[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[January 9, 1998]
[Pages 28-32]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to High School Teachers, Students, and Parents in Houston, Texas
January 9, 1998

    Thank you. Let's give Ronald another hand. 
Didn't he do a great job? [Applause] Thank you very much. Let me say, 
first of all, thank you for the warm welcome; thank you for coming. I 
welcome all the students here from all the schools around the area, the 
college and the university presidents. And I understand we also have the 
student body presidents from the University of Houston, Texas Southern, 
Prairie View, and I believe the University of Texas at Austin. I welcome 
all of them here.
    I also want to say a special word of thanks to the AmeriCorps 
volunteers because I believe all of us should serve, and I believe we 

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give more young people the chance to serve in their community and then 
help them go on to college if they do.
    I'd also like to thank Secretary Riley 
for his work and for being here with me today. And I want to say a 
special word of appreciation to your Congresswoman, Sheila Jackson 
Lee. She is a remarkable person. She has 
supported the efforts that I have done my best to make on your behalf to 
improve education and to improve economic opportunities, to reach out to 
the rest of the world and make America strong in the 21st century. She 
has done a remarkable job, and I'm honored to be in her district today.
    I'd also like to thank Congressman Lampson 
for coming. And I want to say a special word of appreciation to your new 
mayor, Lee Brown, and thank him publicly 
for his service in my Cabinet. We could nearly have a Cabinet meeting 
today, we almost have a quorum because our former Treasury Secretary, 
your former Senator, Lloyd Bentsen, and his 
wife, B.A., are here, clearly one of the most 
successful Treasury Secretaries in the entire history of the United 
States. You should be very proud of that.
    And lastly, of course, I want to thank your immediate former mayor, 
Bob Lanier, and his wonderful wife, 
Elyse, for their friendship to me and for their 
service to the city of Houston. I have told people all across the United 
States, I have never met a more gifted public servant than Bob Lanier.
    Before I get into my comment about education, let me try to put it 
into some larger context. I wanted to have all the young people here 
today because I wanted this to be a meeting about your future. I thank 
my friend Jennifer Holliday for coming 
here to sing and for that magnificent song she sang just before I came 
out. There really is a dream out there with your name on it, but you 
have to go get it. And I want you to see your dreams and your life 
against a larger landscape of America's dream and America's life.
    We already have one foot in the 21st century, and it's a time that 
will be very, very different from the immediate past. How will it be 
different? Well, you know and you see and you feel it here in Texas. 
First of all, there will be the phenomenon of globalization. People and 
products and ideas and information will move rapidly across national 
borders, both the borders that touch us like Texas and Mexico and the 
borders that are beyond the oceans that require us to fly or to 
communicate in cyberspace.
    Secondly, there is a phenomenal revolution in information and 
science and technology. Not only can children in Houston communicate 
with children in Australia on the Internet or go into libraries in 
Europe to do research, but the very mysteries of the human gene are 
being unraveled now in ways that offer breathtaking possibilities to 
preserve the quality and the length of human life, to fight back 
disease, and to bring people together at a higher level of humanity than 
we've ever known. That's all very encouraging.
    We also know that as the borders between people break down, we're 
more vulnerable to the problems of other people, and our neighbors are 
more than just the people that live next door to us. People all around 
the world are our neighbors now. We see a remarkable spread of malaria, 
for example, around the world, and a lot of people getting it in 
airports and bringing it to other countries as they travel between 
airports. We know that chemical and biological weapons can be made in 
small quantities and can do a lot of damage, and people can carry them 
around across national borders. So we know that not only with our 
possibilities but also with our problems, our challenges, we are more 
interdependent. And yet, we have to depend more on ourselves, as well. 
That's why education is so important.
    My goal for your country, when I'm gone from the Presidency and all 
you young people are living out your lives, is that you will live in a 
new century in which the American dream is alive and well for every 
single person who's responsible enough to work for it; in which your 
country is still the world's leading force for peace and freedom and 
prosperity, recognizing that we can't do it alone, that we have to do it 
as partners on good terms with as many people who share our values as 
possible; and finally, and key to the whole thing, that we will go 
forward as one America, across all the lines that divide us--the racial 
lines, the regional lines, the income lines, the lines of ethnicity and 
religion--every single separation.
    We'll say, okay, we've got a lot of differences in this country, and 
that makes us more interesting. It makes life more interesting. We 
respect those differences. We celebrate those differences. But there are 
fundamental values that

