[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1993, Book I)]
[March 1, 1993]
[Pages 224-229]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on National Service at Rutgers University in New Brunswick
March 1, 1993

    Thank you, Nakia Tomlinson, for that fine introduction. I wish I 
could take you with me everywhere. We'd make a great duo there. Let's 
give her another hand. I thought she was great. [Applause]
    I'd like to thank President Frank Lawrence--Francis Lawrence--for 
his fine speech. Does anybody call him Frank? I should have asked. 
[Laughter] I want to compliment Professor Benjamin Barber for his 
leadership and service here. And I want to thank all of you here in the 
Rutgers community for coming out for what I hope will be a truly 
historic moment in our Nation's history.
    In addition to the people who have been introduced here, there are a 
host of mayors and members of the assembly and county officials here 
from your State. We have two former Governors, both of whom I served 
with, Brendan Byrne and Tom Kean, who are out there. I'm glad to see 
them, my friends. We have a distinguished array of Members of the House 
from New Jersey, Herb Klein, Bob Menendez, Frank Pallone, Donald Payne.
    But you have some Members of the Congress from all over America 
here, and I want to introduce them, too, because they have taken a lot 
of trouble to come to Rutgers and because without them and without the 
people who represent you, the proposal I make today has no hope of 
passage. Many Members of the Congress for years have believed we ought 
to do more in national service, and some of them are here today.
    I'd like to begin by introducing your Senator, Bill Bradley, who's 
behind me. I must say, when I walked into this arena, I turned around 
and asked Bill Bradley if he'd ever shot any baskets in here. I'd be 
intimidated to be the opposing team in here. Senator Bradley sponsored 
legislation to establish neighborhood corps and self-reliance 
scholarships, things that are forebears of the proposal I came to make.
    I'd like to recognize the presence on the platform of Senator Ted 
Kennedy from Massachusetts who chairs the Senate Committee on Human 
Resources and Education, which shepherded the pilot national and 
community service bill through the Congress in the last session, along 
with his counterpart who is out here in the audience somewhere. I'd like 
to ask him to stand up, the chairman of the House committee, Congressman 
Bill Ford, who came all the way from Michigan to be with us. 
Congressman, would you stand up.
    I'd like to recognize in the audience the presence of Senator Chris 
Dodd from Connecticut, who was one of the first Peace Corps volunteers 
in the United States.
    The Member of Congress who introduced many, many years ago the first 
piece of national service legislation ever introduced, the chairman of 
the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Claiborne Pell from Rhode 
Island is here.
    I'd also like to introduce the only person in this audience, at 
least of our crowd, who doesn't have to look up to Senator Bradley, 
Senator Jay Rockefeller from West Virginia, an early VISTA volunteer in 
the United States.
    And finally, I would like to recognize two other people, one a 
Member of the United States Senate and one a distinguished American 
citizen, the first boss of the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver, who's up 
here with me, and his deputy, Senator Harris Wofford, from Pennsylvania, 
and Mrs. Wofford, I'm glad to see you.
    Now, I was involved before I became President in a group called the 
Democratic Leadership Council, and we made one of the central parts of 
our platform to reclaim a new majority

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of Americans for our party the establishment of a system of national 
service to help people to finance education. And one of our founding 
members and guiding lights is here, Representative Dave McCurdy from 
Oklahoma. I'd like for him to stand up.
    Let me make this last point, if I might, by way of beginning. None 
of these things happen at the national level. We empower them to happen, 
and then people have to do things here at the grassroots. And I want to 
say a special word of thanks to your Governor for supporting the New 
Jersey Youth Corps and several other projects like it around the State, 
because if nobody's here to believe in this, it can't happen. And I 
thank Governor Florio for his support for these things.
    I came here to ask all of you to join me in a great national 
adventure, for in the next few weeks I will ask the United States 
Congress to join me in creating a new system of voluntary national 
service, something that I believe in the next few years will change 
America forever and for the better.
    My parents' generation won new dignity working their way out of the 
Great Depression through programs that provided them the opportunity to 
serve and to survive. Brave men and women in my own generation waged and 
won peaceful revolutions here at home for civil rights and human rights 
and began service around the world in the Peace Corps and here at home 
    Now, Americans of every generation face profound challenges in 
meeting the needs that have been neglected for too long in this country, 
from city streets plagued by crime and drugs, to classrooms where girls 
and boys must learn the skills they need for tomorrow, to hospital wards 
where patients need more care. All across America we have problems that 
demand our common attention.
