[Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents Volume 32, Number 23 (Monday, June 10, 1996)]
[Pages 987-993]
[Online from the Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at the Princeton University Commencement Ceremony in Princeton, 
New Jersey

June 4, 1996

    Thank you very much. President Shapiro, members of the faculty, 
alumni, to parents and friends of this graduating class, especially to 
the graduates of the class of 1996. Let me thank your co-presidents, 
George Whitesides and Susan Suh, who came to say hello to me this 
morning, and compliment your valedictory address by Bryan Duff and the 
Latin address by Charles Stowell. I actually took 4 years of Latin in 
high school. [Laughter] And even without being prompted, I knew I was 
supposed to laugh when he was digging me about going to Yale. [Laughter]
    I want to also thank Princeton for honoring the high school teachers 
and the faculty members here for teaching, for today we celebrate the 
learning of the graduates, and we should be honoring the teachers who 
made their learning possible. I thank you for that.
    It's a great honor to be here in celebrating Princeton's 250 years. 
I understand that Presidents are only invited to speak here once every 
50 years. President Truman and President Cleveland--you've got to say 
one thing, for all the troubles the Democrats have had in the 20th 
century, we've had pretty good timing when it comes to Princeton over 
the last 100 years. [Laughter]
    I want to thank President Shapiro for his distinguished service to 
higher education in our country. I thank Princeton for its long and 
noble service to our Nation. I also am deeply indebted to Princeton for 
the contributions it has made to our administration and to my 

[[Page 988]]

    My Press Secretary, Mike McCurry, sat in these seats in 1976. I'm 
sure that Princeton had something to do with the fact that he not only 
thinks but talks so fast. The Chair of our National Economic Council, 
Laura Tyson, was a Princeton professor then, and Mike McCurry's thesis 
adviser. And you got back from me Professor Alan Blinder, who was a 
distinguished member of the Council of Economic Advisers and the Vice 
Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and a brilliant contributor to our 
efforts to improve the economy. I want to thank Alan Blinder here among 
his colleagues and his students for what he has done.
    I thank Tony Lake and Bruce Reed and John Hilley and Peter Bass, all 
members of our staff who graduated from Princeton. Two Princeton 
graduates who are no longer living, Vic Raiser and his son, Monty, were 
great friends of mine. Vic's wife, Molly, is here, our protocol chief. 
And if it hadn't been for him I might not be here today, and I want to 
recognize their contributions to Princeton and Princeton's gifts to 
    I also want to say that one of my youngest staff members is a 
classmate here, Jon Orszag. And when the ceremony is over, I'd like to 
have you back at work, please. [Laughter]
    I would like to talk to the senior class today about not only the 
importance of your education, but the importance of everyone else's 
education to your future. At every pivotal moment in American history, 
Princeton, its leadership, its students have played a crucial role. Many 
of our Founding Fathers were among your first sons. A president of 
Princeton was the only university president to sign the Declaration of 
Independence. This hall was occupied by the British in 1776, liberated 
by Washington's army in 1777, and as the president said, sanctified 
forever to American history by the deliberations of the Continental 
Congress in 1783.
    In 1896, the last time there was a class of '96, when Princeton 
celebrated its 150th anniversary and, as has been said, Grover Cleveland 
was President, Professor Woodrow Wilson gave his very famous speech, 
``Princeton in the Nation's Service.'' I read that speech before I came 
here today. And I'd like to read just a brief quote from it: ``Today we 
must stand as those who would count their force for the future. Those 
who made Princeton are dead, those who shall keep it and better it still 
live. They are even ourselves.'' What he said about Princeton 100 years 
ago applied then to America and applies to America even more today.
    At the time of that speech 100 years ago, America was living as it 
is living today, through a period of enormous change. The industrial age 
brought incredible new opportunities and great new challenges to our 
people. Princeton, through Wilson and his contemporaries, was at the 
center of efforts to master these powerful forces of change in a way 
that would enable all Americans to benefit from them and protect our 
time-honored values.
    Less than 3 years after he left this campus, Woodrow Wilson became 
President of the United States. He followed Theodore Roosevelt as the 
leader of America's response to that time of change. We now know it as 
the Progressive Era.
    Today, on the edge of a new century, all of you, our class of '96, 
are living through another time of great change, standing on the 
threshold of a new Progressive Era. Powerful forces are changing forever 
our jobs, our neighborhoods, the institutions which shape our lives. For 
many Americans, this is a time of enormous opportunity. But for others, 
it's a time of profound insecurity. They wonder whether their old skills 
and their enduring values will be enough to keep up with the challenges 
of this new age.
    In 1996, like 1896, we really do stand at the dawn of a profoundly 
new era. I have called it the age of possibility because of the 
revolution in information and technology and market capitalism sweeping 
the globe, a world no longer divided by the cold war. Just consider 
this: There's more computer power in a Ford Taurus every one of you can 
buy and drive to the supermarket than there was in Apollo 11 when Neil 
Armstrong took it to the moon. Nobody who wasn't a high-energy physicist 
had even heard of the World Wide Web when I became President. And now 
even my cat, Socks, has his own page. [Laughter] By the time a child 
born today is old enough to read, over 100 million people will be on the 

