Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Young American Medals
January 16, 1986
Attorney General Meese and my young friends here on the platform and ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon, and welcome to the White House. You know, we've come together today in a capital city that's often preoccupied with bigness -- big questions like tax reform and big statistics like the gross national product and, yes, big levels of funding. And to paraphrase the late Senator Everett Dirksen, he said, ``A billion dollars here, a billion dollars there, and pretty soon it adds up to real money.'' [Laughter] But in the midst of all this bigness, it's only too easy to lose sight of what really matters -- which is the individual. At this ceremony today, it's my honor to remind the Nation, the entire Nation, of the importance of the individual by awarding medals to four remarkable young Americans.
Two of the medals recognize outstanding service to others. And the first goes to the youngest honoree, 13-year-old Trevor Ferrell. Trevor lives with his family in a fine home outside Philadelphia on the Main Line, and until 1983, when Trevor was 11, that neighborhood was virtually his entire world. And then during the Christmas holidays, Trevor happened to glimpse a very different world on television. It was the world of the Philadelphia inner city, and the TV that evening showed street people bedding down for the cold winter night, broken men and women huddling in abandoned cars and burned-out buildings. Trevor went to his room, got a blanket, and asked his parents to take him downtown. And Trevor gave that blanket to a man he and his parents found sleeping over a subway grate. Soon Trevor was making trips to the inner city regularly, handing out the food, blankets, and clothing that had begun coming his way as friends, church groups, and businesses heard of his interest in helping the homeless. Word continued to spread, and today scores of individuals and organizations, moved by the example of young Trevor Ferrell, are joining him in his inner city work of charity.
Trevor Ferrell, you've not only earned the gratitude of the people of Philadelphia but the affection and admiration of an entire country. Congratulations.
The second medal for service goes to 19-year-old Janelle Lynn Peery of Cheyenne, Wyoming. When Janelle was 15, she noticed a bump above her right knee; the diagnosis: bone cancer. In a drastic effort to save Janelle's life, her right leg was amputated. Nine miserable months of chemotherapy followed, and as Janelle put it, with courageous understatement, ``When you spend 9 months being sick to your stomach, it's not too pleasant.'' The experience Janelle went through would have devastated many grownups, but young Janelle faced it with bravery and began to reach out to others. ``When I came out of the hospital,'' Janelle recently said, ``my basic philosophy on life was that I'm here to help people.'' Janelle's mother had made her daughter a teddy bear, and Janelle began making teddy bears just like it to give to other children in the hospital, each with a note attached which read, ``A little hand for you to hold onto when you get scared.'' Soon Janelle began counseling, and in the 4 years since her own surgery, she's counseled hundreds of cancer patients and amputees. Today Janelle is a freshman at Brandeis University, and I understand that in her spare time she's an expert skier.
Janelle, you've given us all the gift of hope. Thank you, and congratulations. And by the way, Janelle, I read an interview in which you said: ``It'll be nice to meet the President. I think it will be cool.'' [Laughter] Well, it's been cool to meet you, too. [Laughter]
And now it's my honor to announce the two medals for bravery. One goes to an 18-year-old -- Richard Makinson of Pixley, California. One spring day in 1984, when Richard was 16, he and friends were swimming in the Feather River. For Richard, swimming was an activity that required special attention. You see, he's a diabetic and must be careful not to overexert himself. On this day Richard had perhaps pushed himself too far, because he noticed that he had become shaky. In order to raise the sugar level in his blood, he stopped swimming to go get something to eat. On his way, Richard heard screams. He turned to see that two little girls had fallen into an unsafe part of the river and were being swept downstream. Despite his dangerous condition, Richard dived in. He reached one girl, 12-year-old Susanna Foster; and although she was terrified and struggling, he managed to get her safely to the riverbank. Richard then returned for the other girl, 11-year-old Kristy Boring. He got within a few feet of her before the current dragged her under. Richard dived again and again, but Kristy was gone. Richard returned to the shore and collapsed, devastated that, although he'd saved one girl, he had been unable to rescue the other.
In a recent interview, Richard said that his act of bravery ``makes me feel good, but I still don't think it was such a big deal. Anyone who was there would have done the same thing.'' Well, Richard, that's the modesty of a hero.
The second medal for bravery goes to 17-year-old Gregory Delzer, of Lead, South Dakota. On an autumn evening in 1984, when Greg was 16, he and three girls were walking to the Lead High School for the homecoming dance. By the way, Greg, one boy with three girls -- I have to hand it to you. [Laughter] As Greg and his friends neared the school, a speeding car suddenly rounded a curve and headed straight for them. One of the girls jumped clear; the other two girls seemed to freeze. As the car sped down upon him, Greg chose to save his friends, not himself; and he threw the two girls free. An instant later, Greg's head shattered the car windshield; both his legs were broken. The driver never even stopped. Later that night, he was arrested.
Greg, you saved two young women from injury, possibly from death, at enormous cost to yourself. You're a living definition of courage.
And there we have it -- Trevor Ferrell, Janelle Lynn Peery, Richard Makinson, Gregory Delzer -- four young Americans to inspire us all. I've often said that when I consider the youth of our country, I know that America will be in good hands. I've never felt that more strongly than at this moment. Once again, congratulations to each of you. And to your parents, thank you for raising such fine young Americans and for permitting us today to share in your pride.
Thank you. God bless you. And now the Attorney General and I will distribute the awards.
Note: The President spoke at 1:33 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.