Remarks at a Ceremony Honoring Hispanic Excellence in Education

September 14, 1984

The President. Well, thank you all very much, and welcome to the White House. Buenas tardes.

This is National Hispanic Heritage Week, and I know you've been told already, and I can think of no better way of topping off the week's activities than with a ceremony that highlights the invaluable role of education.

With a median age of 23, compared to 31 for non-Hispanics, as a group, Americans of Hispanic descent are younger than their fellow countrymen. And this enormously increases the importance of education to the Hispanic community.

It's encouraging to observe, in recent years, the marked improvement in the level of schooling of young Hispanics. Since 1970 the percentage of college graduates has doubled, and the number of Hispanics finishing high school has increased dramatically. What we see is a picture of a group of our citizens on the move.

Americans of Hispanic descent are moving into the business and professional community as never before. They -- and that includes some of you with us today -- are playing a major role throughout this administration. This generation of young Americans of Hispanic descent, due to an expanding economy and increasing opportunity, will have it within its grasp to achieve more and advance further than any generation of Hispanics at any time, in any country of the world.

And this is especially true for the young people who are here today. I know you've been selected because you've demonstrated superior academic skills, outstanding leadership, or exemplary service to your community.

I want to congratulate all of you for your personal standards and for what you've already accomplished. I know your families are proud of you, and so am I. We want you to soar like eagles in the coming years as you finish your education. We want you to shine in whatever endeavor you choose when you get out of school.

We also hope you'll help others along -- others who may be having a difficult time. The dropout rate among Hispanic students is still far from acceptable. I'm asking Secretary Bell to look into this, but let's not kid ourselves: There are no easy answers. We need your support in letting your peers, other young Hispanics, know just how vital it is to stay in school and get an education. You can help them understand what a bright future beckons if they'll just take advantage of their educational opportunities.

Perhaps some of you in the not too distant future may be teachers yourselves. And I can think of no other profession which offers as much of a chance to help others in such a meaningful way, doing things that will change people's lives.

And today, thanks to the efforts of responsible people all over the United States, there is a new commitment to excellence in education. In the past 4 years, more than half of our country's 16,000 school districts have increased the number of credits required in subjects fundamental to a good education. And by 1985 almost 40 percent more will have raised their standards.

All 50 States have now convened task forces on education. Forty-one have upped their graduation requirements in just the past 3 years; 34 of them did so since April of last year. Forty-two States have begun initiatives to improve teacher preparation or certification, and 20 have enacted or endorsed master teacher, career ladder, or merit pay programs to attract top students -- perhaps like some of you here -- attract them into the teaching profession and to reward our best teachers.

There's new emphasis on discipline and evidence of increased parental involvement -- irreplaceable assets that money can't buy.

And as for money, the overall resources committed to education in this country in the last 4 years have increased by 32.4 percent. And that's not money being taxed away by the Federal Government and sent back to local areas with Federal guidelines and bureaucratic mandates and a kind of a Federal carrying charge. This increase represents a local investment by concerned citizens and parents. It represents more local authority, more community control, and more responsibility in the hands of those directly involved.

Perhaps one of the most heartening trends has been the emergence of a new spirit and direct support of education by the business community, professional associations, and fraternal associations. Today we're especially proud of the part the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is taking in helping Hispanic students. This event today wouldn't have been possible without them. The scholarship program that they're starting will be helping some of you get through college.

I want to personally thank Hector Barreto and his big-hearted amigos for what they're doing. Hector, and men and women like him, struggled long and hard, overcame great obstacles to get where they are. Today he's a successful businessman; yet he started out picking potatoes. He's someone young Hispanics can look up to.

Today we honor some giants in the field of education -- individuals to whom all Americans owe a debt of gratitude. And it's my pleasure to present to them these outstanding leadership awards of the Department of Education. Their contributions are improving the well-being of their fellow Americans of Hispanic descent and of the country as a whole.

And I'm especially happy that we're able to honor the late Dr. Rivera. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a private session here at the White House last year. I found him to be a thoughtful man, and he will be missed.

We're grateful for him and for the invaluable contributions all of our honorees here have made. These recipients are heroes of a better life, heroes of increased opportunity, heroes who use their time, energy, and creative talents to help the young.

Now, Secretary Bell, I believe you have the list of recipients.

Secretary Bell. Mr. President, our first awardee -- and I think it's appropriate that we start with him -- is the famous Jaime Escalante. The Los Angeles teacher received nationwide publicity for his outstanding work in teaching mathematics, bringing students clear up through calculus. It's attracted so much attention, he's been written up in national magazines. So, it's a pleasure to present him to you as the first award receiver.

And secondly, Mr. President, we honor Dr. Thomas Rivera. Sadly, as you just indicated, Dr. Rivera died almost a year ago. And as the chancellor of the University of California at Riverside and as professor of Spanish literature, he attained many distinctions in the field of education. And it's a real pleasure to present to you his widow, Concepcion, who will accept the award on his behalf.

The second awardee, Mr. President -- you may not have heard this is his birthday today -- is Dr. Edward Aguirre. He's chairman of the board of trustees of the National Hispanic University, and he's a former U.S. Commissioner of Education. In fact, he followed me as Commissioner of Education. So, I'm pleased to present Dr. Aguirre to you.

Next, Mr. President, Dr. Pilar Barbosa de Rosario -- began teaching while still a teenager, a very outstanding author, a very distinguished professor and highly respected educator, accomplished wonders in Puerto Rico, and is dean of the Puerto Rican historians and an educator that we've been too long in honoring. And I'm pleased to present Dr. de Rosario to you now.

Next, Mr. President, is the president of one of our outstanding universities that's serving Hispanic youth. Dr. Miguel Nevarez -- president of Pan American University, a long-time educator, even an activist for attaining more education for Hispanics, a very distinguished executive. It was my privilege to give the commencement address at his campus last year. And he's highly regarded in the Rio Grande Valley as an outstanding educator, and I'm proud to present him to you.

And, now, Mr. President, Francisco Sanchez. We call him ``Frank'' Sanchez, superintendent of schools from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mr. President, he was a member and a leader in our National Commission on Excellence in Education. He's a trustee on the college board that gives these SAT tests. And we hope we're soon going to be able to announce that they're going up a little bit. So, it's a pleasure to present to you an outstanding school leader, widely known nationally, Frank Sanchez.

And, now, Mr. President, another distinguished university president, Dr. Lauro Cavazos, president of Texas Tech University and Texas Tech University of Health Sciences Center. He presides as president over two institutions. He's also an author, an instructor in medical sciences, a very distinguished academic leader in higher education, and I'm honored to present him to you, Mr. President.

And then, Mr. President, Olympia Rosado -- a teacher, a very outstanding author, and today, a newspaper columnist, Mr. President, widely acclaimed for her professional and personal accomplishments. She's a great champion for education for youth. And we couldn't make these awards without including Olympia in this group, and it's a pleasure to present her to you.

Then lastly, Mr. President, Esther Buckley, who is a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and a math and science teacher of great distinction from Laredo, Texas. And Esther wasn't able to be here because there's a Commission meeting today. And so we will present her award to you, but I wanted to mention her as also an award recipient.

Thank you very much, Mr. President, for honoring these educators.

The President. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:19 p.m. at the ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House. In addition to the educators, 80 Hispanic youth, designated by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for their achievements, were represented at the ceremony.