[[Page 989]]

    This age of possibility means that more Americans than ever before 
will be able to live out their dreams. Indeed, for all of you in the 
class of '96, this age of possibility is actually an age of high 
probability, in large measure because of the excellent education you 
celebrate today.
    But we know that not all Americans see the future that way. We know 
that about half of our people in this increasingly global economy are 
working harder and harder without making any more money; that about half 
of the people who lose their jobs today don't ever find another job 
doing as well as they were doing in their previous one.
    We know that, therefore, our mission today must be to ensure that 
all of our people have the opportunity to live out their dreams in a 
nation that remains the world's strongest force for peace and freedom, 
for prosperity, for our commitment that we can respect our diversity and 
still find unity.
    This is about more than money. Opportunity is what defines this 
country. For 220 years, the idea of opportunity for all and the freedom 
to seize it have literally been the defining elements of America. They 
were always ideals never perfectly realized, but always our history has 
been a steady march of striving to live up to them. Having these ideals 
achievable, imaginable for all is an important part of maintaining our 
sense of democracy and our ability to forge an American community with 
such disparate elements of race and religion and ethnicity across so 
many borders that could so easily divide this country.
    And so I say to you, creating opportunity for all, the opportunity 
that everyone has, that many of you are now exercising, dreaming about 
your future--that is what you must do in order to make sure that this 
age of possibility is really that for all Americans.
    When I took office, I was concerned about the uncertain steps our 
country was taking for that future. We'd let our deficit get out of 
hand; unemployment had exploded; job growth was the slowest since the 
Great Depression. The country seemed to be coming apart when we needed 
desperately to be coming together.
    I wanted to chart a new course, rooted first in growth and 
opportunity: first, to put our economic house in order so that our 
businesses could prosper and create jobs; second, to tap the full 
potential of the new global economy; third, to invest in our people so 
that they would have the capacity to meet the demands of this new age 
and to improve their own lives.
    This strategy is in place, and it is working. The deficit is half of 
what it was. The Government is now the smallest it's been in 30 years. 
As a percentage of the Federal work force, the Federal Government is the 
smallest it's been since 1933, before the beginning of the New Deal. We 
signed over 200 trade agreements. Our exports are at an all-time high. 
Fifteen million of our hardest pressed people have gotten tax cuts. Most 
of the small businesses have as well.
    We've invested in research and defense transformations. We've 
invested in new technologies, and we've invested in environmental 
protection and sustainable development. And I will say, parenthetically, 
the great challenge of your age will be to prove that we can bring 
prosperity and opportunity to people all across the globe without 
destroying the environment, which is the precondition of our successful 
existence. And all of you will have to meet that challenge, and I 
challenge you to do it.
    Our economy, while most of the rest of the world was in recession, 
has produced 8\1/2\ million new jobs, the lowest combined rates of 
inflation, unemployment, and home mortgages in three decades, the lowest 
deficit as a percentage of our income of any advanced economy in the 
world, 3.7 million more American homeowners, and record numbers of new 
small businesses in each of the last 3 years.
    We are doing well, but we must do better if we are going to make the 
promise of this new age real to all Americans. That means we have to 
grow faster. How fast can we grow? No one knows the exact answer to 
that. But if we look at the long term, if we believe in our people and 
invest in them and their opportunities, and our people take 
responsibility, the sky is the limit.
    We must look with the greatest skepticism toward those who promise 
easy and quick solutions. We know that the course that leads to long-
term growth is in the minds and spir- 

[[Page 990]]

