Public Papers

Remarks to the President's Youth Leadership Forum


Well, Barbara and I heard there was a good meeting going on, and we thought we'd slide over and say hello and officially welcome you to the White House. I'm delighted that my favorite Point of Light, as we call it, is with me this morning. I'm sure some of you are familiar with what we mean: Points of Light -- one American helping another, group of Americans helping other Americans. And my favorite Point of Light is right here, the Silver Fox.

One of the reasons we were a little late in coming over is that we were waiting for truly one of America's brightest stars. She's proven she's human by getting caught up in airplane delays. And of course, I'm talking about Whitney Houston, who we still hope might be along at any minute. But the airlines or somebody did not cooperate -- weather or something. But in any event, she's on her way.

Look, we're here because we know that America can be really transformed by youth engaged in service. There's no problem in America that young people cannot solve or certainly help solve. This first President's Youth Leadership Forum will demonstrate the ability of youth to identify community problems, design action plans to solve these problems, marshal community resources, and then implement those action plans.

Sometimes we adults forget the capability of young people to change the world, but you should remind all of us that youth is no barrier to great achievements. Knowing I was coming over here, I asked for some examples from history. Joan of Arc was barely 17 when she began her quest to drive the English from France. By the age of 20 -- I'm not recommending that you have the end results that Joan of Arc had -- [laughter] -- but I'm simply pointing this out here. By the age of 20, Mozart had composed 250 of his most beautiful pieces of music. Einstein had discovered the theory of relativity by the age of 26. And by the age of 32, Alexander the Great's empire stretched from Indiana -- [laughter] -- it included Indiana -- from India to the Adriatic.

Today's young people can bring that same strength and ingenuity, courage, and sensitivity to bear on the great challenge of our day, ensuring that no American goes through life unloved, uncared for, unclaimed. Third-graders in Nebraska call elderly shut-ins each morning to offer a word of comfort and cheer. A teen in Texas has her own program providing peer-to-peer counseling to other victims of child abuse. Countless other young people here in Washington mentor little brothers and sisters, feed the hungry, minister to the homeless, tend to the sick. Young Americans of all ages, genders, races, income levels, all backgrounds, are breaking down the invisible walls that too often separate us -- standing shoulder to shoulder, each giving his or her own special gift to another and each receiving in return the fulfillment that comes only from serving others.

And if serving others can teach young people anything, it is that no matter how unfortunate your circumstances, no matter how much you need someone else, someone else needs you even more. This forum is an important event for those of you who have resolved to make service central to our daily lives, and I will be following your progress with great expectations.

And I'm just delighted to have had this opportunity to be here. I don't know what the fate is of our featured guest, but I should probably go back to work at the White House. But we did want to come over and just wish you all the best. And thank you for what you're doing, and thank you for what you're fixing to do.

Note: The President spoke at 11:33 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.