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bind us together as America, that make us one country, stronger than 
ever in a new world.
    That's why I was profoundly honored when your former mayor, your present mayor, the 
Congresswoman, Phil Carroll, and so many others banded together to defeat 
Proposition A, and I was glad to actually come out and do my little part 
in that, not because I held all the answers to all the problems 
regarding all of our racial differences but because I know one thing: As 
your President, I have spent an enormous amount of time, the time you 
gave me to be President, trying to do what I could to save lives and 
stop people from killing each other over their racial, their ethnic, and 
their religious differences.
    I see people in nations in Africa engaging in tribal warfare, when 
they're all so poor it breaks my heart, and I think, if only they would 
join hands to try to lift their children up, how much better would they 
be. I see my people in Northern Ireland still arguing over what happened 
600 years ago between the Catholics and the Protestants, when the young 
people say, ``We worship the same God. It's about time we started acting 
like it. Let's build a better future together.'' I see people in 
Bosnia--Serbs, Croatians, Muslims, Western Christians, Orthodox 
Christians, and followers of Muhammad--who shared the same piece of land 
for hundreds of years and lived for decades in this century in peace, 
slaughtered each other for years, and now we're trying to get them back 
together. And they have to learn to lay down their hatreds.
    If we want to lead that kind of world away from that sort of thing, 
we have to set a good example. We have to prove that on every street 
corner in this country, in every school in this country, in every 
workplace in this country, in every apartment house in this country, we 
not only say we believe we are one America and none of us are any better 
than anybody else in the eyes of God, we have to live like it. We have 
to live like it.
    And finally, just in a few days, I'm going to see the Prime Minister 
of Israel and the head of the Palestinian 
Liberation Organization, Mr. Arafat, to try to 
end the longstanding differences in the Middle East. The beginning of 
the world's monotheistic religions, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, 
all in that little piece of land--nearly everybody in America, not all 
of us but most of us, trace our faith's roots to that place. Isn't it 
unbelievable that people still are fighting over that, when if they 
would say, ``We are the children of one God. Why can't we be one people 
and share this land of milk and honey together?''
    So I say that one of the reasons I challenge people to engage in 
citizen service, one of the reasons I was so proud to be introduced by 
Ronald Cotton, is not just because he's a 
valedictorian, not just because he's going to be a doctor, not just 
because I might need him to fix my heart one day--[laughter]--but 
because as busy as he is, he still does his citizen service. That's what 
we all should do. If he's got time to do it, the rest of us should have 
time to do it.
    Now, what's all that got to do with education? You need to 
understand all this if you're going to make the most of the 21st 
century. It can be the brightest, best time in all of human history, but 
it will only work for America because this is a democracy, where we 
think everybody should have an opportunity. It will only work if 
everybody has a chance to walk across that bridge to the 21st century 
together, if we all have a chance.
    That's what's special about America. That's how we got started. We 
believe nobody ought to get an unfair advantage, everybody ought to have 
a chance, and if people need a hand up, we ought to give it to them. 
That's what we believe as Americans. Now, the problem is, in this world 
we're living in, where the pace of change and the scope of change is 
greater than ever before, where the world is crowding in on you as never 
before, there is nothing anybody else can do for you unless you're 
willing to make your own dream by the development of your own mind.
    Therefore, the 21st century will not only be known as the 
information age, the age of science and technology, it will also be 
known by ordinary people as the education age because what you know will 
depend--will determine in large measure the scope of your life in the 
new era. It's always been an advantage to have an education. But what I 
want you to understand now is it's not just an advantage; it is a 
    Let me just give you a couple of statistics. Two decades ago, 
college graduates made about 40 percent more than people with a high 
school diploma. Today, in less than 20 years, the gap has gone to 75 
percent. Over a lifetime, people who have 2 years of college will make a 

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of a million dollars more than high school graduates. Each additional 
year of college after high school means a 10 percent increase in yearly 
earnings for people. If you graduate from college, you're much, much, 
much more likely now to get a job with a pension, with health care, with 
other benefits, and where the income goes up, instead of staying the 
same or actually declining, as against inflation.
    We have learned as a people, therefore, that the more we invest in 
education and the higher the quality is, the faster our economy grows as 
a whole. In the last 2 years--one of the things I'm proudest of is not 
only that we're now over 14 million new jobs in the 5 years I've been 
privileged to be your President, with a 24-year low in unemployment, but 
in the last 2 years, more than half of the new jobs coming into this 
economy have paid above average wages. That's the good news. But the 
challenging news is, you can't get those jobs unless you have the 
requisite education.
    And let me say again, this is about more than money. This is not 
just about money; this is about our ability to be strong as a nation. 
You want America to lead the world? Do you really believe we can 
maintain the world's strongest defense, the world's strongest economy, 
the world's strongest diplomatic force unless we are the world's best 
educated people? There is no way. Do you want us to set an example for 
other people about how we should live and have good values? We also have 
to have smart enough minds and be sophisticated enough to figure out how 
to handle the honest differences that we have.
    We have honest differences. That's what makes life interesting. We 
wouldn't have to have elections if we didn't have any differences. 
[Laughter] We have honest differences, but we have to figure out, how do 
we handle our differences in ways that we grow stronger, we grow richer, 
we improve the quality of life, and we strengthen our values?
    It is not just about money. We will not succeed in the world of the 
21st century unless we dramatically improve the quality of education 
that all of our children get from kindergarten through high school, and 
unless we have larger numbers of people going on to college and 
succeeding, not only because you have to know more but because--well, 
look what's happening. Look at the Internet. How many of you young 
people have ever used the Internet? How many of you have ever logged on 
to the Internet? Look at all these hands up.
    Now, let me tell you something. Five years ago, when I became 
President--just 5 years ago--the Internet was still virtually the 
private property of research scientists. It started out as a little 
Government project so that research scientists could communicate with 
each other and share the latest data. And a young person in his twenties 
basically figured out that this thing could have great commercial 
applications, great educational potential. It was unbelievable. And all 
of a sudden, all these young people in their twenties were becoming 
multimillionaires, some of them worth hundreds of millions of dollars, 
figuring out how to use the Internet for education and for business 
    Now, it's staggering. Hundreds of thousands of new homepages are 
added to the Internet every month. It's probably the fastest growing 
communications institution in all of human history. And just 5 years 
ago, nobody knew what it was. I say that to make this point. The reason 
you need a good education is not just so when you get out of college you 
know what you're supposed to know; you have to be able to learn for a 
lifetime, and then to apply what you know. So that education is much 
more dynamic than it used to be. Think of the Internet. That's a good 
model, more and more things coming on. It's hard to keep up. You've got 
to keep learning about it. That's the way all work is going to be.
    And that's why we're here. Now, we've worked hard to do what we 
could to improve our schools, to say: We ought to have high standards; 
we ought to push proven reforms; we ought to connect every classroom and 
library to the Internet by the year 2000; we ought to make sure that 
nobody gets out of the third grade without being able to read 
independently--that's what the America Reads program is all about; we 
ought to make sure that everybody that needs it is in a good Head Start 
program or other pre-school program; we ought to make sure that after 
school and on the weekends our young people have something to do and 
something to say yes to so they have good lives and don't get in 
trouble. Houston was a leading force in proving that works.
    But then after all that is said and done, we have got to get more 
people to go on to college. Now, I have done my best to fulfill a 
commitment I made to the American people when I