    For those who answer the call and meet these challenges, I propose 
that our country honor your service with new opportunities for 
education. National service will be America at its best, building 
community, offering opportunity, and rewarding responsibility. National 
service is a challenge for Americans from every background and walk of 
life, and it values something far more than money. National service is 
nothing less than the American way to change America.
    It is rooted in the concept of community: the simple idea that none 
of us on our own will ever have as much to cherish about our own lives 
if we are out here all alone as we will if we work together; that 
somehow a society really is an organism in which the whole can be 
greater than the sum of its parts, and every one of us, no matter how 
many privileges with which we are born, can still be enriched by the 
contributions of the least of us; and that we will never fulfill our 
individual capacities until, as Americans, we can all be what God meant 
for us to be.
    If that is so, if that is true, my fellow Americans, and if you 
believe it, it must therefore follow that each of us has an obligation 
to serve. For it is perfectly clear that all of us cannot be what we 
ought to be until those of us who can help others, and that is nearly 
all of us, are doing something to help others live up to their 
    The concept of community and the idea of service are as old as our 
history. They began the moment America was literally invented. Thomas 
Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, ``With a firm 
reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to 
each other our lives, our fortune, and our sacred honor.''
    In the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln signed into law two 
visionary programs that helped our people come together again and build 
America up. The Morrill Act helped States create new land grant 
colleges. This is a land grant university. The university in my home 
State was the first land grant college west of the Mississippi River. In 
these places, young people learn to make American agriculture and 
industry the best in the world. The legacy of the Morrill Act is not 
only our great colleges and universities like Rutgers but the American 
tradition that merit and not money should give people a chance for a 
higher education.
    Mr. Lincoln also signed the Homestead Act that offered 100 acres of 
land for families who had the courage to settle the frontier and farm 
the wilderness. Its legacy is a nation that stretches from coast to 
coast. Now we must create a new legacy that gives a new generation of 
Americans the right and the power to explore the frontiers of science 
and technology and space. The frontiers of the limitations of our 
knowledge must be pushed back so that we can do what we need to do. And 
education is the way to do it, just as surely as it was more than 100 
years ago.

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    Seven decades after the Civil War, in the midst of the Great 
Depression, President Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps, 
which gave 2\1/2\ million young people the opportunity to support 
themselves while working in disaster relief and maintaining forests, 
beaches, rivers, and parks. Its legacy is not only the restoration of 
our natural environment but the restoration of our national spirit. 
Along with the Works Products Administration, the WPA, the Civilian 
Conservation Corps symbolized Government's effort to provide a nation in 
depression with the opportunity to work, to build the American community 
through service. And all over America today you can see projects, even 
today in the 1990's, built by your parents or your grandparents with the 
WPA plaque on it, the CCC plaque on it, the idea that people should be 
asked to serve and rewarded for doing it.
    In the midst of World War II, President Roosevelt proposed the GI 
bill of rights, which offered returning veterans the opportunity for 
education in respect to their service to our country in the war. Thanks 
to the GI bill, which became a living reality in President Truman's 
time, more than 8 million veterans got advanced education. And half a 
century later, the enduring legacy of the GI bill is the strongest 
economy in the world and the broadest, biggest middle class that any 
nation has ever enjoyed.
    For many in my own generation, the summons to citizenship and 
service came on this day 32 years ago, when President Kennedy created 
the Peace Corps. With Sargent Shriver and Harris Wofford and other 
dedicated Americans, he enabled thousands of young men and women to 
serve on the leading edge of the new frontier, helping people all over 
the world to become what they ought to be, and bringing them the message 
by their very lives that America was a great country that stood for good 
values and human progress. At its height, the Peace Corps enrolled 
16,000 young men and women. Its legacy is not simply good will and good 
works in countries all across the globe but a profound and lasting 
change in the way Americans think about their own country and the world.
    Shortly after the Peace Corps, Congress, under President Johnson, 
created the Volunteers In Service To America. Senator Jay Rockefeller, 
whom I introduced a moment ago, and many thousands of other Americans 
went to the hills and hollows of poor places, like West Virginia and 
Arkansas and Mississippi, to lift up Americans through their service.
