Remarks to Students and Faculty at Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Virginia
February 7, 1986
Chairman Collier, Superintendent Spillane, Principal Murphy, Principal Volrath, Walter Culver, trustee of the Fairfax County Public Schools Education Foundation: It's great to be here with all of you at Thomas Jefferson High School. I remember telling Tom that -- [laughter] -- if he worked hard and applied himself, one day they might even name a school after him. [Laughter] Actually, I haven't been around quite that long. But things sure have changed, though, since I was in high school. But I bet there's one thing that hasn't changed: When they told you that you'd have to cancel scheduled classes for a special assembly, I'll bet you weren't too disappointed. [Laughter]
Well, you know, I have to say, speaking of schedules and changing things, over in Washington when you wake up and there's a little bit of snow, a sprinkling of snow and some ice out there, you know that for some reason or other schedules are going to get changed entirely and things are going to be canceled out just because of that weather and that sprinkling of snow. It always makes me think of the young fellow that was telling his girl how much he loved her. He said, ``I'd climb the highest mountain to be by your side. I'd swim the deepest ocean to see you. I'll be over Thursday night if it doesn't rain.'' [Laughter]
Well, I hope that maybe some of you got a chance to see the State of the Union Address to the Congress Tuesday night. My message was that the state of the Union is good and getting better all the time. And I am really convinced of that after what I have seen in your laboratories and classrooms here this morning before I came in here. America is the ``A-Team'' among nations, bursting with energy, courage, and determination. We went through some bad times back in the 1970's, times when big government policies threatened to derail our country and our elected leaders seemed to have lost the way. The American people brought us back with pride and patriotism and with the bedrock American values of freedom, faith, and family. They put this country back on track, and we're charging full speed ahead. America holds the future in its grasp. And we're not letting go because the future belongs to the free. To paraphrase Tom Jefferson, we hold this truth to be self-evident, there never was a better time to be young, alive, and American.
On the way here today, I was thinking of the changes I've seen in my lifetime and how they'll be dwarfed by the advances that you'll see in yours. Believe it or not, I can remember my first ride in an automobile. Most of the time, it'd been horse and buggy. The horse was very fuel-efficient but kind of slow. [Laughter] If you wanted to supercharge one, you fed him an extra bag of oats. [Laughter] But I can remember back when I heard my first sound over radio, and I was just entering high school. And down by the river, where a young man with some of the same qualifications that you have, an experimenter, had built himself a little crystal radio set. There were no such things as factory-built radio sets. There was a station in Pittsburgh, the oldest in the Nation -- KDKA. And there we were out in Illinois, and finally, we'd walked all over town, several of us with him, while he fished around in the air with a hand-held aerial. And finally, we began to hear music, and it was this station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And yet, you know, it was just about 8 or 9 years later that that industry progressed to the point that I got a job as a radio sports broadcaster. And there were institutions and programs and people known nationwide because of the tremendous impact and growth of radio -- and all in those few years.
Since then, the evolution of technology has become evermore rapid -- each step of the way -- making a better life for man on Earth. Medical technology is conquering one by one the diseases that have plagued mankind for centuries; biotechnology has invented new grains that are a winning weapon in the war against hunger. And as radio was to my youth, so computers and the information revolution will be to yours, opening up a seeming infinity of possibilities in your lives -- possibilities your parents never would have even dreamt of.
So, I was thinking of how far we've come in this journey and the future. And, at the same time, my thoughts returned to the tragic events of last week -- to our Challenger Seven who gave their lives so that we might reach for the stars. For all Americans, young and old, the loss of our astronauts was felt as a personal loss. We mourn their passing, and we'll continue to honor their memories in the way our astronauts would have wished -- by pressing on with their heroic example in our minds and perhaps a new appreciation of the sacrifice, courage, and faith that are the cornerstones of our free nation.
The truth is, uncommon valor is often a common virtue in this country of ours. America's the land of the free because she is the home of the brave. These United States are built on heroism and sustained and protected by it. We see it in the bravery of those defending our nation on the frontiers of freedom; the pilot landing high-performance fighter planes on the heaving deck of an aircraft carrier; the soldier on patrol on the Korean border, in Europe, or on a peacekeeping mission in the Middle East. We see heroism everyday here at home -- the policeman answering a call, not knowing what danger awaits him behind a closed door; the fireman pulling lives from the flames of a raging inferno; the doctors and nurses laboring late into the night under hospital lights; the social worker battling drugs and despair.
Not all of us are called upon in our daily professions to face danger and hardship. But each of us has the same responsibility as the hero to live our lives with honor and dedication, to give a hundred percent to the tasks before us, and to know that every day our efforts are building the edifice of freedom and powering the engines of human progress. And don't ever underrate yourself. Someone has said, ``Truly, the hero isn't braver than anyone else; he's just brave 5 minutes longer.'' So, whatever path you choose in life, whatever your calling, pursue it with your heart and soul. If you become an artist, disdain cynicism and have the courage to proclaim your faith. If you become an entrepreneur -- that's a French word for being in business on your own -- hold on tight to your vision, knowing that each setback is really one more step on the road to success. If you become a scientist, find joy in the process of discovery. Whatever path you choose, if it follows the light of hope, it will lead you confidently into the future.
