[President Clinton]
The National Archives

Remarks by the First Lady at the White House Millennium Event

Remarks by the President at the White House Millennium Event


The National Archives

9:34 A.M. EDT

MRS. CLINTON: Thank you very much, Governor John Carlin. And I want to thank, on behalf of all of us, the World Children's Choir and their artistic director, Sondra Harnes . I learned that their credo is to sing together to create friendship, peace, and health for themselves and the planet, and I want to thank them for contributing to this event this morning.

I'm also very pleased to welcome distinguished ambassadors and members of the Cabinet and heads of many independent agencies here, because we are gathered to announce an important effort that will involve not just those of us who are here in this wonderful hall, but Americans and literally people all over the world.

A few years ago most of us gave us little thought to the approaching millennium. We didn't spend time conjuring what it would be like to drop the 19 from the calendar and our computer and replace it with a 20. Rarely did we see references even to 2000 in advertising or on web pages or in political speeches.

Recently, however, there's a growing excitement about the idea that we will be living in a rare, historical moment -- the conclusion of a century and the birth of a millenium. No matter where we are in the country, the celebrations of the millennium will reflect the creativity, diversity and raw energy of Americans. And I have no doubt that such celebrations will include everything from the most solemn event to the most exotic. Thousands of Americans have already booked reservations on cruise ships and at hotels for New Year's Eve in 1999. Companies are devising projects to be completed in the year 2000. Computerized clocks are busily counting down the remaining seconds of the 20th century. From Boston to Cincinnati to Anchorage to Beverly Hills to Times Square in New York, communities are planning their own festivities to usher in this new era.

When the millennium finally arrives, none of us will find ourselves suddenly transformed. We won't be trading our earthly jeans and t-shirts for space attire, and we hope that the only bolts of light in the sky will be the fireworks that we've been planning. Still, the coming of this new century and millennium presents us with a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the past, on where we've been, on who we are, and what we hope to become.

When the President and I first began to talk about how as a country we could mark this turn of the calendar, you might guess that we came back to one idea -- what it meant to build a bridge to the 21st century. When the President talked about that bridge, he didn't mean, of course, a real bridge, but he did mean one that would metaphorically be constructed by the gifts all Americans would give to the future -- gifts that will help rekindle our spirit of democracy, renew our commitment to citizenship, and unleash the full creative and intellectual potential of the American people as we chart our common future.

I'm especially pleased to be here for this announcement in this great repository of American democracy, because starting now we will be talking about ways to honor the past and imagine the future. The National Archives is a fitting place to announce a special White House effort to recognize the important milestone ahead of us. Beginning this year and lasting until 2001, the White House will lead a national millennium program for the American people to appreciate our common heritage and rejoice in our creativity.

As a living museum of our nation's history, the White House provides a unique venue for showcasing our nation's art, culture, scholarship, scientific explorations, and technological discoveries. Over the next three years, the White House will sponsor a range of cultural and scientific activities that reflect the optimism and faith in our capacity to build a better future. Among them are a White House lecture series, co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, that will feature prominent men and women, not just from America but from around the world, who can provoke our thinking about the past and the future; and an American cultural showcase that will spotlight our finest artists and their talents. As of today, you can even log on to a new millennium program website on the White House home page to learn more about the activities that are being planned.

Other special commemorative events will coincide with the 200th anniversary in the year 2000 of the first occupant at the White House, John Adams; the 200th anniversary of the first meeting of Congress; and the 200th anniversary of the creation of the Library of Congress.

Around the nation's capital, some of our leading cultural institutions are working on their own millennium projects. The Library of Congress is putting part of its collection online for students, teachers, and citizens everywhere. The Smithsonian will expand its Festival of American Folk Life on the Mall in the summer of 2000, and will feature children from all over the world making and playing with toys unique to their countries and cultures. Some of you have already enjoyed a free performance on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center. These performances are part of a run-up to the Center's yearlong artistic festival in 2000.

Each of these activities offers citizens a chance to learn about our nation's history, to remember it, and even help to shape it. Each is a reminder that our nation's history is part of our own personal history, too.

Building a future worthy of our children depends on what all of us do in our families, workplaces, communities, and nations. We do that every day, I know, but now we will be able to reflect on our past and count the blessings we enjoy as citizens of a free and democratic country. I hope we will all be inspired to give our own gifts to the future, whether by helping to build a new park, cleaning up a river, restoring an old theater, raising money for a library, saving family papers and photographs, encouraging children to interview their grandparents, volunteering in our communities -- all of these are measures of ourselves as citizens in a democracy.

As the President said in his State of the Union address earlier this year, our economy is measured in numbers and statistics, and that's very important, but the enduring work of our nation lies in our shared values and our soaring spirit. By giving our own gifts to the future, we can make sure that when the new millennium finally comes, we won't just be celebrating a new year; we will be celebrating the enduring strength of our democracy, the renewal of our sense of citizenship, and the full flowering of the American mind and spirit.

