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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Charles Frankel Prizes for Distinguished Service to the Humanities


First, I want to welcome Dr. Lynne Cheney, the National Endowment Chairman, and then greet the members of the Council on the Humanities -- distinguished educators and, of course, most of all, our honorees. I also see Daphne Wood Murray out here, Director of the Institute of Museum Services, and Diane Payton, the Executive Director of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

So, let me welcome all of you. Barbara and I are just delighted to be here. And let me also say what a pleasure it is to be able to honor you, the first recipients of the National Endowment for the Humanities Charles Frankel Prize. Ralph Emerson once wrote: ``The scholar is a student of the world.'' Well, the Frankel Prize was created this year to recognize scholars who are teachers of the world -- those who have led a lifetime of study and whose scholarship has brought history, literature, philosophy, and other humanitarian disciplines to millions. And together they've helped bring an appreciation of the humanities to farms and inner cities and gentle, small towns, reaffirming the magic of the spoken and written word and fostering a variety of public programs -- in museums, in libraries, in schools -- showing how higher learning can spur nation and neighborhood.

We are a people curious about our own traditions and about those of other nations. And our cultural institutions are encouraging that curiosity with a variety of thoughtful, intellectually challenging programs. The Frankel Prize winners are leaders in this movement. The honorees are diverse, creative, an energetic group. And as such, they represent the vitality of the humanities in the Nation as a whole.

As a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Daniel Boorstin has told the American story to millions around the globe -- not to mention his role as Librarian of Congress Emeritus.

And as president of Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, Willard ``Sandy'' Boyd, former president of the University of Iowa, made world-renowned collections available to more Americans each year.

And then there's Clay Jenkinson. His characterization of Thomas Jefferson has enchanted audiences from schoolkids to senior citizens. And he's led the revival of the Chautauqua -- that institution that teaches about the ideas and lives of giant figures in history, philosophy, politics, and the arts.

And Americo Paredes -- author, folklorist, professor emeritus at the University of Texas in Austin. Illness prevents him from being with us today, but we want to honor his splendid efforts to bring the richness of Mexican-American culture to us all.

And finally, Patricia Bates, a national consultant on reading programs. Her scholar-led teaching and discussion groups have become a model for programs in libraries across the country.

You know the story about Benjamin Franklin dining out in Paris. And one of the other diners asked a question: What condition of man deserves the most pity? Everybody gave an example of what condition that might be. And Franklin's turn came, and his answer was: a lonesome man on a rainy day who does not know how to read. Well, for decades, you've shown the value of reading and thinking, of probing and questioning. And by instilling a greater understanding of the text, themes, and ideas of the humanities, you've inspired countless others to do the same. And for that, my congratulations!

And let me commend, too, the hundreds of nominees considered by the Endowment; the 26 members of the National Council on the Humanities which reviewed the nominations; and, yes, Lynne Cheney, whose idea it was to recognize those who have brought the humanities to a wider audience. Each of you reflects what Samuel Johnson called the salutory influence of example.

Each of you underscores the reasons that we gather here today. And that reason, of course, is one man's life, a very special life, the life of Charles Frankel, professor at Columbia and Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, a network television host, a writer, narrator, author of 12 books, including ``The Case For Modern Man.'' As the first President and Director of the National Humanities Center, Charles Frankel was a model scholar and citizen. And he knew the vital role that the humanities play in the life of our society -- and through enduring scholarship and concern.

And so, in honoring him, we honor the concepts of teaching and learning; in short, the joy of knowledge. So, let me present now -- Lynne, with your help -- the first Charles Frankel Prizes for Distinguished Service to the Humanities, and say on behalf of every citizen: America thanks you from the bottom of our hearts.

God bless you all. Thank you very, very much. And thank you for all you've done.

Note: The President spoke at 3:05 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.

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