its and ideas and discipline and effort of people like those of you who 
graduate here today. We are on the right course; we must accelerate it, 
not veer from it.
    We have to finish the job we started in 1993 and balance the budget, 
not only because we want to free you and your children of the legacy of 
debt but because that will keep interest rates down, increase savings, 
expand companies, start new small businesses, help more families buy 
homes and more parents send their children to college.
    We know we have to continue to fight for fair and open trade because 
we proved now if other markets are as open to our products and services 
as we are to theirs, we'll do just fine. We know we have to do more to 
help all Americans deal with the economic changes of the present day in 
a more positive way by investing in the future and targeting tax cuts to 
help Americans deal with their own problems and build strong families.
    We know we have to continue to invest in the things that a 
Government needs to invest in, including research and development and 
technology and environmental protection. We know that since so many 
people will have to change jobs more often than in the past, we have to 
give families the security to know if they change jobs they can still 
carry with them access to health care and pensions and education for a 
lifetime. But finally and most importantly, if we really want 
Americans--all Americans--to participate in the future that is now at 
your fingertips, we have got to increase the quality and the level of 
education not just for the graduates of Princeton and Georgetown and 
Yale and the State universities of this country but for all the American 
people. It is the only way to achieve that goal.
    The very fact that we have been here or our forebearers have for 250 
years is testimony to the elemental truth that education has always been 
important to individual Americans. And for quite a long time, education 
has been quite important to our whole country. Fifty years ago when the 
class of '46 was here, coming in after World War II, the GI bill helped 
to build a great American middle class and a great American economy. But 
today, more than ever before in the history of the United States, 
education is the faultline, the great Continental Divide between those 
who will prosper and those who will not in the new economy.
    If you look at the census data, you can see what happens to hard-
working people who have a high school diploma or who drop out of high 
school and try to keep up in the job market but fall further and further 
behind. You can also see that if all Americans have access to education, 
it is no longer a faultline, it is a sturdy bridge that will lead us all 
together from the old economy to the new.
    Now, we have to work to give every American that kind of 
opportunity. And we've worked hard to do it, from increasing preschool 
opportunities, to improving the public school years, to increasing 
technology in our schools. And this spring the Vice President and I 
helped to kick off a NetDay in California where schools and businesses 
and civic leaders hooked up nearly 50 percent of the schools to the 
Internet in a single weekend. What I want to see is every schoolroom and 
every library in every school in America hooked up to the Internet by 
the end of the year 2000. We can do that.
    And I am very proud that I was asked to announce today that a 
coalition of high-tech companies, parents, teachers, and students are 
launching NetDay New Jersey this week to connect over a thousand schools 
in New Jersey to the Internet by this time next year. That will make a 
huge difference in making learning more democratic and information more 
accessible in this country. I thank them for that, every single person 
in New Jersey who will be a part of that.
    But we have to face the fact that that is not enough. We have to do 
more. Just consider the last hundred years. At the turn of the century, 
the progressives made it the law of the land for every child to be in 
school. Before then there was no such requirement. After World War II, 
we said 10 years are not enough, public schools should extend to 12 
years. And then, as I said, the GI bill and college loans threw open the 
doors of college to the sons and daughters of farmers and factory 
workers. And they have powered our economy ever since.
    America knows that higher education is the key to the growth we need 
to lift our country. And today that is more true than

[[Page 991]]

ever. Just listen to these facts. Over half the new jobs created in the 
last 3 years have been managerial and professional jobs. The new jobs 
require higher level skills. Fifteen years ago the typical worker with a 
college degree made 38 percent more than a worker with a high school 
diploma. Today, that figure is 73 percent more. Two years of college 
means a 20-percent increase in annual earnings. People who finish 2 
years of college earn a quarter of a million dollars more than their 
high school counterparts over a lifetime.
    Now, it is clear that America has the best higher education system 
in the world and that it is a key to a successful future in the 21st 
century. It is also clear that because of cost and other factors, not 
all Americans have access to higher education.
    I want to say today that I believe the clear facts of this time make 
it imperative that our goal must be nothing less than to make the 13th 
and 14th years of education as universal to all Americans as the first 
12 are today.
    We have put in place an unprecedented college opportunity strategy. 
Student loans can now be given directly to people who need them, with a 
provision to repay them based on the ability of the graduate to pay, 
based on income. This is a dramatic change which is making loans more 
accessible to young people who did not have them before. AmeriCorps, 
which by next year will have given over 65,000 young people the chance 
to earn their way through college by serving their country and their 
communities. More Pell grants, scholarships for deserving students every 
    Now we want to go further. We want to expand work-study so that a 
million students can work their way through college by the year 2000. We 
want to let people use money from their individual retirement accounts 
to help pay for college. We want every honor student in the top 5 
percent of every high school class in America to get a $1,000 
    And we also want to do some other things that I believe we must do 
to make 14 years of education the standard for every American. First, I 
have asked Congress to pass a $10,000 tax deduction to help families pay 
for the cost of all education after high school, $10,000 a year.
    Today I announce one more element to complete our college strategy 
and make those 2 years of college as universal as 4 years of high 
school--a way to do it, by giving families a tax credit targeted to 
achieve that goal and making clear that this opportunity requires 
responsibility to receive it.
    We should say to Americans who want to go to college, ``We will give 
you a tax credit to pay the cost of tuition at the average community 
college for your first year, or you can apply the same amount to the 
first year in a 4-year university or college. We will give you the exact 
same cut for the second year but only if you earn it by getting a B 
average the first year, a tax deduction for families to help them pay 
for education after high school, a tax credit for individuals to 
guarantee their first year of college and the second year if they earn 
    This is not just for those individuals, this is for America. Your 
America will be stronger if all Americans have at least 2 years of 
higher education.
    Think of it: We're not only saying to children from very poor 
families who think they would never be able to go to college, people who 
may not have stellar academic records in high school, ``If you're 
willing to work hard and take a chance, you can at least go to your 
local community college, and we'll pay for the first year. If you're in 
your twenties and you're already working, but you can't move ahead on a 
high school diploma, now you can go back to college. If you're a mother 
planning to go to work, but you're afraid you don't have the skills to 
get a good job, you can go to college. If you're 40 and you're worried 
that you need more education to support your family, now you can go part 
time, you can go at night. By all means, go to college and we'll pay the 
    I know this will work. When I was the Governor of my home State, we 
created academic challenge scholarships that helped people who had good 
grades and who had good behavior to go to college. But my proposal today 
builds mostly on the enormously successful HOPE Scholarships in Georgia, 
which guaranteed any student in the State of Georgia free college as 
long as they had a B average. This year those scholarships are helping 
80,000 students in the State of Geor- 

