Public Papers

Remarks to the United States Academic Decathlon Winners


The President. Please be seated. Thank you. What a day. I was going to apologize for keeping you waiting, but now I think I'll take credit for giving you the time in the sun here. [Laughter] It is beautiful, and we are just delighted to have you all here. I want to especially recognize this gentleman in the front row, Ted Sanders, who's doing such a wonderful job at our Department of Education; Bob Suarez of the U.S. Academic Decathlon; and the teams from DC's Benjamin Banneker High School and Alexandria, Virginia's Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology.

And of course, welcome to our newest American heroes, the 1991 Academic Decathlon champs -- the team's from J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, Texas. We're proud of you, and I think America is proud of you.

I was looking over some of the questions you tackled, like: ``The Earth's magnetic field is compressed on the sun-facing side by what?'' Well -- [laughter] -- the kids behind me know, but for the media out there, the answer is: solar wind. [Laughter] You guys remember that.

All I can say is, I wouldn't have made it past the round where they asked me to spell ``broccoli.'' [Laughter]

But congratulations to Kevin, Dardy, Eugene, Misty, Christine, Craig, Wade, Amie, and Frank, and coaches Dorcas and Linda -- the Norman Schwarzkopfs of Pearce High. [Laughter] That's what we refer to you as around here. [Laughter] You've done something remarkable. This year's contest began with more than 35,000 students at 3,500 high schools coast to coast, and now it's just you.

I must admit, it stirs my Texas pride a little to hear that in this national competition's 10-year history, your school has won five times. And I wish our son's Texas Rangers might be achieving the same kind of record in their field.

But I want to tell every one of the 35,000 across the Nation, seriously, what you've done for this country. You've shown great things can be achieved by commitment, by perseverance, hard work, and teamwork.

And there's something I really like about the decathlon, something I'm going to tell my grandkids about. This isn't about being the smartest kid in your class; after all, each of them is evenly divided among A, B, and C students. The lesson, rather, of the Academic Decathlon is something each of us needs to take through life. It's about learning to be the best you can.

All right, I have a question: What do you have in common with Bruce Jenner, Rafer Johnson, and Jim Thorpe? All -- --

Student. -- -- wearing gold medals.

The President. That's it. [Laughter] All winning. All winners. All winning decathletes and the ones who mastered the ultimate test of the athlete and the student. You've shown your peers that it's as exciting to root for an academic team as an athletic one. And that it takes skill, stamina, and mental and emotional intensity to achieve in the classroom as well as in the stadium. And by doing that, you give them a priceless gift: the belief in their ability to reach out and shape their own futures.

Last week, along with the Secretaries from the Department of Education -- Secretary Sanders was there and Secretary Alexander, our new Secretary -- I unveiled America 2000, our long-range strategy for educational excellence. It is ambitious. And it is far-reaching and absolutely essential. There's a new century coming, one with unlimited horizons. And our goal must be to make sure that our children enter this new world equipped with the skills that will let them dream dreams and know that they can make them come true. America 2000 is a challenge posed to each of us, to literally reinvent American education, to reach deep within us to find answers, so that our kids can reach out to find the stars.

And that's why I'm so proud of you as messengers of this idea. Your lives and your accomplishments speak to other kids the way no words from a government or even a teacher can. These kids look at each of you and they see themselves. They look at you and they see what they, too, can become. And that's what a new kind of a hero is, a new generation of heroes, with the good values you learn from disciplined determination, the sharp mind that's not wasted on drugs, the confidence and pride that come from stretching yourself, proving yourself. You're the ones who will help our America 2000 dream come true.

You have some pretty impressive partners, too, who will also have a big role to play in reaching our education goals -- private businesses. For instance, in this year's decathlon, there was the local foundation in Hawaii which bought sweaters for its team to wear in competition, the Toastmasters Club which trained students for the speech segment, the companies that sent in experts from within their ranks to tutor the team members, and the major national corporations that underwrote scholarships for the winners.

These businesses believe that each of us can play a pivotal role in our kids' educational future. This amazing bond between industry and individual is the keystone of the American spirit. That spirit is the basis of the decathlon. And it's exactly what we must bring to America 2000. You've proven -- and now we'll all act to continue to prove -- that together we can do great things, great things that will help inspire others, great things like what's been done at the decathlon by kids like DC's Banneker High's Che-Wah Lee. Che-Wah Lee won the speech gold medal telling how his parents fled China so their children could know the American dream. Great things done by kids like Christine Liu here at Pearce High, the overall top student in the entire competition; by kids like Fred Klug, winner of the decathlon's 1990 Caperton Award for dedication to learning in the face of major obstacles. Fred is permanently paralyzed, and scored 100 percent on the Super Quiz.

And there are great things being done by teams like Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology in Alexandria, Rookie of the Year winner. Teams like Whitney Young Magnet High School in inner-city Chicago, which won this year's bronze medal and became the model for other large urban schools. Teams like Tennessee's Jackson Christian School, State winner although it has just 100 kids in the whole school.

Abraham Lincoln said, ``I will study and prepare myself, and someday my chance will come.'' You've done just that. And you've inspired your countrymen to do just that.

Thank you, and congratulations. And may God bless you in the exciting futures out there ahead of you. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:37 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Ted Sanders, Under Secretary of Education; Bob Suarez, vice president of the U.S. Academic Decathlon; J.J. Pearce High School team members Kevin Barenbalt, Dardy Chang, Eugene Chen, Misty Karin, Christine Liu, Craig Macaulay, Wade McIntyre, Amie vonBriesen, and Frank Wilde, and coaches Dorcas Helmes and Linda Berger; Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf; Olympic athletes Bruce Jenner, Rafer Johnson, and Jim Thorpe; Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander; and Academic Decathlon participants Che-Wah Lee and Fred Klug.