    The lesson of our whole history is that honoring service and 
rewarding responsibility is the best investment America can make. And I 
have seen it today. Across this great land, through the Los Angeles 
Conservation Corps, which took the children who lived in the 
neighborhoods where the riots occurred and gave them a chance to get out 
into nature and to clean up their own neighborhoods and to lift 
themselves and their friends in the effort; in Boston with the City Year 
program; with all these programs represented here in this room today, 
the spirit of service is sweeping this country and giving us a chance to 
put the quilt of America together in a way that makes a strength out of 
diversity, that lifts us up out of our problems, and that keeps our 
people looking toward a better and brighter future.
    National service recognizes a simple but powerful truth, that we 
make progress not by governmental action alone, but we do best when the 
people and their Government work at the grassroots in genuine 
partnership. The idea of national service permeates many other aspects 
of the programs I have sought to bring to America. The economic plan 
that I announced to Congress, for example, will offer every child the 
chance for a healthy start through immunization and basic health care 
and a head start. But still it depends on parents doing the best they 
can as parents and children making the most of their opportunities.
    The plan can help to rebuild our cities and our small communities 
through physical investments that will put people to work. But Americans 
still must work to restore the social fabric that has been torn in too 
many communities. Unless people know we can work together in our 
schools, in our offices, in our factories, unless they believe we can 
walk the streets safely together, and unless we do that together, 
governmental action alone is doomed to fail.
    The national service plan I propose will be built on the same 
principles as the old GI bill. When people give something of invaluable 
merit to their country, they ought to be rewarded with the opportunity 
to further their education. National service will challenge our people 
to do the work that should and indeed must be done and cannot be done 
unless the American people voluntarily give themselves up to that work. 
It will invest in the future of every person who serves.

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    As we rekindle the spirit of national service, I know it won't 
disappoint many of the students here to know that we also have to reform 
the whole system of student loans. We should begin by making it easier 
for young people to pay back their student loans and enabling them to 
hold jobs that may accomplish much but pay little.
    Today, when students borrow money for an education, the repayment 
plan they make is based largely on how much they have to repay, without 
regard to what the jobs they take themselves pay. It is a powerful 
incentive, therefore, for young college graduates to do just the reverse 
of what we might want them to do, to take a job that pays more even if 
it is less rewarding because that is the job that will make the 
repayment of the loans possible. It is also, unfortunately, a powerful 
incentive for some not to make the payments at all, which is 
    So what we seek to do is to enable the American students to borrow 
the money they need for college and pay it back as a small percentage of 
their own income over time. This is especially important after a decade 
in which the cost of a college education has gone up even more rapidly 
than the cost of health care, making a major contribution to one of the 
more disturbing statistics in America today, which is that the college 
dropout rate in this country is now 2\1/2\ times the high school dropout 
rate. We can do better than that through national service and adequate 
    The present system is unacceptable, not only for students but for 
the taxpayers as well. It's complicated, and it's expensive. It costs 
the taxpayers of our country about $4 billion every year to finance the 
student loan program because of loan defaults and the cost of 
administering the program. And I believe we can do better.
    Beyond reforming this system for financing higher education, the 
national service program more importantly will create new opportunities 
for Americans to work off outstanding loans or to build up credits for 
future education and training opportunities.
    We'll ask young people all across this country, and some who aren't 
so young who want to further their college education, to serve in our 
schools as teachers or tutors in reading and mathematics. We'll ask you 
to help our police forces across the Nation, training members for a new 
police corps that will walk beats and work with neighborhoods and build 
the kind of community ties that will prevent crime from happening in the 
first place so that our police officers won't have to spend all their 
time chasing criminals.
    We'll ask young people to work, to help control pollution and 
recycle waste, to paint darkened buildings and clean up neighborhoods, 
to work with senior citizens and combat homelessness and help children 
in trouble get out of it and build a better life.