I hope all Americans will join us at the White House, either literally or figuratively, in the years ahead in helping to celebrate this milestone. And I'm particularly pleased that the chief bridge-builder for our nation is here today to talk more specifically about what we will be planning and doing in the years to come.

So it gives me great personal pleasure to introduce the President of the United States. (Applause.)


THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Governor Carlin, thank you for hosting us here in this wonderful place, in the shadow of our most important historical documents. I thank the British and Australian Ambassadors for joining us, along with representatives of the embassies of Brazil, France, Iceland, and Germany. I'm glad we have so many people from our Cabinet here today, Secretaries Shalala, Riley, Slater; General McCaffrey; Dr. Varmus from the NIH; Joe Duffey, Director of the USIA; Senator Harris Wofford, the head of our national service efforts; Dr. John Brademas; Robert Stanton and others who are here.

We have a number of citizens who've come from -- some from quite a distance -- the Mayor of Beverly Hills, California, Meralee Goldman is here. Mr. Pete Homer, the Vice President of the National Indian Business Association; Mr. Leland Swenson, the President of the National Farmers Union is here. And I want to make particular note of the Director of our initiative on race, Judy Winston, because that's going to be a very important part of what will happen as we prepare for the millennium.

As the First Lady said, this gives us a remarkable opportunity to honor the past and to imagine the future, and to connect the two in our own minds and for our fellow Americans. The 20th century has been called the American century. Through wars and depression and industrial revolution and now an information revolution, our American spirit of discovery, innovation, and faith in the future have carried us forward and inspired billions of people around the world.

Now we have come to a milestone, nearing the end of an exhilarating decade that has seen the fall of Communism and the rise of democracy around the world; the mapping of the mysteries of the human body and the exploration of the terrain of Mars; the creation of new American ideas and art. Now we have begun the most important exploration of all, I believe: rediscovering and reaffirming our common identity as a people in a very new and different time, and coming together as one America.

Still early in our journey, we find ourselves at the turn of our first millennium as a nation. For centuries, people have wondered what this millennium would bring. Would it signal an Apocalypse or herald a new world, mark a time of decline or a time of renewal. Whatever the prophecies and forecasts -- and there will be more and more and more coming out over the next couple of years -- whatever the hopes and fears, the millennium is no longer a distant possibility. It has arrived. We are present at the future, a moment we must now define for ourselves and for our children.

As the year 2000 draws near, we must ask ourselves, what will it take to meet that challenge, to define that future, to prepare ourselves for a new century and a new millennium. What of our values and heritage will we carry with us. And what gifts shall we give to the future.

All over the world, nations and communities are preparing to observe the millennium with a wide variety of efforts. The United Kingdom will build bridges, museums, new parks, and a new university. Germany will hold Expo 2000, the first World's Fair to mark a millennium. Today I am pleased to accept Chancellor Kohl's invitation for the United States to participate in Expo 2000, joining 143 other organizations and nations. Australia will host the 2000 Summer Olympics. Iceland will celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Leif Erikson's voyage to the New World.

The White House Millennium program will guide and direct America's celebration of the millennium by showcasing the achievements that define us as a nation -- our culture, our scholarship, our scientific exploration. I appreciate the interest that the First Lady has shown in this endeavor, and I'm pleased she will play a leading role in our ongoing efforts. I also appreciate the work that she and her staff have done already to bring us to this point today. And I want to thank Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, formerly Director of the President's Committee on Arts and Humanities, for agreeing to direct the White House Millennium Program Office. Thank you, Ellen.

Today I want to talk about what we are already doing to prepare ourselves for the 21st century and to make this new millennium our own. First and most important, we are making education our children's first priority. They will, after all, live out most of their lives in this new millennium and the new century. This month I signed historic legislation that balanced the budget but also includes the largest investment in education in a generation from early childhood to college and beyond. In the coming months, I will continue to fight to finally establish high and measurable national standards of academic excellence.

By the year 2000, we have set a goal of connecting every single classroom and library in the entire United States to the Internet. I thank the Congress for funding that endeavor, and the private sector for helping us, so far, to stay slightly ahead of schedule. We must redouble our efforts to make sure that every one of our fellow citizens has the tools to succeed in the new century.

Second, we have to continue the path that has restored optimism and expansiveness to our economy, but now to ensure that all Americans have a chance to benefit from it.

Third, we have to ensure that our unique and vibrant cultural life flourishes in the new century and that our rich history is treasured and preserved. I am pleased that the National Endowment for the Humanities will sponsor a nationally televised series of Millennium Minutes that spotlight a thousand years of important people, events, and achievements. The National Endowment for the Arts Leadership Project for the Millennium will tell America's stories through the arts and initiate projects, such as new boys choirs modeled after the acclaimed Boys Choir of Harlem. The NEA will also send teams of photographers across the country to capture their vision of America at the turn of a new century. And the President's Committee on Arts and the Humanities will launch its Worthy Ancestors program, bringing together commercial, creative, and nonprofit sectors to save significant cultural materials from folk, popular, and classical traditions.

