Remarks to the Junior Livestock Competition Participants at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield
August 12, 1986
Thank you all. Governor Thompson, Secretary [of Agriculture] Lyng, and ladies and gentlemen: I look out on you 4H-ers and Future Farmers of America, I see your proud faces, and I think of all you know about farming and livestock. And, I look in particular at these prizewinners back here, and I think to myself -- I could use some of you out on the ranch. [Laughter] But there's nothing I enjoy more than getting out here in the homeland, and one of the great things about being at this State fair is that maybe I can tell a joke that they wouldn't understand so well in Washington. [Laughter]
It has to do with an old fellow who had the piece of creek-bottom land, never had done anything with it. Then he got ambitious and started in, and he got the brush all cleared, and he hauled the rocks away, and then he started fertilizing and cultivating and planting. And finally, he had really a beautiful garden spot there. And one Sunday morning after the church service, he was so proud that he asked the minister if he wouldn't stop by and see what he'd done. Well, after church, the minister did come by and the first thing he saw was the corn, and he said, ``I've never seen corn so tall. My, how the Lord has blessed this land.'' And then he saw some melons, and he said, ``I've never seen melons that large.'' He said, ``Oh, the Lord has just -- bless the Lord. This is just so wonderful.'' Well, he went on that way through everything, squash and beans and everything else. The old boy was getting pretty fidgety as the minister kept giving the Lord the credit. And finally, he interrupted and said, ``Reverend, I wish you could have seen this place when the Lord was doing it by Himself.'' [Laughter]
I've always liked that story because it makes a good point. God gave us this great and good land, but it's up to us to make it flourish -- to preserve its freedom, to see it grow and become a nation of greatness. In a few minutes, I'll be talking to those people out in the grandstand about the future of American farming. I thought I'd talk to you for a moment about the future more generally, because you've got more future than most of us have. And I thought I might begin my remarks about the future by talking about the past, in particular the part of the American story that I've witnessed in my own lifetime.
When I was about your age, if you can take your minds back that far, America was in the midst of the Great Depression. And I know you've known of recessions since, but I can assure you -- to those of us who went through the Great Depression -- there was never anything like it. The unemployment rate was virtually a fourth or more of the work force in America, and I approached college and knew that I was going to have to work my way through. We were poor, but, you know, you weren't so aware of it because the Government didn't keep coming around and telling you you were. So, I had to work my way through college. And I was kind of lucky -- I had a summer job all the way, lifeguarding -- to get some money to start back to school and then I had jobs on the campus. As a matter of fact, one of the better jobs I've ever had was on the campus. I washed dishes in the girls' dormitory. [Laughter] All around me, it was a tragic time -- your friends, their parents out of work. America's future looked grim.
But here it is just a half a century later, the American people enjoying a standard of living undreamed of during the thirties or even during the boom years of the twenties before the Great Depression. And in these 50 years, employment in America has risen by tens of millions; real, disposable income per person has gone up by over 200 percent; and life expectancy has increased by more than 14 years. As a matter of fact, I've already lived some 20 years longer than my life expectancy when I was born. That's a source of annoyance to a number of people. [Laughter]
Just think of all we take for granted today that didn't even use to exist -- things like television, computers, and space flights. You're looking at a fellow who can actually remember what a thrill it was to hear that Charles Lindbergh had landed in Paris, flying that little single-engine plane across the Atlantic all by himself -- the first time it had been done. Well, this same fellow also happens to remember what it was like to gather around the TV set and watch the first Americans walk on the Moon. Imagine it -- from Charles Lindbergh to Moon landings in a single lifetime. I can remember my first ride in an automobile -- and they wonder why I'm an optimist.
But what about your generation -- you wonderful young people? You stand on the verge of a new age. Today freedom is on the march throughout the world. Just 10 years ago, for example, there were few democracies in Latin America. Now, 90 percent of the people in Latin America live in democracies or countries that are well on their way in that direction. Peace itself is moving to a surer footing, with arms talks and the research on our Strategic Defense Initiative. Our economy is growing as America leads the world in a technological revolution -- a revolution ranging from tiny microchips to voyages through the outer reaches of the solar system, from home computers to agricultural breakthroughs like new disease-resistant crops. And for those of you who are going into farming, the future's especially bright as the world population continues to grow, creating new markets.
All this awaits you. Of course, you will face challenges. Every generation has to face challenges as it comes of age. But you need only to be true to the values that made our nation great. I know when you're young -- and believe it or not, your parents and the others that are older, they remember very clearly what it was like and how they felt, the same as you do. But there's a tendency to throw aside old values as belonging to an earlier generation. Don't discard those values that have proven, over the period of time, their value. Just believe in those values that made our nation great and keep them: faith, family, hard work, and, above all, freedom.
Well, I know it's time for me to get ready to speak to that other audience outside. But I want you to know that I've taken advantage of you because I appreciated having this time with you, and I tried to stretch it out a little bit. But I just want to, again, thank you -- all of you; and God bless you.
Note: The President spoke at 10:23 a.m. at the fairgrounds. Prior to his remarks, he toured the junior livestock arena and participated in the awards presentation ceremony for the competition.