    And these are just a few of the things that you will be able to do, 
for most of the decisions about what you can do will be made by people 
like those in this room, people who run the programs represented by all 
of those wearing these different kinds of tee-shirts. We don't seek a 
national bureaucracy. I have spoken often about how we need to reinvent 
the Government to make it more efficient and less bureaucratic, to make 
it more responsive to people at the grassroots level, and I want 
national service to do just that. I want it to empower young people and 
their communities, not to empower yet another Government bureaucracy in 
Washington. This is going to be your programs at your levels with your 
    And as you well know, that's what's happening all across America 
today. People are already serving their neighbors in their 
neighborhoods. Just this morning, I was inspired to see and to speak 
with students from Rutgers serving their community, from mentoring young 
people as Big Sisters to helping older people learn new skills. I met a 
lady today who has 13 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren who 
dropped out of school the year before I was born, who's about to become 
a high school graduate shortly because of the efforts of this program. 
You back there? Stand up.
    I'm impressed by the spirit behind the Rutgers Civic Education and 
Community Service Program, the understanding that community service 
enriches education, that students should not only take the lessons they 
learn in class out into the community but bring the lessons they learn 
in the community back into the classroom. In that spirit, during this 
academic year alone, more than 800 students from Rutgers are 
contributing more than 60,000 hours of community service in New 
Brunswick, in Camden, in Newark, throughout this State.
    This morning I also met with members of

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the New Jersey Youth Corps--here they are; see them? Stand up--young 
people who are looking for a second chance at school and who, when 
coming back to finish their high school degrees, also serve in their 
communities. Through this program, more than 6,500 young adults have 
contributed over 900,000 hours of service to the State of New Jersey. 
They've done everything from paint senior citizens' homes to tutor and 
mentor children in after-school programs. For the future of our State 
and Nation, we need more young people like those in the New Jersey Youth 
Corps who exemplify the spirit of service.
    That spirit also moves people all across the Nation. In my State, 
there's a young woman named Antoinette Jackson, who's a senior in a 
small community called Gould, Arkansas. She's a member of the Delta 
Service Corps. The rural Mississippi Delta is still the poorest place in 
America. And in that area, she works with a ``lend-a-hand'' program 
which runs a thrift shop to provide hungry and homeless people with food 
and clothing. And in return, the Delta Corps is going to help her attend 
college so that she can make an even greater contribution.
    The spirit of service also moves a young man I met about a year ago 
named Stephen Spalos, who works with the City Year program in Boston. At 
age 23, he's had some hard times in his life. But as he puts it, City 
Year gave him a place and the tools to be able to start over. He works 
as a team leader, a mentor, a tutor, a project manager for a bunch of 
young people who restore senior citizens' homes. Last year when I 
visited his project, he literally took his sweatshirt off his back and 
gave it to me so that I would never forget the kids at City Year. And I 
still wear it when I go jogging, always remembering what they're doing 
in Boston to help those kids.
    The spirit of service moves Orah Fireman, a graduate of Wesleyan 
College. As a sophomore in high school, she worked with disadvantaged 
children in upstate New York. That experience changed her life. And 
during her high school and college years, she continued to work with 
children. And now that she is out of college, she has begun what will 
probably be a lifetime of service by working at a school for emotionally 
disturbed children in Boston. She wants other people to have the 
opportunity to serve, and she wrote this: ``Service work teaches 
responsibility and compassion. It fights alienation by proving to young 
people that they can make a difference. There is no lesson more 
important than that.''
    Well, there are stories like this in this room and all across 
America. And we're going to create thousands of more of them through 
national service. We'll work with groups with proven track records to 
serve their community, giving them the support they need. And if you 
have more good ideas, if you're entrepreneurs of national service, we'll 
let you compete for our form of venture capital, to develop new programs 
to serve your neighbors. That's how we want the national service program 
to grow every year, rewarding results, building on success, and bubbling 
up from the grassroots energy and compassion and intellect of America.
    I don't want service to wait while this potential is wasted. That's 
why I want to make this summer a summer of service when young people can 
not only serve their communities but build a foundation for a new 
national effort. I've asked Congress to invest in and I'm asking young 
people to participate in a special effort in national service and 
leadership training just this summer. We are going to recruit about 
1,000 young people from every background, from high school dropouts to 
college graduates, to send to an intensive leadership training program 
for national service at the beginning of the summer.
