Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the National Medals of Science and Technology

 

July 15, 1988

 

Thank you very much, and Secretary Verity and Dr. Graham. And thank you all, and welcome to the White House. Please be seated. The awards we'll be presenting in just a few moments stand for our nation's scientific and technological progress.

 

And well, would you be surprised if I said that reminded me of a story? [Laughter] When you get to my age, you discover that quite a few things remind you of stories. My only fear is that I've told this so often that maybe I've told it to you already. Don't let me know if I have. [Laughter] It happens to be about one of my old bosses, Harry Warner, back in the days of silent pictures. A technician came up to Harry, very excited, and told him that there was a new breakthrough that had taken place that would make it possible to give soundtracks to motion pictures, and we'd have talking pictures. Harry Warner stood there for a moment and then said, ``Who the heck wants to hear actors talk?'' [Laughter]

 

But it's true that I have a special belief in American science and technology, because I've lived long enough to have witnessed breakthrough after breakthrough. I've seen the rise of the automobile. Indeed, I can remember my first ride in an automobile -- before that it was horse and buggy. And the development of the modern media -- radio, movies, and television -- the advent of space travel -- and now the computer and the microchip.

 

Indeed, I often reflect that it was not too long ago when sand was just the stuff beaches were made of. In fact, one of the lines in my old speeches said if we put the government in charge of sand, there'd be a shortage. [Laughter] And now the mind of man has given the silicon in sand virtually limitless value in the form of the microchip, a tiny invention that's transforming the world economy more dramatically than any event since the Industrial Revolution. And I haven't even mentioned the newest breakthrough: high-temperature superconductivity.

 

It's important to remember, too, that it's not just economic productivity that science and technology have improved, but the whole quality of human life. New fertilizers have been coupled with new types of grains, providing greater crop yields here at home and around the world. Medical science has produced advance after advance, combating disease, improving our overall health and extending the lifespan. Technology is adding a new dimension to education. Consider, for example, that it's now possible to put an entire encyclopedia on a disk that can be used on a home computer. Technology is even having a profound effect on my former field of entertainment, making available music and movies of all kinds in home entertainment centers. You are the men and women who are leading us into this new era of information and technology. You are the builders, the dreamers, the heroes.

 

Our administration has supported basic scientific research from the start. We're going forward with the funding of a superconducting supercollider. We're moving ahead on a permanently manned space station and a commercially developed space facility. We're funding crucial new research as part of our Strategic Defense Initiative, research that holds out the hope of putting peace on a firmer footing throughout the world. And our budget requests to Congress have contained billions of dollars each year for research and development -- although I'm sorry to say that too often Congress has trimmed back those requests.

 

But I'm convinced that perhaps the most important action we've taken has involved knocking down the barriers to progress that government itself had erected. Our tax cuts, for example, have revitalized the entrepreneurial economy. Indeed, in recent years we've seen tens of billions of dollars devoted to venture capital, and tens of billions more in new public stock offerings. And during this economic expansion, hundreds of thousands of new businesses have been formed, many of them linked to specific new technologies. All of this represents the application of knowledge to human needs on a massive scale -- not by government, but by committed individuals, acting in freedom.

 

You see, America's greatest resource is not the land, vast and beautiful though it is. It's not our climate, nor even our abundant natural resources. America's greatest resource is the genius of her people. And so to express our gratitude to you, but also to set an example for all the world and an example of what free men and women can accomplish, we honor you.

 

I can't help but tell you another little item out of my past. More than 20 years ago when I was Governor of California, and you will remember those, the rioting days on the campuses and all of that trouble, and one day I received a very arrogant demand from the student body presidents of the nine State universities of California demanding a meeting with me.

 

Well, I was delighted because if I tried to go to the campus to see them they'd start a riot. Well, they came in, barefooted, tee shirts, most of the tee shirts torn -- slouched into their seats in our Cabinet Room there at the State, and then the spokesman started in and he said, ``Governor, it's impossible for you to understand your own children.'' He said, ``Your generation didn't live at a time of instant electronics, of communication, of space travel, of journeys to the Moon and jets.'' And he went on listing all of these things. Usually you think of the answer after you're home and the meeting's over. But he talked just long enough that when he paused for breath I said, ``You're absolutely right, we didn't have those things when we were growing up. We invented them.'' [Laughter]

 

Well, thank you all, God bless you. And now, we'll be presenting the awards.

 

Note: The President spoke at 11:34 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his opening remarks, he referred to William R. Graham, Science Advisor to the President and Secretary of Commerce C. William Verity, Jr.