Fourth, we must take steps to make sure that the documents of our democracy are safe for the ages, for the millions of Americans and new immigrants and foreign visitors who view them every year. Believe it or not, the documents -- the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence -- are seriously threatened by the wear of time and the elements, unless we act in the next three years to save them. That is why I am very pleased that the National Archives, under Governor Carlin's leadership, has a three-year plan to ensure that they will also survive into the next millennium.

The highest project for the millennium at the Smithsonian is to save our Star Spangled Banner by 2001 -- the very flag that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became our National Anthem.

Fifth, we must continue to push the limits of science and technology, and to continue to explore the universe. The July 4th landing of the Sojourner Mars Probe transfixed the world. It is inspiring a new generation, and I hope very much that it has convinced a majority of Americans to continue to support our exploration of space. NASA will launch new robotic missions to Mars in 1998, 2001, and 2003.

The National Science Foundation will be 50 years old in the year 2000. To celebrate its anniversary and encourage young people to pursue careers in science, the Foundation will launch its National Science Foundation 2000 program, a national campaign on the importance of science, engineering and mathematics.

Now, as the millennium turns, as we have all seen from countless reports, so do the dates on our computers. Experts are concerned that many of our information systems will not differentiate between dates in the 20th and the 21st century. I want to assure the American people that the federal government, in cooperation with state and local government and the private sector, is taking steps to prevent any interruption in government services that rely on the proper functioning of federal computer systems. We can't have the American people looking to a new century and a new millennium with their computers -- the very symbol of modernity and the modern age -- holding them back, and we're determined to see that it doesn't happen.

Sixth, we must make sure that the land God has given us is preserved for generations to come. At the beginning of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt said, "We are not building this country of ours for a day, it is to last through the ages." As we enter the new century, we have a moral obligation to continue that charge. We've already acted to protect some of our most treasured places -- from Lake Tahoe to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to the Florida Everglades. And we are working to address the very real problem of climate change for the next century.

Next we must do everything we can to revive the spirit of citizen service in the new century. Every American ought to have the chance to serve. And I am very pleased that AmeriCorps, our national service program, has set a goal of doubling the number of full-time AmeriCorps volunteers by 2000. I'm also pleased that the Peace Corps will build on its legacy of service by setting a goal of tripling the size of its global learning partnership, World Wise Schools, by the new millennium. This program connects Peace Corps volunteers with teachers and students right here in America to promote international and intercultural understanding.

And, finally, we must continue to come together as one America. As Walt Whitman once said, "We are a nation of nations." It is our diversity, alive in our democracy, that is the source of our creativity, our inventiveness, our ability to communicate all around the world. That is why last June I called upon all of our fellow Americans to begin a great national conversation on race and reconciliation to help to carry us into a new millennium.

Now, these are just a few of the ways we are planning to celebrate the new millennium and make it our own. Ultimately, every American must decide what gifts he or she will give to the future, but each has a responsibility for our common destiny. So let me urge every citizen, every family, every community to think of ways to celebrate and commemorate the millennium -- from rebuilding and rejuvenating your local schools to restoring historic monuments to recording oral histories of family members.

Already, cities all across America are planning celebrations of their own. Over the next three years, the First Lady and I will work with governors, mayors, community leaders, to make the millennium a truly national celebration of gifts to the future. I invite you to share your ideas with us by visiting our new White House Millennium Program website at www.whitehouse.gov. I decided that I have a future giving out 800 numbers and websites. (Laughter.) We only can hope to equal the number of hits that Governor Carlin has already said the Archives have.

This is a serious thing. We want the best ideas we can to commemorate, to energize and to drive the largest possible number of Americans to work together to make contributions to the future. And technology can help us do it. We want people of all ages and all walks of life to give us their ideas through the website. Over the next three years the site will give us a chance also to tell the American people about what we're planning.

We will award the best local projects with the honorary title, Millennium Communities. And we'll post those stories on our websites for other communities to read about and learn from. Other nations are keenly interested in what we're doing to mark the millennium and today, therefore, the Voice of America is broadcasting this event around the world. The Voice of America is also launching its own project, a series of special broadcasts about how we are celebrating the millennium.

We mark our own lives by milestones and anniversaries. We mark the timeline of our nation with commemorations -- the bicentennial of our independence, the 50th anniversary of D-Day, the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific, next month the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court's historic order to integrate Little Rock Central High School.

Each of our major turning points was an affirmation of our values, and as we recall them, we renew those values and gain new energy from them. With the millennium, we must now decide how to think about our commitment to the future. Thomas Paine said a long time ago, "We have it in our power to begin the world over again." We have always believed that in this country, and we must now take it upon ourselves to take stock as we approach this new millennium to commit ourselves to begin the world over again for our children, our children's children, for people who will live in a new century. It is to the people of that new century that we must all offer our very best gifts. It is for them that we will celebrate the millennium.

Thank you very much.

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