Question-and-Answer Session With Students at Farragut High School in Farragut, Tennessee

June 14, 1983

Shirley Mynatt. [Inaudible] -- we would be very pleased if we could get you to read some of these lines to us. I can find a place with my favorite passage -- I don't know about theirs. But I wonder if I could get you to do that.

The President. Well, I was tipped off that you were going to ask me that and what your favorite passage was -- --

Mrs. Mynatt. You even know my favorite passage -- [inaudible].

The President. -- -- and so, I just have it on a piece of paper here in my pocket. [Laughter]

Mrs. Mynatt. Well, that's very good, because I just happen to have it marked in my book with a note card, too, so I could be sure to find the place.

We really would be pleased if you would -- [inaudible].

The President. Well, I don't know whether I'm trying out for a part or not. [Laughter]

Mrs. Mynatt. You might get it.

The President. Well, yes, Macbeth and I had -- I studied Shakespeare in high school. It was required. But it was well worthwhile. And, as a matter of fact, I once played Shakespeare, but that was in college. We did ``Taming of the Shrew,'' but did it in modern costume, and it was very successful.

But this is Macbeth's lines when the word has been brought to him of the death of Lady Macbeth -- and, as you know, how the forces of evil had seized him because of his ambition and then to the point that he was almost without feeling. And he said, ``Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle. Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.''

I hope that none of you ever get that pessimistic or that cynical about life. I think that humankind is very important, and their lives are not as futile as he would have us believe; but he'd done it unto himself.

I'm not going to go on talking here because I know we've only got a few minutes on the schedule that they have for us. But I was also told that you might have some questions. And I always feel that you must have, some time or other, said to yourselves, ``If I could only ask him, I'' -- [laughter] -- well, go ahead. And let's spend our time doing that if we can.

Do you have -- yes.

Q. Mr. President, I'd like to know what type of advice do you have to offer for anyone who is having trouble getting through school.

The President. Trouble in getting through school?

Q. Excuse me?

The President. Did you say getting -- trouble -- --

Q. What type of advice would you have to offer for anyone who is having trouble getting through school?

Mrs. Mynatt. If they're having problems with their schooling.

The President. Ah.

Well, yes, I would because it is so important. And sometimes those troubles can come and go. And if you mean just troubles scholastically or -- --

Q. Right.

The President. Then, I'd seek help. I'd go to teachers and let them know how much you really want to make it, and it isn't a case of being careless or not trying, that you want to make it. And I think you'd be surprised how much help you'll get.

Q. Mr. President, at our age, was the Presidency a goal, or did it just come about later in your life?

The President. That's a very funny thing. It wasn't a goal in any way. As a matter of fact -- it's funny what life does to you -- not too many years ago, I would have been willing to bet the house and farm and everything that there was no way that I would ever aspire to public office.

I was very happy in the career that I had in Hollywood and thought that that -- I've always believed that you pay your way. So, taking advantage of the fact that I was a performer and, thus, recognized and so forth, I would campaign for people -- candidates that I believed in, help at fundraisers and so forth, the causes that I believed in, and thought, there, I was paying my way. I was doing what I should: return a little something for how good life had been to me. And it really came about almost by accident.

I made a speech that was carried on nationwide television on behalf of the Goldwater candidacy in '64. And it attracted quite a bit of attention. And 2 years later, the election for Governor in California -- the party had been torn to pieces by that '64 campaign. It was in a shambles. And they kept after me to run. And I, at first, just, you know, literally threw them out of the house and said, ``Go away. Don't bother me.'' [Laughter]

And they kept on to the point that I -- one night, Nancy and I -- we found we couldn't sleep. We were saying -- because they kept putting it on the basis that I offered the only chance to win and to bring the party back together -- finally, we were saying to each other, ``Well, could we live with ourselves if they're right and we're wrong,'' and finally gave in.

And, you know, I think the truth is that I gave in really thinking that it wouldn't go any farther than the election, and then I'd be free again. I was halfway through the election when I said, ``Wait a minute. If I win -- [laughter] -- I've got a 4-year contract.'' And that's how it started.

But I have to tell you, that fate can be very kind, because there, in that job, I found the most fulfillment that was more exciting than anything I'd ever done in my life.

Yeah?

Q. Mr. President, how do you compare the education of today with the education when you went to school?

The President. Well now, I've just been through a couple of panels and meeting with teachers from all over Tennessee, and I've been in a panel that was just held here in your building, on the Governor's program here for merit pay for teachers. So, you'll have to realize that I am talking about education somewhere else than here. But there has been a decline in the quality of education.

But I hasten to say I understand and -- one of the reasons I'm here is I know that here in this particular school and in much of Tennessee, you have stayed ahead of the rest of the country. You have not suffered that decline that has been so apparent, particularly in some of our large city schools.

