Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Presidential Scholar Awards

June 23, 1986

Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House. Forgive me for being a few minutes late on a hot day like this, but by this time in the afternoon I'm usually behind schedule. Secretary Bennett, Ronna Romney, and guests here and ladies and gentlemen -- and especially you, our Presidential Scholars for 1986. It's an honor to be able to help celebrate all that you 141 young people have achieved. Congratulations as well to your teachers and parents -- they're the ones with the ear-to-ear smiles.

We celebrate on your own behalf, taking pride in your individual achievements. But we celebrate as well on behalf of the Nation that nurtured you and afforded you the opportunities to develop your talents to such an impressive degree. As my assistant, Mitch Daniels -- himself a former Presidential Scholar -- pointed out in his talk a few minutes ago, your country's proud of you now, and we're certain to be proud in the future. The inspiration that you as Presidential Scholars provide to all young Americans is of immense importance, especially now that we're working so hard to improve American education.

You may remember that during our first term, the Department of Education published a report called ``A Nation At Risk.'' The report concluded that the decline in our educational standards had become a crisis. If a foreign power had somehow done the damage to our schools that we ourselves had permitted, the report said, we might have considered it an act of war. Well, since then things have gotten better -- not by themselves but through hard work. Today all 50 States have task forces on education. Over 40 have stiffened their graduation requirements, and 31 have enacted or are considering plans to encourage excellence among their teachers. Perhaps most telling, SAT scores, the scholarship [scholastic] aptitude tests, have started to rise after almost two decades of decline.

And now here you are today, 141 of you, proof positive that American schools and students can indeed achieve great things. I can't acknowledge each of you, but perhaps by mentioning a few I can indicate how outstanding you all are. There's Neil Minkoff of Maine, at 14, the youngest Presidential Scholar ever. There's Keith MacKay of New Hampshire, who likes math so much he's opened his own computer business. And Anne Handwerger comes from right here in Washington, and at her young age she's already fallen in love with teaching. Indeed, Anne spent last summer teaching in a village in the African nation of Zimbabwe.

Kim Redlinger of Texas is the great-granddaughter of an Irish immigrant who was orphaned as her parents made the passage to America. Listen for a moment to Kim's own words: ``Today I go to a great school and have everything I need; a far cry from a little Irish orphan on a leaky immigrant ship. In fact, the greatest legacy that my family has given me is an unshakable belief in hard work and the knowledge that I must give something back to a country that has given me so much.'' Kim's comments on her family bring to mind a few thoughts about education that I'd like to share with you. We Americans are becoming more and more aware these days of the importance of a good education for the family. A strong family makes it so much easier to raise children and give them a good education.

What can we do about it? Well, first, speak out. Just as children need a nurturing environment, so do families. Men and women in positions of influence -- and here I mean not just government officials, but teachers, ministers, and, yes, actors and rock stars -- need to demonstrate respect for family life. Certainly, Secretary Bennett and others in our administration have been speaking out on behalf of the family unceasingly. But I draw perhaps even greater encouragement from signs that the wider culture is once again beginning to respect, even to celebrate, family life. It's no accident that ``Family Ties'' is one of my favorite TV shows. And then we in government have a special responsibility, a responsibility to see to it that government programs are structured in a way that makes family life easier, not harder. Here at the Federal level, I've established a working group on the family to study the relationship between Federal programs and family life. The working group will give me its report in November, and I expect it to recommend a number of important changes. This will represent only a first step in the effort to make the Federal Government more responsive to the family, but I'm convinced no effort in this second term will carry greater importance. In the words of Michael Novak: ``The family is the original and most effective Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.''

So, my friends, congratulations to you all once again. You've shown what we can achieve in two words: the best. And in doing so, you've given us heart. So, thank you, God bless you all, and I'll now do what the little 11-year-old girl who wrote me a letter told me to do after I finished her letter. She said: ``Now, get to the Oval Office and get to work.'' And Secretary Bennett, while I do that, will be handing out the awards. And again, congratulations. God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:35 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. William J. Bennett was Secretary of Education. Ronna Romney was the Chairman of the Commission on Presidential Scholars.