[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[September 10, 1998]
[Pages 1555-1557]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on Presentation of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in 
Science, Math, and Engineering Mentoring
September 10, 1998

    Thank you very much. I saw Representative Brown take my speech off 
the podium--[laughter]--and I thought that that was a rather extreme 
measure to take to demonstrate that he still knows much more about this 
subject than I do. [Laughter]
    Let me thank all of you for coming and congratulate the awardees. I 
thank Secretary Slater and Secretary Riley for their support of this 
endeavor. I want to thank Neal Lane for agreeing to become the 
President's Science Adviser; and Dr. Rita Colwell for heading the NSF. 
When they were clapping for her, I didn't realize that she was sort of 
the poster woman of achievement for women in science. [Laughter] But I 
couldn't think of a better one.
    I would like to say one very serious thing about George Brown. Many 
jokes have been made over the years about my affinity for issues that 
don't exactly grip the public consciousness

[[Page 1556]]

from morning until night every day, but I think the public is more 
interested in science and technology than ever before and understands 
more clearly its role than ever before. And I believe it's important to 
acknowledge that in the last generation, the Member of Congress most 
responsible for our doing everything we've done right has been George 
Brown of California. And I thank you for that.
    Let me say, I'm quite well aware that we're starting a little late 
today, and I regret that, but I was in an extended meeting with Senators 
from my own party, part of this process I'm going through of talking to 
people with whom I work and with whom I must work in your behalf to ask 
for their understanding, their forgiveness, and their commitment, not to 
let the events of the moment in Washington deter us from doing the 
people's work here and building the future of this country. And I can't 
think of a better moment really or subject for us to make that larger 
    All of you know how rapidly the world is changing. Now, everyday 
citizens see it when they watch the gyrations of the stock market up and 
down. I've been in Maryland and Florida the last couple of days, mostly 
in schools and with teachers and PTA leaders, and then at a couple of 
political events where regular business people would come up to me and 
say it truly is amazing to them how much events here are affected by 
events beyond our borders and how much people want us here to be strong, 
to be leading, to have a genuine and deep commitment to preparing for 
the future. There is no better example of that than the work that you 
    So the primary purpose of this event is for all of us, and 
especially me, to congratulate the President's Awardees for Excellence 
in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring and to thank you for 
doing this, because not only those whom you mentor but those whom they 
touch will have a broader and more accurate worldview for the future. 
That will make our country a better place.
    We are living in a truly remarkable time, driven in no small measure 
by the revolutions in science and technology. Our economy depends on it 
more and more, and the maintenance of our leadership depends upon our 
deepening commitment to it more and more. Yet statistics show that in 
science, engineering, and mathematics, minorities, women, and people 
with disabilities are still grossly under-represented, even though we 
are becoming an ever more diverse society.
    I've just really got this on my mind because I've been in a grade 
school in Maryland and a grade school in Orlando, Florida, this week, 
and I was looking at those kids. And it is hard to imagine an American 
future that works without those kids properly represented in the ranks 
of science and technology, without those kids making a profound 
commitment to mathematics, without those young people believing that if 
they have an interest there, they can pursue it to the nth degree.
    And the truth is--you know, Rita talked about being discouraged just 
having people say they shouldn't waste scholarships on women; you hear 
similar stories from our first women astronauts. You hear similar 
stories from the first pioneers who broke racial and other barriers. But 
the truth is, even though we need our heroes and our trailblazers, 
that's no way to run a society. And people sooner or later just have to 
get over it. They have to get over it and open--[applause].
    Now, look at this. Let me just read you this. The American 
Association for the Advancement of Sciences shows that between 1996 and 
1997, 20 percent fewer African-Americans and 18.2 percent fewer 
Hispanic-American young people enrolled in graduate programs in science 
and engineering.
    Judy Winston is here, who has done such a marvelous job of carrying 
our President's Initiative on Race. One of the things that I launched 
that initiative on race to do was to highlight developments like this, 
to talk about these disparities, to talk about what we could do about 
them. If we're serious about giving every American the chance to reach 
his or her dreams and building a work force for the global economy that 
reflects our national diversity and our global ties, if we're serious 
about having the finest scientists, mathematicians, and engineers in the 
world, we can't leave anybody behind.
    Now, I've been working very hard to make sure that we have more 
uniform, high-quality, world-class public education in every school in 
America, that the children, without regard to their race or their income 
or the region of the country in which they live or the income of the 
neighborhood in which they live, will all

[[Page 1557]]

have access to the kind of preparatory education they need.
    And we work very hard--we've opened the doors of college wider than 
ever before in history with the HOPE scholarships, with the tax credits 
for all 4 years of college and graduate schools, with dramatic increases 
in Pell grants and work-study programs, with the improvements in the 
student loan programs. But we have to do more if we are going to address 
this problem. All that's been done, and the problem you're here to 
celebrate your contribution to solving is in many places and in many 
ways getting worse. And we have to face that, because it is not good for 
    We started an initiative that I hope will be funded in this Congress 
that I think could really help, called the High Hopes initiative, to 
provide mentors for disadvantaged middle school students and be able to 
tell these kids when they're in middle school, ``You will be able to go 
on to college if you do well, and here's how much money you can get and 
here's what you can do with it.''
    But still, once these young people get to college, if they come from 
backgrounds where there is almost no record of achievement in the areas 
you represent, they need mentors. They need people who can guide them 
through all these decisions that have to be made about what you're going 
to major in and what else you take. I'm becoming an expert in that. 
[Laughter] They need people who can guide them into the right kinds of 
graduate programs. They need people who can support them through 
graduate work and help them to find a successful career.
    Now, when we started these awards in 1996, we did it to encourage 
more scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to become mentors, and to 
encourage more minorities, women, and young people with disabilities to 
seek careers in science and math and technological fields. Today I want 
to announce a new step in this area. The Federal Government supports the 
work, literally, of tens of thousands of scientists and engineers at 
national labs and universities all across the country. If it were up to 
George and me, we'd support the work of many more. But these are tens of 
thousands of potential mentors working for our country through your tax 
dollar investments.
    Today I'm directing the National Science and Technology Council to 
report back to me in 6 months with comprehensive recommendations about 
how we can use this fabulous resource to generate more mentors, to touch 
more kids, in a way that will have a huge positive impact on this 
problem we're trying to attack.
    If every scientist and engineer who is doing something as a direct 
result of Federal investment were to become a committed, dedicated 
mentor, think what it would mean: a teenager from rural Tennessee 
reaching for the stars as a NASA technician; an inner-city child joining 
a clinical team that discovers a cure for cancer at the nearest teaching 
hospital; a first-generation American helping to build the next 
generation of the Internet.
    Henry Adams once said that teachers affect eternity because they can 
never tell where their influence stops. I believe the same can be said 
about mentors. And I thank you, each and every one of you, for what you 
have done to help our country reach its full potential.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:52 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the 
White House. In his remarks, he referred to Judith A. Winston, Executive 
Director, President's Initiative on Race.