[[Page 992]]

gia alone, including 70 percent of the freshmen class at the University 
of Georgia.
    In recognition of Georgia's leadership, I have decided to call this 
proposal America's HOPE Scholarships. And I want to thank the Governor 
of Georgia, Zell Miller, who developed this idea. I also would like to 
recognize him--he came up here with me today--and thank him for the 
contribution that he is now going to make to all of America's future.
    Governor Miller, where are you? Would you please stand up? Here he 
is. Thank you. [Applause.]
    Let me say, as all of you know, money doesn't grow on trees in 
Washington, and we're not financing deficits anymore. I'm proud to say, 
as a matter of fact, for the last 2 years our budget has been in 
surplus, except for the interest necessary to pay the debt run up in the 
several years before I became President. So we are doing our best to pay 
for these programs. And this program will be paid for by budgeted 
savings in the balanced budget plan. We cannot go back to the days of 
something for nothing or pretend that in order to invest in education we 
have to sacrifice fiscal responsibility.
    Now, this program will do three things. It will open the doors of 
college opportunity to every American, regardless of their ability to 
pay. Education at the typical community college will now be free. And 
the very few States that have tuition above the amount that we can 
afford to credit, I would challenge those States to close the gap. We're 
going to take care of most of the States. The rest of them should help 
us the last little way.
    Second, it will offer free tuition and training to every adult 
willing to work for it. Nobody now needs to be stuck in a dead-end job 
or in unemployment. And finally, this plan will work because it will go 
to people who, by definition, are willing to work for it. It's America's 
most basic bargain. We'll help create opportunity if you'll take 
responsibility. This is the basic bargain that has made us a great 
    I know that here at the reunion weekend the class of '46 has 
celebrated its 50th reunion. And I want to just mention them one more 
time. Many members of the class of '46 fought in the Second World War. 
And they came home and laid down their arms and took up the 
responsibility of the future with the help of the GI bill. That's when 
our Nation did its part simply by giving them the opportunity to make 
the most of their own lives. And in doing that, they made America's most 
golden years.
    The ultimate lesson of the class of 1946 will also apply to the 
class of 1996 in the 21st century. Because of the education you have, if 
America does well, you will do very well. If America is a good country 
to live in you will be able to build a very good life.
    So I ask you never to be satisfied with an age of probability for 
only the sons and daughters of Princeton. You could go your own way in a 
society that, after all, seems so often to be coming apart instead of 
coming together. You will, of course, have the ability to succeed in the 
global economy, even if you have to secede from those Americans trapped 
in the old economy. But you should not walk away from our common 
    Again I will say this is about far more than economics and money. It 
is about preserving the quality of our democracy, the integrity of every 
person standing as an equal citizen before the law, the ability of our 
country to prove that no matter how diverse we get, we can still come 
together in shared community values to make each of our lives and our 
family's lives stronger and richer and better. This is about more than 
    The older I get and the more I become aware that I have more 
yesterdays than tomorrows, the more I think that in our final hours, 
which all of us have to face, very rarely will we say, ``Gosh, I wish 
I'd spent more time at the office,'' or, ``If only I'd just made a 
little more money.'' But we will think about the dreams we lived out, 
the wonders we knew when we were most fully alive. This is about giving 
every single, solitary soul in this country the chance to be most fully 
alive. And if we do that, those of you who have this brilliant 
education, who have been gifted by God with great minds and strong 
bodies and hearts, you will do very well, and you will be very happy.
    In 1914, Woodrow Wilson wrote as President, ``The future is clear 
and bright with the promise of the best things. We are all in the same 
boat. We shall advance and advance together with a new spirit.'' I wish 

[[Page 993]]

well, and I pray that you will advance, and advance together with a new 
    God bless you, and God bless America.

Note: The President spoke at 12 noon in the courtyard at Nassau Hall. In 
his remarks, he referred to Harold Shapiro, president, Princeton