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Commencement Address at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan - Brief Article - Transcript

Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents,  May 8, 2000  

April 30, 2000

Thank you very much. I must say I was very moved by Secretary Slater's remarks. But I realize he was lifted to new heights of eloquence by being back at his alma mater. And I also realize he was once again proving the adage of Clinton's third law of politics: Whenever possible, be introduced by someone you have appointed to high office. [Laughter] They will praise you to the skies, true or false. [Laughter]

I must say, I was afraid, though, Rodney was about to commit--we have been friends for many years--I've never heard him say anything politically incorrect. I've never heard him utter a curse word. I've never heard him betray a character flaw. But I almost heard an ethnic slur today when he said he got me because I look like President Shelton. [Laughter] All gray-haired, middle-aged Scotch-Irish guys look alike, you know. [Laughter]

I'm very proud of Secretary Slater, and you should be, too. And I'm proud of General Coburn and his leadership in the Army, and Gene Conti, who is the Assistant Secretary for Policy at our Transportation Department with Secretary Slater. We have been richly blessed by this university. And President Shelton, I am grateful for your years of service here and for our friendship in our early years in Arkansas, when we both had less gray hair and didn't look so much alike.

I thank Mayor Archer and former Governor and Ambassador Blanchard and Representative Kilpatrick and the other Michigan officials who are here with me today. I thank my longtime friend Jim Comer. I didn't know he was here at EMU this year until I saw him right before I came in. No American has proven so clearly as Professor Comer that all children can learn if given the right learning environment, and I am very grateful to him.

I thank all the distinguished board of regents and faculty and staff who are here. But most of all, I want to recognize the students and their parents of this, your first graduating class of the 21st century.

On the way in, Rodney was telling me that I would identify with a lot of you. A lot of you are first-generation college graduates. A lot of you had to work your way through school. A lot of you needed help in the form of loans and grants and work-study positions. And every one of you should be very proud of what you have achieved.

I also identify with your class because I may be the only President of the United States who ever studied here. I came here to prepare for my debates in 1992. And like you, I passed, and I thank you very much for the contribution you made to my education and to my years here.

You are graduating into a strong economy, the strongest in our Nation's history. You are also graduating into a time of immense possibility, here in Michigan and throughout the United States and, indeed, throughout the world.

One of my speechwriters wrote me a line that said, "Our economy is soaring higher than Swoop, the eagle." [Laughter] He said you would know what that means. All I know is that I am grateful for the chance that the Vice President and First Lady and our administration and I have had to work to create opportunity in America and to bring us closer together in one community.

I know that a great deal of this is because we are in the midst of a profound revolution, the most sweeping since the industrial revolution a century ago. Information technology alone now gives us about a third of our growth, though only 8 percent of our work force is directly involved in it. It is bringing growth to every sector of our economy in a way we haven't seen since Henry Ford's first assembly line.

And I wanted to come here today to try to give you, this graduating class, some sense of the world into which you're going. You understand the opportunities, doubtless, better than I. I want you to understand the challenges, too. For economic opportunity is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end, to further liberty, to strengthen the bonds of community, to enable you to build families and have children and enrich your lives.

Before you lies a future of unparalleled possibility. But I want you to understand today that just as at the dawn of the industrial age 100 years ago, which was symbolized by Michigan, by Mr. Ford's assembly line, and the factories of Detroit, there are new challenges presented by this new era to our oldest values of freedom and opportunity and community.

Theodore Roosevelt came to this campus more than 100 years ago, at the beginning of the industrial era, when new rules were required to make sure that the industrial revolution worked for all our people. Without those rules, there would have been a terrible industrial divide between rich and poor, strong and weak. With those rules--with the wage and hour laws, the child labor laws, the antitrust laws, the Federal Reserve, and later the minimum wage, workman's compensation, unemployment insurance, Social Security--with those new rules, we built an opportunity society that produced the greatest middle class in human history, one that became even more successful and more inclusive throughout this last century with the progress of civil rights, women's rights, environmental and worker protection.