[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[June 3, 1998]
[Pages 873-876]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 873]]

Remarks to the City Year Convention in Cleveland, Ohio
June 3, 1998

    The President. Thank you. Well, since 600 City Year members like 
Lesley and Casey wrote and invited me, I thought the least I could do 
was to show up. I want to thank Lesley for that 
very wonderful introduction and for the terrific letter. I thank 
Casey for what he said. When he started talking 
about his mother, I almost started to cry, too. [Laughter]
    I'd like to thank Harris Wofford and Eli 
Segal. I'd like to thank Mayor White and Congressmen Stokes 
and Sawyer for coming with me today. Father 
Glynn, thank you for making us feel so welcome 
here at John Carroll. I thank the City Year Board of Trustees for their 
service, and the county and city officials and State officials here for 
their service. Thanks again, Lesley and 
Casey. And let me also say a special word of 
thanks to Alan Khazei and Michael Brown, the founders of City Year.
    I found City Year, you know, back in 1991, when it was a much 
smaller program, beginning in Boston. And I was there as a candidate for 
President with about a one percent name recognition in Massachusetts. 
And so I had a lot of time on my hands. [Laughter] And I spent the 
better part of a day, as I recall, talking to the young people in City 
    I wanted to be President because I felt that our country needed to 
take a new course if we were going to prepare for the 21st century so 
that for all of you the American dream of opportunity would be alive for 
everyone who was responsible enough to seize it; so that our country 
would still be the leading force for peace and freedom and prosperity 
and security in the world; and so that we would come together across all 
the lines that divide us into one America, bound in no small measure by 
citizen service.
    Now, since 1991 and the election of 1992, my belief that our country 
could do better has certainly been vindicated. I am grateful beyond 
measure that, thanks to people like you and my friends in Congress and 
Americans throughout the country, we've been able to change America. I'm 
grateful that we have the lowest unemployment rate in 28 years, the 
lowest welfare rolls in 27 years, the lowest crime rates in 25 years. 
I'm grateful.
    But what I want to say to you today is that all of these 
achievements basically leave us free to chart the right course for 
America toward the 21st century. Part of it must be done in Washington; 
part of it must be done in the hearts and minds and lives of our 
citizens, where the greatness of America has always resided.
    One of the things I think I ought to mention today, because it's so 
timely in Washington, is that we have a chance to pass comprehensive 
legislation to protect young people from the dangers of tobacco, and we 
ought to do it and do it right away. I just came from an elementary 
school here in Cleveland where I met a lot of City Year/AmeriCorps 
volunteers. They had worked with young children in this elementary 
school, the Stephen Howe Elementary School, to write 1,500 book reports 
this year, to build a new playground.
    But one of the things I'd like for every child in that grade school 
to know is this: Smoking-related illnesses kill more people every year 
than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, murder, suicides, drugs, and fires 
combined--combined. And 90 percent of all smokers started before they 
were 18, even though it's illegal to sell cigarettes to children under 
18. Three thousand young people start smoking every day; 1,000 will have 
their lives shortened because of it. So I say again, while there are 
some in Congress who seem determined to stall, stop, or kill the tobacco 
bill, we will never have a better chance to save 1,000 lives a day and 
save a million kids in the next few years. And I hope you will help me 
send a loud message back to Washington, DC, to act and act now.
    There are a lot of other things that we are working on back there 
that will shape the world you will dominate as adults. We're about to 
have our first balanced budget and a surplus in 29 years, and before we 
spend a penny of it, I want us to make sure we know how we're going to 
save Social Security so we don't bankrupt your generation when my 
generation retires. It's not right.
    While we're strong and prosperous, I want us to do everything we can 
to invest in education so that not only our colleges but our grade 
schools, our junior high schools, and our