You know, Tom Jefferson was a forward-looking fellow, and I'm sure he'd be proud of this school. Assistant Superintendent David Sawyer took me on a fascinating tour of your computer systems laboratory. He tells me you're thinking of building an artificial intelligence lab here. I sometimes thought we could use a little of that in Washington. [Laughter] He also told me about the other labs where many of you'll be learning the skills of this new technological era: biotechnology, optics, and telecommunications. Let's take a moment, too, to thank the businesses and private individuals who have worked as partners in education with Thomas Jefferson High School. Many of those businesses involved in building the technology laboratories will be sending their scientists, engineers, and technicians to help teach in the labs, making the students of Thomas Jefferson some of the best trained leaders of the 21st century.
A new universe of possibilities is opening up before your generation. And one of the most hopeful is that science may become the ally of peace. Advancing technology, which originally gave us nuclear weapons, may one day make them obsolete. The currents of progress are sweeping us on to safety. The technology to create a high-tech shield against nuclear missiles is advancing far more rapidly than we even dared hope 3 years ago when we first announced the program called the Strategic Defense Initiative. I promise you I'll do everything within my power to move forward with research and testing of a high-tech, nonnuclear defense system so that the world you raise your children in will be safe and secure and free from fear. Let's use the wonders of technology not to make war but to protect the peace.
It's no accident that America is blazing the trail of progress through the 20th century and leading the race to the future. We live in a country that encourages enterprise and rewards initiative, a country where everyone is free to contribute and all can benefit from the success of others. Our society is inventive because we're free, and prosperous because each individual is secure to gather and keep the fruits of his labor. If we're ever mindful of our enduring principles -- the natural rights to life, liberty, and property, spoken of in your Virginia Bill of Rights -- then America will always be the shining star among nations, leading the world on to a better tomorrow.
In my State of the Union Address, I mentioned another coming miracle of modern technology, a new hypersonic aerospace plane. I brought a model of that aerospace plane with me. This is truly the shape of things to come. I don't suppose that you could all see that very well, so I'll try to describe it for you. It looks a lot like the pictures of rocket ships that my 7-year-old grandson draws. For those more advanced in years, it'll remind you of something out of a Buck Rogers. And you might say it resembles a Concorde that's been straightened out and had its wings clipped. [Laughter] But it will make the Concorde seem slow. Taking off from a standing runway, it will cruise in the atmosphere at speeds of up to 25 times the speed of sound or fly into low-Earth orbit. The aerospace plane will be able to fly anywhere on the Earth in 3 hours or commute up to the space station that we will soon be building. And we should be conducting the preliminary test flights about the time the freshmen here graduate from college, toward the middle of the next decade.
I'm going to give this model, the first model of the aerospace plane that we've made public, to Thomas Jefferson High School as a symbol of the future that you, the students -- [inaudible]. And I'm going to ask your teacher, Judith Garcia, one of the 10 teacher-in-space finalists, to come up and accept it for you. Now, I hope that she accepts it in the name of her friends, the Challenger Seven, as a promise that their vision lives on and that as long as the men and women of dedication, hope, courage, and faith in this country -- as long as they're there, America will continue to take giant strides into the future. So, congratulations!
I slipped up. I was supposed to step over here for the cameras. [Laughter]
Ms. Garcia. Thank you, Mr. President. I'd like to take just a moment here, if I may, to commend you for your farsighted leadership as demonstrated by your continued support of the space program. And, also, I would like to express my appreciation for your concern that you share with teachers all over America to provide the finest education possible for our young people.
It is a great honor for me to accept this model of the aerospace plane on behalf of Thomas Jefferson High School and School for Science and Technology. This model symbolizes the new and exciting challenges of the future which impact heavily on our present. Never before has science and technology evolved at such a pace, sometimes revealing answers to longstanding questions, but more often presenting us with ever greater mysteries to be solved and new worlds to be explored. For example, on January 24th, 1986, spacecraft Voyager passed by the planet Uranus, and in less than one-half a day we had learned more than astronomers had learned over a period of 200 years before.
The realm of human knowledge is expanding so rapidly that often our textbooks become obsolete before they leave the press. Never before in human history has the challenge to educators and students been greater or more critical. We, as a nation, are facing a serious dilemma. For although science and technology have progressed rapidly, the youth of our nation has slipped behind the young of other nations in preparing themselves in the areas of math and science.
We are now making conscientious efforts to remedy this very serious situation. But, as we do so, we must maintain a clear perspective of ourselves. We should encourage the study of science and math without neglecting the humanities. [Applause] Thank you. Our future in space and on the planet Earth will require ever-greater international understanding and cooperation. Already, other nations, such as Germany and Japan, are working with NASA as partners on the space station. On Earth, our aerospace plane will enable us to cross continents and oceans in just a couple of hours, bringing faraway countries ever closer to us. Indeed, teachers are being challenged as never before as our nation entrusts our most precious resource, our children, to our tutelage.
But the burden of education does not rest solely on the teacher. Christa McAuliffe often stated with great pride, ``I touch the future, I teach.'' I would like to leave the students here with this thought: As you learn, you build the future. Education is a partnership requiring responsibility, cooperation, and diligence from both the instructor and the student. And we must certainly not neglect the vital role parents play in the learning process as well.
The frontier of space beckons irresistibly to us to explore its planets and moons, to search for life in other solar systems, and to marvel as the secrets of the universe are revealed to us. The courage and the dedication of the Challenger crew of seven will serve to inspire and guide us as we continue their journey to the stars.
Note: The President spoke at 11:47 a.m. in the school gymnasium. In his opening remarks, he referred to Mary E. Collier, chairman of the Fairfax County School Board; Robert R. Spillane, Division Superintendent; Richard L. Murphy, the school's former principal; and Raymond Volrath, principal of the new, specialized school.