget, once I was talking to Senator MikeMansfield, who was our Ambassador to Japan, and Senator Mansfieldmust be about 96 now. He still walks about five miles a day. And hewas having lunch with another former Senator, J. William Fulbright,who was a mentor of mine and for whom I worked when I was in college-- when Senator Mansfield was 91, and Senator Fulbright was 87. Helooked at him and he said, "Bill, how old are you now?" And he said,"I'm 87." And Mansfield said, "Oh, to be 87 again." (Laughter.)

So we all get our perspective from our own age. And foryou, your future is all ahead of you. But just think about how manyAmericans there already are who are younger than you are, and thinkabout how many there are who would never have a chance like the oneyou've had this past week. And just remember, never, never, neverunderestimate your ability to teach, to inspire, to guide, to helpthem to love this country the way you do, to embrace concepts of goodcitizenship the way you have, and, frankly, to live a good,constructive, ambitious life the way you will. All of us -- all ofus -- sometimes underestimate the enormous power that we have toinfluence other people one on one.

Alexis de Toqueville said a long time ago that Americais great because America is good. America cannot be good exceptthrough her people. To say America is good is to say the Americanpeople are good. We have all these big challenges; I'm convinced wewill meet them, as we have all our other challenges for over 200years, because America is good.

I ask your support in meeting those challenges, and Iask for your commitment never to forget all those young people whoare coming along behind. Good luck, and God bless you. Thank youvery much. (Applause.)

What's New - July 1998

IRS Reform Act

Year 2000 Computer Problem

Agricultural Issues

Health Care Issues

Patients' Bill of Rights Roundtable

Kassebaum Kennedy Law

The Boys Nation Class of 1998

Pass A Patients' Bill of Rights

New Handgun Safety Protections

Social Security Reform

Girls Nation Event

PBS Dialogue on Race

Honor Officer Chestnut and Detective Gibson

Discipline and Safety in Schools

Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign

Education Issues

Quality of Nursing Home

200th Birthday of U.S. Marine Corps Band

New Grants To Fight Crime

Medal of Honor to Robert R. Ingram

Fourth of July, 1998

New GDP Numbers

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