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Almost everybody here is a teacher. I was coming through the line, and who was it from Tennessee spoke to me? Right there. [Laughter] And we started comparing notes, and she says, ``Well, I'm a country music fan.'' And I said, ``So am I. Guess who's staying with us in the White House?'' And I said, ``Crystal Gayle.'' And she said, ``I don't believe it.'' So, I'm going to ask Crystal to stand up, and if any of the rest of you -- [applause].
So, that is the last of our formal introductions. And I just wanted to say that I'm flattered to be in the company of the most accomplished members of a most important profession. And I know Barbara is, too. And without you, our links to the past and our vision for the future -- all that we are, all that we've accomplished, all that we would be -- would lay dormant in the minds of our kids. And I thank you for your dedication.
As you know, I've just come back from a long trip with Barbara to the Far East -- Japan and China and Korea. And let me tell you, as fascinating as it is to travel, it's nice to be back in the States. And I think you'll like Baltimore; it's wonderful here. [Laughter] I'm a little jetlagged still. We're recovering.
But it was a vital trip, and it has laid the future for our future relations with our friends and our allies. In Japan, as all of you know, I saw a nation that has risen in 40 years from a postwar destruction to becoming a leading economic power. And I think it was right that the President of the United States pay our respects to the present and to the future by going there to the funeral of the late Emperor. In the Republic of Korea, I saw an industrial power just beginning to explore the measure of its future greatness. It's exciting what's happening there. And in China, where Barbara and I lived 14 years ago for a year and a half or so -- just let me say that there have been spectacular changes in China since I represented our country there in Beijing, amazing.
In each of these countries, education has been an important ingredient for economic success. And our educational system has an equally critical role to play in ensuring the intellectual creativity, the economic opportunity, and the basic freedoms of our next generation. American teachers have a big job, and, I'd say, even a bigger responsibility. To educate the children of such a vast, diverse nation as ours requires men and women of talent and dedication to our children and the teaching profession both.
You in this room exemplify the kind of teachers that we need nationally, our very best. And as I read about the many subjects that you'll be studying next fall, I had two feelings: one, respect, and the other, delight that I'd already graduated -- [laughter] -- Shakespeare, Chinese literature, Hispanic literature, the Harlem renaissance, American Indian culture. And I realize that together you encompass the diversity of America. And that diversity gives our nation and our educational system a vibrance of spirit --
[At this point, the President was interrupted by a crying baby.]
That kid's making me feel at home. [Laughter] You should have seen it when we had our 10 grandchildren playing around this place the day we came in here. But anyway, that vibrance has produced men and women with inquisitive minds, dogged determination, and big dreams. And I'm sure you recall that I made a pledge during the campaign to become the education President, to try hard in this field. And I'm pleased to see Larry Cavazos here, our distinguished Secretary of Education, from whom I expect to learn a lot, but certainly who shares our commitment to educational excellence. And it's a pledge that I made that I intend to keep by working with you and thousands like you in classrooms from Connecticut to California.
You and I know that education is our most enduring legacy. You and I know that education is nothing less than the very heart of our civilization. And that's why I am bound and determined to use this office as a bully pulpit for progress in our schools. I'll make a renewed push for a shift in some of our priorities to concentrate resources on those who need help the most.
This nation grew into greatness because early Americans understood the value of education. In the one-room schoolhouse and the land-grant college -- these were the crowning achievements of the pioneers. No less important were the urban pioneers who schooled the children of the ghettos. The challenge that faced our ancestors was not an easy one: to build a national public educational system from scratch. But they did it with blood, sweat, tears, and, always, joy. They were dedicated individuals whose traditions have come full circle in each of you here today.
With the dawn of a new century only 11 short years away, we're faced with a new challenge: to revitalize and restore the system our forebears bequeathed to us, to ensure that American education is second to none. And I've made a number of proposals to work toward this goal. Among them is my request to reward those schools whose students show measurable progress in educational achievement while maintaining a safe and drug-free environment. I've also asked for an annual fund of 0 million in new appropriations to help create magnet schools to broaden the educational choice of parents and students. And yet another one of our proposals is to allot a special million fund over 4 years to develop endowments of historically black colleges and universities through a matching grant program. And during the coming weeks, I'll transmit comprehensive legislation to the Congress detailing our proposals and asking for cooperation in strengthening American education.
Today I want to single out one other aspect of my educational program, and that is rewarding the brightest and the most motivated teachers. Teachers don't choose their professions certainly because of financial reward. That has got to be the classic understatement of the day. [Laughter] But you know it, and I know it, and the Nation knows it. And there are too many other ways to make a living, and some might say even a better living. But teachers enjoy the immense satisfaction of raising the sights of the next generation. And their work makes our horizons longer and certainly our futures brighter. I consider one proposal to be critically important: the President's Award for Excellence in Education. This award combines the recognition of your profession and the respect of your colleagues with financial reward, an idea whose time has come.
With this in mind, I've proposed .6 million to be spent as ,000 cash awards to top teachers in every State. Eligible teachers will be selected from all subjects and every grade level. I hope that this teacher's award program keeps all levels of our educational system focused on the need to show good teachers that we appreciate their dedication. I realize in something as large as our own national school system across this country that this may not seem tremendous. But I do think it's a good beginning to recognize and pay our respects in this manner to excellence.
Of course -- and you know this and I certainly know it -- public funds are tight at all levels of government. And as we develop new ways to reward and keep good teachers, we must also look to combine the resources of the public and private sectors. And this is precisely what the NEH-Reader's Digest Teacher-Scholar Program accomplishes. And I salute those people with vision who have created and are implementing this program.
I'm very grateful to our friend, Lynne Cheney, who's here, of NEH, and for all they've done. And I want to thank George Grune, to ask him to convey my gratitude and admirations to those who had the foresight to contribute to this effort. In making this grant, you've planted the seeds of literacy, and the learning curve as well, that will benefit our country for generations to come. And if it's of any collateral interest, you've sure made the First Lady, Barbara Bush, very, very happy because she is specializing in trying to help everybody in this room in raising our awareness as to how it would be very good if we could become a literate nation, battling against the functional illiteracy that is too widespread today.
But together, these two organizations have rewarded you with the most precious gift that can be bestowed on the teachers: time -- time away from the report cards, library fines, hall passes; time to learn, to master a subject; time to write, hopefully publish; time to meditate, and just plain time to think. And so many will benefit. What you'll learn and accomplish and pass on to our children will ripple across the years like a stone across a still pond. And in perusing the list of your projects, my eye settled on one in particular, a project proposed by Barbara Whittaker, of Traverse City, Michigan, entitled, ``The Origin of the American Dream and Its Development in Literature.'' I am sure Barbara will reveal deep insights into the American novel, but there's a larger point. I believe we can trace the origin of the American dream to a very ordinary place: It can be found between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. in every classroom, in every city, and in every town in America.
And so, for all that you do, you have my highest respect, my gratitude, and in this instance, my sincerest congratulations. Thank you all for coming to the White House. God bless you all. Thank you.
Note: The President spoke at 3:10 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Lynne V. Cheney, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and George Grune, chief executive officer of the Reader's Digest.