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Remarks on Greeting the National Spelling Bee Finalists

May 30, 1986

The President. It's a pleasure to have all of you here today. And before anything else, I'd like to say how proud I am of each of you for reaching the National Spelling Bee finals. Getting this far required intelligence, concentration, and preparation. And that last word is spelled h-o-m-e-w-o-r-k. [Laughter]

I especially would like to congratulate Jon Pennington for being this year's National Spelling Bee champion and to Andy Larson and Rachel Henderson for being runners-up. I understand the winning word was odontalgia. Odontalgia?

Mr. Pennington. Odontalgia.

The President. I'm having trouble pronouncing it, let alone spelling it. Anybody who can get that right has either done their homework or spent a lot of time at the dentist. [Laughter]

And while we're offering our congratulations, let's not forget two young people who have had to overcome even greater odds in order to be here today, Terra Syslo and Monica Van Doren. Your achievement -- I'm talking about everyone here today -- sets a fine example for young people across our country. Spelling, like mathematics and reading, is a skill to be mastered, a skill that will open the door of the future.

Being successful, as all of you are aware, takes much more than luck and much more than raw talent. Thomas Edison once said that genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. When I was your age -- now, some of you may think that was back in the time of the dinosaurs, but it wasn't quite that long ago -- I remember struggling over my spelling. My mother would go through the drill of asking me to spell this word or that word. Our family wasn't well-to-do at all, and yet my mother knew that in America everything was possible, including the hope that one day a son of hers would get a hundred percent on a spelling test.

Seriously, though, I think that much of our country's progress can be traced back to parents who made certain their kids learned the fundamentals. For many of you, this may be your first visit to the Nation's Capital. Well, all the people you see working in government are doing their best to turn over to you, the next generation of Americans, an opportunity-filled land, a country where you can go as far as your hard work and your natural talents will carry you. And every time a group of bright young people like yourselves comes here, it makes everything seem worthwhile.

Legend tells us that early in the last century, a young man from Illinois taught himself how to write, scratching out words on a wooden shovel. He was poor, he couldn't afford paper and pen. He later went on to be a lawyer, a Congressman, and then President of the United States. He was a true champion of freedom. And his name, of course, was Abraham Lincoln. Had he not put forth that effort, studied there by the fireplace, our country would have been denied the leadership that he provided. I hope when you get back to your schools in various parts of the country you carry that message to all of us and that all of us are counting on America's young people.

America will reach its potential only if you and other young people are willing to strive to reach your potential. And after meeting you today, I happen to think there's every reason to have confidence in the future. So, congratulations again to all of you. Thank you for coming for this visit. God bless you all.

Now, Jon, it's my pleasure to present the trophy to you.

Mr. Pennington. Thank you -- and for you, Mr. President.

The President. Well, thank you very much. I can use this, too. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 12:57 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. The National Spelling Bee was sponsored by the Scripps-Howard News Service. Jon Pennington gave the President a copy of a book entitled "Words of the Champions.''