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Public Papers - 1991 - June

Remarks at the James H. Groves Adult High School Commencement Ceremony in Seaford, Delaware

1991-06-11

Thank you so very much, and may I first thank our Governor. In my book, he deserves not just two introductions but as many as you want to give him. He's done a superb job. And he was one of the leaders in the classic Governors meeting at Charlottesville as we began to set and eventually set the national education goals for our great country.

I want to thank all of you for this warm welcome. I especially want to say what a glorious and wonderful day it is for the parents and the families that are here today. And, of course, I was very pleased to come over here with the former Governor and now our great Secretary of Education. He'll work you to death. Watch out. The guy is killing me because he is determined to see this America 2000 education program succeed. I told him I'd help, and I've done nothing else since I said that.

So, I'm delighted to be here. But I can't really think of any more important domestic challenge than the success of Lamar Alexander's and, I'll proudly say, my education program. And believe me, it is bipartisan. It isn't Republican; it isn't Democrat; it's not liberal; it's not conservative. It is good, sound educational policy for this, the greatest country on the face of the Earth.

I am delighted to see Bill Roth. I don't want to put a time mark on him, but he and I went to the Congress on exactly the same day -- elected on the same day in 1966 -- and he has represented this State with great distinction in a wide array of domestic matters and a wide array of foreign affairs matters. And so, I am pleased to be with him today.

I want to salute your principal, Wayne Meluney, who I'm told has done a superb job here; and your superintendent, Superintendent Frunzi, who we heard from a little bit today.

And finally, but perhaps most important, let me congratulate the graduates today, their friends and families. And I will say to Vicki -- who looked a little bit nervous up here as she walked up, but did a superb, a super job on her speech -- and to Bill Fritz sitting over here, what I got out of both you all's speeches is family, faith, and determination. If any three values ever came through, it was those. Thank you for giving us that great performance. Bill, thank you, sir.

I appreciate your being here. I understand it wasn't easy. After all, when you go to night school, you can't always make it to a graduation during the day. Most of you, hopefully, are getting some sleep somewhere along the line. And I remember when the teacher would want a note whenever you missed a day of school. And today I understand a few of you could have used a note for your employers explaining why you've been absent from work. I can't write notes for you, but I can thank all of the employers out there who have their priorities right, who give a day off for a momentous occasion like this.

The night school at Groves High School is one of the few of its kind in this country -- that's why Lamar and I wanted to come over here today -- a night school fully accredited to grant a regular high school diploma. This should teach something to all of us who care about American education. Groves provides a shining example of the kind of innovative approach to education that I have in mind when I challenge our communities all across this country to become a nation of students.

Many of you may know that back in April we came forth with this national education strategy -- we call it America 2000 -- to help our schools and students reach the six ambitious education goals that I referred to -- goals we've set for the year 2000. And that strategy moves toward the future on four tracks to achieve these six goals.

First, we start with building better and more accountable schools for today. Second, we want to create a new generation of American schools for tomorrow. And third, we've got to build a consensus that education doesn't end when your high school days are over. Lamar referred to my experimentation and hopefully learning with a computer. But all of us have to go back to school to continue our education -- really to continue to learn. It doesn't matter where we stand in life. Young and old, we must become a nation of students. Fourth -- fourth point -- we must focus beyond the four walls of the classroom and cultivate communities where learning can happen and will happen. We're working with the Governors, with education and business leaders and many others to challenge every community across this country to make this a national crusade to improve our schools.

I'm here to celebrate your part in this crusade. You're an example. You may not realize it, but you are an example to many across this country. You're a part in this crusade. We salute it -- your choice to become students again. And I was so moved by what Bill said and by Vicki's determination. Each one of you made the choice to take on tremendous odds and to triumph over indifference. You found your way back to school, and in so doing, you found your way forward in life.

And we're doing a better job now getting the message out that our young people should stay in school. But we sometimes forget to keep reaching out to those who don't stay in school. Too often, without intending to, we as a society act almost as if when you drop out, you drop off the end of the Earth. And that's just not true, and you're living proof that it's not true.

You know firsthand that when you drop out, you can almost hear the doors to opportunity slamming shut. But one door never closes. You can always return to school. One study shows that almost half of all students who drop out return to the classroom within 4 years. And in between, they learn the hard way that the world of work has little to offer for those who don't have diplomas. Most of the time, the good jobs and the promotions all go to people with the degree.

Programs like this one offer a way back to school -- a way up in the world. In a world of too many dashed hopes and dead ends, a school like Groves can open doors to a better future.