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ran for President, which is that we would open the doors of college to 
everyone. Last year when we passed the balanced budget agreement, we 
agreed for the first time in 50 years to have a huge increase in help 
for people to go to college, the biggest increase since the GI bill when 
the soldiers came home from World War II, 50 years ago.
    Here's what it does, here's what you can look forward to, every one 
of you, now: For the first 2 years of college, a family can get a 
$1,500-a-year tax credit per person in the first 2 years of college. 
That makes community college virtually free to virtually all Americans. 
In the junior and senior year, for graduate school, you can get another 
$1,000 tax cut.
    If parents begin to save for their children's education in an 
education IRA, they can not only save the money, and it won't be subject 
to taxes when they save it, but then they can draw it out and what it 
earns, and it won't be subject to taxes either. I don't think we need to 
tax the money people save for a college education. It will enable 
ordinary people to save for a college education.
    We had the biggest expansion in Pell grant scholarships in 20 years 
for deserving students, kids who need that. We rewrote the student loan 
program so you can get the loans quicker, and you can pay them back 
easier. I don't know how many young people I used to meet when I was 
Governor that said, you know, ``I'm going to have to drop out of college 
because I'll never be able to afford to pay my loans back. I want to be 
a teacher. I want to be a police officer. I'm not going to make a lot of 
money. I can't pay my loans back.'' Now, under our direct loan program, 
you get to pay your loans back limited to a percentage of the money you 
earn when you get out of college, so it will never bankrupt you. We have 
opened the doors of college to all Americans.
    A hundred thousand young people now have been in the AmeriCorps 
program earning money to go to college and serving in their communities. 
And today I announced that in the budget I am going to send up to 
Congress next month, we will actually ask for funding for 1 million 
work-study students, for people who are trying to work their way through 
college. We have opened the doors of college for all Americans.
    That's opportunity, but opportunity never works without 
responsibility. So I want every young person here to remember this. We 
can open the door, but you have to walk through. And that means, first 
of all, you've got to finish high school, and you've got to make sure 
when you finish you know what you're supposed to know so the diploma you 
have means something. And then you have to keep your sights high. 
Remember, there is a dream out there with your name on it. And we're 
trying to open the door to the dream, but you've still got to walk 
through and seize it. You still have to walk across the bridge to your 
own future. You still have to build your own future.
    But what I believe with all my heart is that you will live in the 
most interesting, exciting, kaleidoscopically diverse time in human 
history if we are wise and good and we continue to be the nation that is 
the world's best hope for peace and freedom, the nation that reaches out 
to others in principled interdependence, a people that learn to live 
together as one America, a people of responsible citizenship who can 
seize the opportunities that are out there. That's the America we're 
trying to build for you. But in the end, you will determine whether 
that's the America that lives in the 21st century. You can do it, and I 
know you will.
    Thank you, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 5:55 p.m. in the General Assembly Hall at 
the George Brown Convention Center. In his remarks, he referred to 
Ronald Cotton, student, Robert E. DeBakey High School for Health 
Professionals; Philip J. Carroll, president and CEO, Shell Oil Co.; 
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel; and Chairman Yasser Arafat 
of the Palestinian Authority. A portion of these remarks could not be 
verified because the tape was incomplete.