But the difference that I have seen is that -- I think frankly, and it's all our fault -- and by ``ours'' I mean parents and the rest of us that went along before you -- I think we tried to make it too easy for you. When I was going to school, for example, English was required for 4 years, and mathematics was required for 3 years in high school. Science was required for at least 2 years. You had required courses -- language was required -- I took Latin and then 2 years of French, as required -- and I think that we've dropped a lot of the required courses. And very frankly, I think that you need someone requiring -- because left to your choice now, you haven't had the experience to know that you might find an interest in a different direction -- like me finding out this job that I just answered about, instead of the one that I had.

And I think that this commission that we've had on excellence in education that has recommended a return to more required courses and so forth is going to be a big help.

Q. Mr. President, I was just wondering, with all the problems our country has with unemployment, when I graduate from college, how hard is it going to be for me to find a job?

The President. When you graduate from college. Well, I think all the signs of recovery are very much with us, and I think we'll have recovery long before then. But this is what's also important in your education now. I think we're in a period -- we've been in these periods before -- but in a period of change where some of the things that were legitimate jobs in the past are no longer going to exist. There's going to be a whole new era in high technology and so forth, and you should be prepared and ready for those jobs. But I am quite sure that recovery is going to come long before then, and there will be employment opportunities.

As a matter of fact, you'd be surprised if you take a metropolitan, big city newspaper, the Sunday edition, where they run all the classified ads, even today with 10 million unemployed -- there were 10 percent unemployed -- even today you will find that those Sunday editions -- the Washington paper, the New York papers, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles -- you will gind those papers will carry as many as 50 and 60 pages of help wanted ads. But when you read them, you realize that these are employers advertising for people, and the people that are presently unemployed do not have the skills and the training for those jobs. This is why what we're doing at the Federal level, one of our programs is aimed at retraining for people who are unemployed in these new lines of work.

So, there'll be jobs for you.

Mrs. Mynatt. [Inaudible] -- we have time for one more question -- [inaudible].

The President. Oh, dear!

Q. Thank you. Over the past 20 years or so, the Supreme Court has made several decisions concerning separation of church and state. And I wonder how you feel about the direction that we appear to be heading in this matter.

The President. Well, I happen to differ with the decision that took prayer out of schools. I don't think the Constitution says anything about -- it says, quite to the contrary, that Congress shall make no laws pertaining to religion, either establishing it or preventing the practice thereof.

And we are still a nation under God. It says so on our coins -- ``In God We Trust''. It's over the very hall of the Supreme Court. And I have been very interested and have been trying to promote and am still trying to promote a constitutional change, a constitutional amendment that will restore the right of prayer.

Now, that would be nonsectarian prayer so that no one church is favored over another. And to those who don't believe, they would -- it would be voluntary -- they wouldn't have to participate. But I don't think that the Constitution ever meant to -- it's meant to separate church and state so that we couldn't have an enforced state religion. I don't think it was ever meant to separate our government or our people from religion.

Could I take -- there were just -- there were three more hands up there, I know our fellows think it's desperate. Suppose I -- well, there's four hands really. You.

Q. Okay. Mr. President, do you think that a woman could handle being President as far as her relations with the foreign diplomats, consider most of them are male?

The President. I think that a woman could handle being President. I have just come from a summit conferenceS in which one of the star performers was Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of England. And, of cgourse, you could.

You know, Will Rogers -- you've heard that name -- great comedian and philosopher years ago, and not only appeared on the stage but had a column in most of the newspapers in which he gave his little philosophical thoughts. He once said many years ago that women were going to keep on trying to be more and more like men until pretty soon they wouldn't know any more than the men do. [Laughter]

No, certainly, I think that -- I think you will all live to see the day when a woman will be President of the United States. Why not?

Mrs. Mynatt. Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

The President. Oh, teacher says I have to quit.

It's been a great pleasure, and I wish that I could have made the answers shorter so that I could have taken all the rest of the questions there. But, listen, stay with it and what you're doing here. It may sometimes seem as if it isn't very important, but -- and you'll wonder why -- but there's a reason for all of it. And you'll look back -- and I just told in there on the panel a little experience of my own.

I once sat in the principal's office at about your stage of life. And the principal, for very good reason, said to me, ``I don't care what you think of me now.'' He said, ``I am more concerned with what you'll think of me 15 years from now.'' And 15 years later, I had the satisfaction and the real rewarding experience of facing him again and telling him I understood now, 15 years later, what it was he was trying to do and thanking him for what he was trying to do. So, stay with it. Don't give up.

Note: The exchange began at 3:07 p.m. in the English class in Room 203 of Farragut High School. Following his meeting with the students, he met with Tennessee Republican Party leaders in the school library. He then traveled to Albuquerque, N. Mex., where he met with New Mexico Republican Party leaders at the Albuquerque Hilton Hotel. He remained overnight at the hotel.