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Public Papers - 1989 - September

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Young American Medals for Bravery and Service


A thousand apologies for keeping this distinguished group. Please sit, sit, sit.

Let me just say first to the Attorney General, Director Morris and Director Sessions, David Runkel, and especially the medal winners, welcome to the White House. It will be my honor in just a moment to bestow the Young American Medal for Bravery and the Young American Medal for Service for 1987 and '88.

Emerson said that a hero is no braver than anyone else, only brave for 5 minutes longer. Two young people with us today know these minutes of bravery, minutes where terrible events seem to occur in slow motion, minutes facing death and challenging eternity.

One of the recipients of a Young American Medal for Bravery is 12-year-old Angela Marie Campanoli, and she attends the seventh grade at Aylen in Washington State -- Aylen Junior. Angela, her mother Yvonne, her brother Bryan, and a friend were at the beach in Maui on October 5th, 1988. Three Japanese tourists -- a man, his wife, and their little boy -- were also at the same beach that same day. The Japanese child got caught in a current and started to panic. His parents, seeing this, dashed into the rough surf to rescue him. Others got to the child first. But the mother was dragged by a relentless current out to sea. Angela quickly dove in, swam to the woman, and held her head above water. Her brother, Bryan, was also right there. And together Bryan and Angela brought the woman back to shore, back to her family, back to her life.

We are also here to honor the late John Bankston of Dallas. On July 17, 1987, a church bus and a van carrying 43 people from a children's camp were swept into the currents of the Guadalupe River in Kerr County, Texas. Pounding waves scattered the group, toppled the bus and the van. The youngsters who survived clung to branches and formed a human chain to cross the river. One of them was Jeff Bowman, who had a cast on his leg from a broken ankle. John carried Jeff on his back for 2 hours until they reached a tree. Jeff let go and grabbed a log that was floating downstream. John clung to the tree and was never seen again. He was 17 years old.

Rosie, John, we know that a parent's grief is a special hardship, but we hope that your grief is tempered now by pride -- a pride in your hero, your son, John.

In California a different kind of tragedy almost occurred. On April 27, 1988, an armed student walked into the English class of San Gabriel High School. Seventy students suddenly became seventy hostages. One of them is with us today: Ruben Ortega. This young man threw his life into the balance, and because of his bravery his classmates are safe and well today.

When I was Ruben's age, Will Rogers said that being a hero is about the shortest lived profession on Earth. But Will Rogers' wry humor is belied by his own life: the man who lightened the worries of the Great Depression with laughter and good will. So, for some, bringing hope and even saving lives is not a matter of minutes. It's a matter of months and years of giving; it's a habit, a habit of the heart. And that is why we give the Young American Medal for Service.

Today we have with us Freddy Torres, of East Boston High School. At age 18, Freddy spent countless hours as a peer leader, inspiring hundreds of young people to stay away from drugs and learn about the dangers of AIDS. And Freddy went beyond the classroom, taking his message where it is needed the most -- to the streets. It was out of class that Freddy persuaded young people, often dropouts, to enlist in drug and AIDS prevention programs.

I've said that from now on in America any definition of a successful life must include service to others. And by this definition, John Philip Donovan, of River Vale, New Jersey, is about as successful as you can be. Last year, 17, John served his community in many ways: as a leader of a Boy Scout troop with learning and other disabled scouts as members, as a fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy, bringing in 00 as a leader of Students Against Drunk Driving, and many other activities.

Sean Fox, Ethel, Washington, is another young American who cares enough to act. He organized a food bank for Toledo, Washington, involved his parents, mayor, school principal, and other community leaders in the drive. And because of Sean's work, the food bank serves more than 80 families in need.

Vicki Lynn Urick, of Alvin, Texas, has dedicated her efforts to cleaning up local beaches, restoring dunes along the Texas coast. She also started a nationwide aluminum can drive to restore the battleship Texas, and has been a leader in many other projects.

These services may not be as dramatic as pulling someone from the surf or subduing a gunman, but Freddy, John, Sean, and Vicki know something very profound: that it is in the daily accumulation of small acts of kindness that life can be improved -- and often, that lives can be saved.

Let me offer one last thought: Sometimes we lose sight of the vast majority of young Americans who are doing their best to better this world. So, for those who worry about the future, perhaps they ought to take a look at these young Americans. You and I know that in the future, our country will be in good hands. I've never been more confident of that because it's going to be in hands like this.

And now, Attorney General, it is my honor to join you in helping pass out these medals. And thank you all for coming, and congratulations to everybody.

Note: The President spoke at 11:46 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his opening remarks, he referred to Attorney General Richard L. Thornburgh; Stanley E. Morris, Deputy Director of National Drug Control Policy; William S. Sessions, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and David R. Runkel, Assistant to the Attorney General for Public Affairs.

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