    Then we'll ask them to work on one of our country's most urgent 
problems, helping our children who are in danger of losing their God-
given potential. Some of them will tutor. Some will work on programs to 
immunize young children from preventible childhood diseases. Some will 
help to develop and run recreational centers or reclaim urban parks from 
dealers and debris. Some will counsel people a few years younger than 
themselves to help keep them out of gangs and into good activities. And 
everyone will learn about serving our country and helping our 
    At the end of this summer, we'll bring all these people together for 
several days of debriefing and training, and then they'll all join in a 
youth service summit. I will attend the meeting, and I expect to listen 
a lot more than I talk. I'll ask leaders from Congress, from business, 
labor, religious, and community groups to attend the youth service 
summit too. We'll give those who serve the honor they deserve, and we'll 
learn a lot more about how to build this

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national service program. And from the thousand pioneers of this summer, 
I want the national service to grow 100-fold in the next 4 years.
    But even when hundreds of thousands are serving, I want to maintain 
the pioneer spirit of this first few months, because national service 
can make America new again. It can help solve our problems, educate our 
people, and build our communities back together. So if anybody here 
would like to be one of those 1,000 or if anybody who is listening to 
this speech by radio or television or reads about it would like to be 
one of those 1,000, drop me a card at the White House and just mark it 
``national service.'' We're going to pick them, and I can't promise 
you'll be selected, but I promise you'll be considered. I want to engage 
the energies of America in this effort.
    I also want to say that you shouldn't wait for the summer or for a 
new program. We need to begin now. We are going to be looking for the 
kinds of ideas that we ought to be funding. This is Monday. I ask you by 
Friday, every one of you, to think about what you think you can do and 
what we should do to be agents of renewal; to talk with your parents, 
your clergy, your friends, your teachers; to join the effort to renew 
our community and to rebuild our country; and to write to me about what 
you are doing. It's time for millions of us to change our country block 
by block, neighborhood by neighborhood; time to return to our roots an 
excitement, an idealism, and an energy.
    I have to tell you that there are some among us who do not believe 
that young Americans will answer a call to action, who believe that our 
people now measure their success merely in the accumulation of material 
things. They believe this call to service will go unanswered. But I 
believe they are dead wrong.
    And so, especially to the young Americans here, I ask you to prove 
that those who doubt you are wrong about your generation. And today I 
ask all of you who are young in spirit, whether you are a 10-year-old in 
a service program in our schools who reads to still younger children or 
a 72-year-old who has become a foster grandparent, I ask you all to 
believe that you can contribute to your community and your country. And 
in so doing, you will find the best in yourself.
    You will learn the lessons about your life that you might not ever 
learn any other way. You will learn again that each of us has the spark 
of potential to accomplish something truly and enduringly unique. You 
will experience the satisfaction of making a connection in a way with 
another person that you could do in no other way. You will learn that 
the joy of mastering a new skill or discovering a new insight is 
exceeded only by the joy of helping someone else do the same thing. You 
will know the satisfaction of being valued not for what you own or what 
you earn or what position you hold but just because of what you have 
given to someone else. You will understand in personal ways the wisdom 
of the words spoken years ago by Martin Luther King, who said, 
``Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.''
    I ask you all, my fellow Americans, to support our proposal for 
national service and to live a proposal for national service, to learn 
the meaning of America at its best, and to recreate for others America 
at its best. We are not just another country. We have always been a 
special kind of community, linked by a web of rights and 
responsibilities and bound together not by bloodlines but by beliefs. At 
an age in time when people all across the world are being literally torn 
apart by racial hatreds, by ethnic hatreds, by religious divisions, we 
are a nation, with all of our problems, where people can come together 
across racial and religious lines and hold hands and work together not 
just to endure our differences but to celebrate them. I ask you to make 
America celebrate that again.
    I ask you, in closing, to commit yourselves to this season of 
service because America needs it. We need every one of you to live up to 
the fullest of your potential, and we need you to reach those who are 
not here and who will never hear this talk and who will never have the 
future they could otherwise have if not for something that you could do. 
The great challenge of your generation is to prove that every person 
here in this great land can live up to the fullest of their God-given 
capacity. If we do it, the 21st century will be the American century. 
The American dream will be kept alive if you will today answer the call 
to service.
    Thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:15 p.m. at Rutgers University. In his 
remarks, he referred to Nakia Tomlinson, a Rutgers student, and Benjamin 
Barber, founder of the Rutgers Civic Education and Community Service