Remarks on Signing the National Historically Black Colleges Week Proclamation

 

September 24, 1987

 

The President. When our administration came to Washington, we were determined to make of our nation what I have many times referred to as an opportunity society, a land in which Americans, all Americans, would be able to develop their talents to the fullest. Today we honor a group of institutions that have long stood for just that -- opportunity. I'm speaking, of course, about America's historically black colleges and universities.

 

Listen to this record of achievement: Black colleges and universities have educated 50 percent of our black business executives, 75 percent of our black military officers, 80 percent of our black judges, and 85 percent of America's black physicians. For decades, then, these institutions have been giving black Americans hope -- hope for a better life, hope that they would be able to play a full and active part in the life of the Nation. With the unique role of these educational institutions in mind, our administration has made certain that, in an era of budget cuts, black colleges and universities actually received increased funding by 1986, up some 19 percent since we took office.

 

Then, too, we've worked to see to it that students would have economic opportunties after graduation to complement the educational opportunties they benefited from while still in college. Indeed, in large measure because we've cut taxes and worked to limit the economic role of government, today our nation is enjoying one of the longest periods of peacetime economic expansion in history -- 57 months and still counting.

 

During these 57 months, black employment has moved forward twice as fast as white employment. Since 1982 the real income of black families has increased almost 40 percent faster than white family income, and the share of black families in the highest income brackets has nearly doubled. And this past August the percentage of blacks employed was the highest on record, as was the percentage of all Americans employed. Surveying this record, economist Warren Brookes concluded, and I'll quote: ``On every front -- jobs, income, even household wealth -- this 1981 through 1986, has been the best 5 economic years in black history.''

 

Just yesterday there was still more good news, right there on the front page of the New York Times. The Times reported that -- and I'll be quoting again -- ``Black high school students across the country are making steady gains in the scores they achieve on standardized college admission tests.'' Well, there is something profound here in this connection between educational achievement and economic growth. You see, I'm convinced that the one has a great deal to do with the other, that education represents an investment in the future and that the investment becomes more inviting when the future itself looks brighter. In the words of author George Gilder: ``Economic opportunities summon initiatives. Initiatives develop character and a sense of responsibility, a feeling of optimism. The future looks more open and promising to students than it did before for the simple reason that it is more open and promising.''

 

You know, I can't help thinking that the goals Americans set for themselves in the days of my own youth seem so modest: indoor plumbing, electricity, a family car, a telephone. I remember living in a home without indoor plumbing. Today jet airplanes carry passengers -- even those of modest means -- from coast to coast and overseas, while our engineers are busy developing crafts that one day will take off from a runway and carry us into space. And discoveries in the field of superconductivity are coming so rapidly that research results are often out of date before they're in print.

 

Yes, these are exciting days -- exciting days above all for young Americans and those who educate them. For black Americans, there is additional excitement -- the excitment that goes with breaking the bonds of prejudice, that goes with the defeat of discrimination. Perhaps, then, it's in the years ahead that our black colleges and universities will contribute the most to our nation, surpassing even the enormous contributions they've made in the past, making ever greater strides toward the achievement of a genuine opportunity society.

 

Today it's our privilege to have with us 30 students who represent this future, 30 students who have been chosen as the finest undergraduate students in mathematics, engineering, and science at historically black colleges and universities. They were nominated by the presidents of their colleges and selected by a distinguished panel of leaders in higher education. Later today they will receive awards sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York in recognition of their dedication and academic achievement.

 

To you 30 students: You represent the shining hope of America's future. In the technological age of the 21st century, your intellect, creativity, and skilled minds will keep our nation at the forefront of scientific research and technological development. The time and effort you're investing in your education will pay rich dividends to you and to the Nation. You're America's best and brightest hope for the future. Would you 30 please stand and accept our congratulations? [Applause]

 

Thank you. Now you may be seated. [Laughter] Because, if I may, there are two students in particular I'd like to recognize -- I hope I have the name right: Mr. Patrick Lafontant and Mr. Gregory B. Owens.

 

Mr. Lafontant graduated from the U.S. Navy's broadened opportunity for officer selection and training program and is currently attending Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, majoring in chemical engineering. After graduation, Mr. Lafontant plans to pursue a graduate degree, followed by a career as an officer in the Navy's nuclear power program.

 

Midshipman Second Class Owens -- and I have to look both ways -- they've not been pointed out as to which is which -- is a national scholarship midshipman majoring in chemistry at Savannah State College in Savannah, Georgia. Mr. Owens previously graduated from one of the Navy's programs in nuclear power and has received the Reserve Officers Association Award, given to the junior or sophomore student with the highest naval science grade-point average.

 

And, gentlemen, your achievements are truly remarkable, as is your dedication to the Nation. And your Commander in Chief would like to salute you. But now it's my honor to sign the bill and the proclamation making the week of 21 to 27 September, ``National Historically Black Colleges Week.'' And I think there are some people who should come up here and stand behind me while I do this signing. All right? I know it's going to be a little crowded back there. And I know what you've had to do with bringing about this day.

 

Now, the bill first, and the proclamation. Well, thank you all for being here. God bless you.

 

Reporter. Mr. President, will you also sign the Gramm-Rudman fix? Will you also sign the Gramm-Rudman bill, Mr. President?

 

The President. Can't you see the wheels turning? I'm still working on that. [Laughter]

 

Note: The President spoke at 11:34 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.