The diploma that you receive today tells the world that you've done more than meet the prescribed State standards. You've returned to the classroom, you've cracked the books, you've stayed up late studying and learning -- and you've made the grade. This diploma tells the world of your self-discipline and of your drive, and it testifies more eloquently than anyone ever can to the power of your will and your dreams. That, too, is what those valedictorian messages were about.

Many of you traveled a very tough road to get here. And we've heard today from Vicki, Bill -- how Vicki came to get a good education and then it was her children and her husband that taught her the true value of family. And we heard Bill, who most eloquently talked about dropping out before most of today's graduates, with all respect, were even born and how he came back to school 30 years later -- six kids, one heart attack later. And no, there's no link, I can testify, Bill, between the last two, six kids and the heart attack. [Laughter] But, look, here's the point. He came back to finish that degree. But the best thing, the best thing, sir, about your story is not what you managed to do but where you're going from here. And you've won a scholarship to study, I'm told, at Delaware Technical and Community College.

Each one of you, each one of you has a story. Consider Kathy Tucker. Fourteen years ago, Kathy got married. She went to work, she had a child -- and she left school. And she promised herself she'd come back to finish high school when her own son started kindergarten. It took a little longer, but she kept that promise. And today she collects her diploma, and she shows her three kids just what happens when you set a goal and refuse to let circumstance stand in your way. Now she's a living portrait, if you will, in self-determination and what it means to want an education so much that you'll work for it, you'll sacrifice for it, and you'll get it.

I know many of the parents graduating today believe becoming students again has helped them become better teachers of their own children, and I'm sure that's true. I want to say to Kathy Tucker and to all the parents before me here in the class of '91 who have worked so hard to get here: You've already taught your kids something. You've already taught them a lesson in the value of learning. You've set an example.

And finally, let me share a story about Rosemary Everton. She does not belong to today's class -- she graduated with the Groves class of 19 years ago. But her story ought to give you a glimpse of possibilities to come. Today, while you look back with quiet pride on all you've done to get here and the sacrifices you've made, Rosemary's story lets you know that the doors you've opened may lead to a destiny even you cannot yet imagine.

Rosemary Everton -- she got married; she dropped out at the age of 15, even before she got to high school. And at 16, with a baby and a full-time job, she decided to go back to school. And for 2 years, she took lessons right here at Groves 4 nights a week. And she cared for a baby and held down a job and built a sturdy marriage -- and she got her degree.

And she says, ``To this day, I still do not know how I did it. I do know that after receiving a high school diploma this way, I felt there was nothing I could not do. And that's what kept me going even when I felt there was no way I could do everything at once because I had already done everything at once.''

Well, today, Rosemary Everton and her husband have their own company. They employ more than 200 people. And she has this to say about what Groves taught her: ``I learned math, English, and history -- but something more important, I learned that there's nothing I can't do with patience and perseverance.''

For Rosemary, today's success began with a small but sensible dream: to get that diploma. And you'll have to decide what lies over your own horizon. You've already taken that first step -- that great step. And as Rosemary said, there's nothing you can't do.

Everyone here today has made it to this place, this moment, with the help and encouragement of others. Parents gave up a few evenings a week to babysit. Husbands or wives who did a few extra chores to let you go to class. Even children who worked hard to keep quiet around the house -- some of them, not all -- so you could study for that big test. And today, your family and friends share your joy and the pride you quite rightly feel. And let me say from the bottom of my heart, I know I do. And I know that Secretary Lamar Alexander does, and I know your Governor does.

But today you stand at center stage. I can't wait to shake hands with each and every one of you. It's a lot better than the Air Force Academy. They had 1,000 or something like that. [Laughter] And here we have some reasonable goal out there. [Laughter] But you've made it through school for one reason, and one reason alone -- because you came back. And when it would have been easy to make excuses, so easy to cop out, you made demands on yourself. And you made it your mission to learn. You made your demands and you lived up to them.

And once again, my thanks for this very warm welcome here today, and for this opportunity to share in this special day. So, let me extend an invitation, which I'm sure many can't accept because of what you're doing, but tomorrow on the South Lawn of the White House, I'm going to be talking to some other extraordinary Americans about the challenges that we face as a nation. And it would be an honor to have today's graduates join us tomorrow evening at the people's house -- at the White House.

Thank you all very, very much. And congratulations to each and every one of you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:57 p.m. in the high school auditorium. In his opening remarks, the President referred to Gov. Michael N. Castle of Delaware; Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, former Governor of Tennessee; Senator William V. Roth, Jr.; A. Wayne Meluney and George L. Frunzi, director of adult education and superintendent, respectively, for the Sussex County Vocational-Technical District; and student speakers Victoria Eastburn and William Fritz. Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, DC.

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