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high schools are the best in the country and every child of whatever 
race or income or station in life can get a world-class education 
starting at kindergarten.
    I want the Congress and the country to accept changes in the Earth's 
climate as real and commit ourselves to reduce the problem of global 
warming, even as we continue to grow the economy. We have to face the 
environmental challenges of the 21st century, and the sooner we get at 
it, the better off we're going to be.
    There are many other things I want the Congress to do in health care 
and campaign finance reform and adopting the initiative that the First 
Lady and I have tried to advance for a 21st century fund to put money 
into research, in biomedical research and scientific research to build 
the next generation of the Internet, and also to preserve our precious 
natural heritage.
    But I will tell you this. If America hasn't learned anything from 
you in the last 4 years since we've had the AmeriCorps program going, we 
should have learned that in the end, we will never be the country we 
ought to be, we will never meet the challenges that are there before us, 
we will never fully seize the opportunities that are there, until 
America believes in and practices citizen service.
    As I said, when I started running for President in 1991, I had this 
idea--but it was just an idea in my mind--that we had two big problems. 
We needed more idealistic, energetic young people out there working on 
our communities--helping to solve problems at the grassroots level and 
touching other children one on one, helping people that would otherwise 
be forgotten, going to places where the private economy would not 
otherwise send them--and we also needed to open the doors of college to 
everyone. So I had this general idea, and then when I went to City Year 
in Boston, the lights came on in my mind, and I said, ``This is what I 
want to do.''
    You know, out of the national service of our soldiers in World War 
II came the GI bill, which educated a whole generation of my parents and 
created the great American middle class. Out of the all too short 
service of President Kennedy came the Peace Corps, which took the idea 
of citizen service around the world. And I still see it as I travel for 
America, our best ideas and our greatest humanity manifest in these 
Peace Corps volunteers all across the world. I saw them recently when I 
was in Africa.
    Out of AmeriCorps has come a blending of the two, taking the idea of 
service and the idea of education. It's almost like the Peace Corps 
comes home, in larger numbers, with a ``GI educational bill'' for 
citizen service. That is what we have done.
    In only 4 years, nearly 90,000 young people have served through 
AmeriCorps in their communities; nearly 50,000 have become eligible for 
the education benefits. This year alone, more than 40,000 AmeriCorps 
positions are being filled around the country. And every young 
AmeriCorps volunteer, as anyone else could see from your enthusiasm, 
typically will generate 12 more volunteers helping on whatever the 
service is.
    Last year AmeriCorps members taught or tutored 500,000 students, 
mentored 95,000 more, recruited 39,000 more volunteers, immunized 64,000 
children, helped with disasters in over 30 States, worked with over 
3,000 safety patrols, with local law enforcement and civilian groups, 
trained 100,000 people in violence prevention, built or rehabilitated 
5,600 homes, helped put 32,000 homeless people in permanent residences, 
worked with people with AIDS and other serious diseases, and did a whole 
raft of environmental projects. Because of AmeriCorps, the Senior Corps, 
Learn and Serve America, America is a better place today.
    I am especially proud of our America Reads program, which relies on 
all our national service programs, because one of the most important 
things we can do is to make sure every 8-year-old in America--and many 
of them don't have English as their first language now--can read 
independently by the time they leave the third grade. It's just terribly 
important to all other learning.
    We now have--I learned this morning just before I came here that we 
now have over 1,000 colleges and universities that are allocating work-
study positions or other volunteers to help make sure that by the year 
2000, every 8-year-old can, in fact, read. And a lot of AmeriCorps 
volunteers have helped to mobilize, organize, and train those tutors, 
and I am very grateful for that.
    I was also proud of the word used in my introduction, ``enabling,'' 
that I had enabled service. I think that's important because we don't 
dictate anything about AmeriCorps from

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Washington. You know that City Year is a grassroots, community-tied 
organization, even though it's a national network. We have enabled 
organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Habitat for Humanity, 
hundreds of other nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations--
6,000 young AmeriCorps volunteers in faith-based organizations this 
year--to select and use AmeriCorps members to continue and enlarge the 
work that they are doing.
    Here in Cleveland, more than 200 citizens of all ages and 
backgrounds are serving in 14 different AmeriCorps programs, including 
those serving with City Year Cleveland. In Cleveland, AmeriCorps does 
everything from tutoring children to building homes, to organizing 
neighborhood watches, to cleaning streams. I guess the next message I'd 
want you to help me send back to Washington today is that AmeriCorps 
works, and it should be extended by Congress into the 21st century so 
more young people have the opportunity to do that.
    Now, I want to make one other point about AmeriCorps and citizen 
service. As you bring volunteers to communities in need, you also bring 
people together. I mean, just look around. The first thing I remember 
blazed in my mind when I first went to AmeriCorps--to the City Year 
project in Boston was that there was a young person who had been in an 
Ivy League school who dropped out of school for a year to work full-
time, working side by side with a young person who had gotten in trouble 
in New Hampshire and the juvenile authorities said, ``If you'll go work 
for City Year, that's the best rehabilitation you could do.'' They 
learned a lot from each other, those two young people. And they both did 
very well in the future as a result of it.
    If you look around at this crowd today, it's a pretty good picture 
of America. And I have always believed that in the 21st century, America 
would have its greatest days in no small measure because we are growing 
more diverse as the world grows smaller. So it simply stands to reason 
that we're better off if we have people who look like people from 
everywhere in the world, who share their cultures, their language, and 
their religions, but who are bound together by common devotion to 
American ideals, to personal responsibility, expressed through 
constructive citizenship.
    I believe that the key to solving a lot of our racial tensions in 
America is to make sure we keep living together, working together, 
learning together, and, in some ways most important of all, serving 
together, giving together. It can unite us across all the lines that 
divide us. It can even unite us across political lines. And after 
spending a few days in Washington, I sometimes think those are the 
deepest divides of all.
    Last year I was so honored to be with Presidents Bush and Carter and Ford, Mrs. Reagan, and General 
Colin Powell at the Presidents' Summit on 
Service in Philadelphia. Some of you were there. I believe everybody who 
was there felt this enormous sense of excitement and also a great sense 
of possibility as we defined an agenda that we wanted every child to be 
a part of. We wanted every child to have a caring adult in his or her 
life, a safe place to grow up, a good school to attend, a healthy start 
in life, and a chance to serve the community.
    Now, since that summit we've worked to do our part in Washington. 
Again, there's some things the Government should do. We've worked to 
expand health insurance to 5 million children. We've worked to expand 
access to child care so parents can be more effective at home and at 
work. We've worked to implement something called the High Hopes 
mentoring program that will involve young people like you with other 
kids who are younger, starting in junior high school, for 6 years. And 
also we'll give you an extra tool; you'll be able to tell those seventh 
graders, ``Look, if you learn, if you stay in school, if you live a good 
life, I can tell you right now here's how much college aid you will get 
to guarantee you can go to college when you get out of high school.''
    We've been helped by corporations, by nonprofits, by other 
organizations who've committed fabulous sums of money to try to 
implement this agenda under the leadership of General Powell around the country. We want to do more, because in the 
end you know and I know from what you're doing that the most important 
thing we can still do in America with a lot of human problems is to make 
one-on-one contact and that you can put up all the money in the world, 
but hands build houses, hands clean streams, hands immunize children. 
People have to do these things.
    So what I want to say today is I'd like to do some more to fulfill 
the goals of the Presidents' Summit on Service. And the Corporation for 
National Service is now prepared to commit another additional 1,000 
Ameri-Corps leadership

