Public Papers

Remarks at a White House Ceremony Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Head Start


Well, good morning, and welcome to this beautiful morning in the Rose Garden. And Representative Kildee's here. I appreciate your coming, sir. And to others, welcome. It's a great pleasure to have you here. Connie Horner, Mary Gall, great to see both of you. Let me congratulate you, Connie, as number two in this enormous HHS for what she's doing, and, Mary, to your continued commitment to our young.

First of all, happy 25th birthday to Head Start. Like all birthday parties, today we celebrate both where we've been and where we will be tomorrow.

In May 1965, on a beautiful spring day right here in the Rose Garden, a great idea came into being. President Lyndon Johnson first spoke of a new initiative that he would soon propose: Head Start. And he said then that the program would -- here were his words -- ``rescue these children from the poverty which otherwise could pursue them all their lives. The project,'' he went on, ``is designed to put them on an even footing with their classmates as they enter school.''

Since that day, Head Start has reached over 11 million children, providing comprehensive development services to nearly half a million low-income children every year. Head Start provides these children not only with preschool education and social skills but with health and nutrition services as well. Virtually all of the children enrolled in Head Start get the medical attention they need, and for many children, Head Start gives them their best meal of the day.

Everyone agrees Head Start is a program that works for children by enhancing their educational performance and really fostering success in life. Head Start also works for families by offering child care and child development programs for parents, which builds self-confidence, and by encouraging a commitment to improve their lives and the lives of the children. And it works for the thousands of communities nationwide where Head Start graduates give so much right back to society by helping to build strong families and strong neighborhoods.

Today almost a third of the 80,000 Head Start staff members across America are current or former Head Start parents themselves -- 80,000 -- parents like Eugenia Boggus, here with us today, who is now president of the National Head Start Association. Where is she? You stand up. Thank you.

Or Claude Endfield of White River, Arizona. When she enrolled her child in a White Mountain Apache Indian Head Start program in 1973, she was unemployed. She became a volunteer at the Head Start center, then a Head Start teacher, and today is program chairman of the early child development department at Northland Pioneer College in Arizona. Head Start, you see, gave her the skills and confidence she needed to turn her whole life around.

But as vital as the parents and the staff are to the success of Head Start, we must especially congratulate the kids. Many -- some of you kids here are grown up now -- but they are grown up now, and because they were given an equal chance at the starting block, they crossed the finish line on their own and most of them winners.

Seba Johnson, for example, attended Head Start as a child in the Virgin Islands and, at the age of 14, became the first black woman skier to participate in the winter Olympics, representing the Virgin Islands. Today she lives in Nevada, where she is training for the next winter Olympics, and is volunteering her time to help celebrate Head Start's 25th anniversary.

Carlos Jimenez of Meadville, Pennsylvania, who was a Head Start student back in 1977. This year Carlos is graduating from high school, third in his class of 320. A National Honor Society member, Carlos will attend college in California this fall.

Or another example, Carl Brenner, who is with us today. Carl? Where's Carl? Right here. Oh, here's our man, right here. He's now going to be performing. Also a Head Start alumnus. Graduated first in his high school class. Now a senior cadet out at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.

These kids earned a lot of attention with their brilliant success stories, but there are also quiet ones, special children that otherwise might get overlooked. Take the example of Timothy Combs from Buffalo, West Virginia, a child born with Down's syndrome who wasn't yet talking when he enrolled in Head Start at the age of 3. Head Start provided Timothy with speech therapy, help for his hearing problem. And 2 years later, Timothy was able to enroll in public school, where he continues to get the special attention that began in Head Start.

There are so many stories to tell and so many Americans to thank in Head Start centers all around the country. In fact, over 600,000 committed volunteers, each one a Point of Light, are giving their all to make Head Start a national treasure. The kids we have with us today are from Head Start programs throughout the Washington area. And by getting them ready to learn today, we ensure that they too will have success stories to share tomorrow.

It's because of children like these, and parents and staff like many of you here, that at the historic education summit last September in Charlottesville I asked every Governor in the Nation to join in our commitment to quality programs like Head Start and give every poor child a chance to start school ready to learn. We proposed -- our administration -- the largest one-time funding increase in the history of Head Start, a half a billion dollars. And I know that the Congress will join me in giving Head Start the best 25th birthday present possible, enough -- and I salute Representative Kildee in this regard -- enough money to enroll as many as 180,000 more children in this successful program.

As they say, that's a gift that keeps on giving by enriching the lives of the kids, strengthening our families, and building our communities. To everyone who has supported Head Start for so many years, thank you, and God bless each and every one of you. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:04 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Constance Horner and Mary S. Gall, Under Secretary and Assistant Secretary for Human Development Services at the Department of Health and Human Services.