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positions targeted only to the goals of the Presidents' Summit. These 
AmeriCorps volunteers will support these State and local efforts. But 
you think about it, 1,000 volunteers trained to be leaders of community 
efforts. Wouldn't you like to know that when you finish and when you 
start your careers that every American child has a safe place to grow 
up, a good school, a healthy start, a caring adult, and a chance to 
serve just like you're doing? I think it's worth our making that effort.
    I hope that one of the legacies of this period at the end of the 
20th century will be a renewed spirit of community, a renewed sense of 
idealism, a renewed commitment to service. I hope, in other words, that 
when I finish my work and you finish yours we will have helped to make 
real the pledge that you take when you join AmeriCorps in the lives of 
all Americans. Indeed, I wish every American would take that pledge. I 
think it might be well again to send that message to the country.
    So if you'll help me, I'd like us to conclude with that AmeriCorps 
pledge. I'll say it, then you say it:
    I will get things done for America to make our people safer, 
smarter, and healthier. I will bring Americans together to strengthen 
our communities. Faced with apathy, I will take action. Faced with 
conflicts, I will seek common ground. Faced with adversity, I will 
persevere. I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond. I 
am an AmeriCorps member. And I am going to get things done.

[Audience members repeated the pledge line by line after the President.]

    The President. Let me say to all of you, in every generation young 
Americans are called upon to renew our country, to deepen what it means 
to be free, to widen the circle of opportunity, to strengthen the bonds 
of our national community. Because of the progress that has been made in 
this time, your generation has an incredible opportunity. You can finish 
the work that was done when I was your age by the people you saw in that 
    Thirty years ago this week, Robert Kennedy was killed. Thirty 
springtimes ago, we lost both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. 
Their effort to bring America together and lift America to higher ground 
was delayed by a lot of the things that happened along the way. But now 
that we have regained our sense of confidence--that we know we can make 
our economy work, we know we can make our schools work, we know that we 
can make our streets safe, we know we can take poor people and give them 
a second chance and give them a chance to work and succeed in raising 
their children as well as working, we know that America can be more and 
better and that we can live up to our highest ideals--your generation 
will have a chance to make that the history of the 21st century.
    I am so proud of you. I can't even convey what it feels like for me 
to stand here and look into your eyes. I know now that one of the best 
decisions I ever made was to fight to create AmeriCorps and to fight to 
keep others from taking it away and to fight to give you the chance to 
    But remember--remember what you promised in the pledge, that you 
will serve now and beyond. For when you no longer wear these jackets or 
T-shirts every day, if you continue to believe and you continue to serve 
and you continue to have the feelings inside toward your fellow human 
beings that you have today, then you will write a remarkable history for 
America in the 21st century. We need you to do that, and I believe you 
    God bless you, and godspeed.

[At this point, Stephen Spaloss, coexecutive 
director, City Year Philadelphia, made brief remarks and presented the 
City Year Lifetime of Idealism Award to the President.]

    The President. Thank you. Let's give him 
a hand; he was great. [Applause] I want you to know that I still have 
Stephen's sweatshirt, and I'll have it with me forever to remember when 
I first met him and I first met City Year. You keep it with you forever, 
    God bless you. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:25 p.m. in the gymnasium at the Don Shula 
Sports Center at John Carroll University. In his remarks, he referred to 
City Year members Lesley Frye of Chicago and Casey Hunt of Cleveland; 
Eli Segal, president and chief executive officer, Welfare to Work 
Partnership; Mayor Michael R. White of Cleveland; Rev. Edward Glynn, 
president, John Carroll University; and Gen. Colin Powell, USA (Ret.), 
chairman, America's Promise--The Alliance For Youth.