Office of the Press Secretary
(Akron, Ohio)

For Immediate Release December 3, 1997


James A. Rhodes Arena
University of Akron

2:22 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Dee Hammonds, for that introduction and for the welcome to the University of Akron. I have enjoyed being here very much, and I'm very grateful to President Ruebel and to all the officials and the students who did such a good job today. Mr. Mayor, County Executive Davis, Senator Glenn, Congressman Sawyer, Congressman Stokes, members of the City Council, the State Legislators and other officials, I hope you were proud of your fellow Ohioans today. I thought they were great on the town meeting. (Applause.)

I want to say a special word of appreciation to all the people in Akron who have been a part of the Coming Together Project because it's one of the reasons we came here. We wanted to come to a place in the heartland of America which could embody the best of America's past, present, and potential for the future, and where people have been honest in dealing with issues of racial difference, and I compliment you on that.

Let me also say that I really was very moved, as I have frequently been in such settings -- but I was so impressed by the people who were part of our town meeting today, by their conviction, by their sincerity, by their passion, by the life they've lived, and by the good things they want for our country. And you must have been proud of them as well. I hope they spoke for all of you. (Applause.)

I want to say again that this dialogue, as part of our Initiative On Race, is something I decided to do because I think that we ought to be thinking about this not only today, but what we're going to look like over the next 30 to 40 years. Most Americans have not even come to grips with the fact that we already have five -- next year we'll have 12 -- school districts with students from over 100 different racial and ethnic groups; that we will soon have our largest state, California, where Americans of European descent are not in the majority; that within 50 years at the outside, there will be no single racial or ethnic group that will be in a majority in the United States. We have always said we were a nation built on the values of the Constitution; we were a nation of ideas, not of race or place. We are about to find out.

And, therefore, every effort made in every community across the country, not only to stand up against discrimination but to reach out for understanding, for the resolution of honest differences, even to celebrate honest argument, is a very positive and important thing. And I want to say again, I want to urge you to continue this.

If nothing else comes out of this meeting today we had, this town hall meeting, I hope it will be that other communities will think that they need some sort of permanent process like the Coming Together effort here that will go on and on and on and provide a forum for dialogue for people to come in and be a part of, because all of our communities are changing so rapidly and the issues are changing, that, in this case, the process really is a part of the solution. There has to be a way that people of good will can be heard on matters pertaining to racial difference and misunderstanding and problems as they come up.

Let me say one other thing to all the students who are here. You heard a lot of people say today that they thought that education was a big part of the answer to this, and you also heard a lot of people say that there were nonracial problems in America that had a disproportionate impact on racial minorities -- the lack of educational opportunity, the lack of economic opportunity.

One of the things that I'm proudest of, and I wanted to say this while we have Senator Glenn and Congressman Sawyer and Congressman Stokes here -- and Congressman Brown may or may not still be here; I don't know if he is -- but this last Congress, when they passed the Balanced Budget Act, among other things, passed the biggest increase in support for people to go on to college since the G.I. Bill was passed 50 years ago. (Applause.) The biggest increase in 50 years.

I do believe it will make it possible for us to guarantee at least two years of college to virtually every American. Here's what they did: first of all, they raised the maximum Pell Grant to $3,000 a year and made more people eligible for it -- (applause) -- more independent students. Secondly, nationwide, in a two-year period, we've gone from 700,000 to one million work-study positions, adding 300,000 over two years. (Applause.) The third thing we did was to provide for families to invest in their IRAs and make it easier for people to invest in an individual retirement account and then withdraw from it tax free if the money is being used to pay for education of a child or of the saver himself or herself. (Applause.) And, finally, the bill provides for a $1,500 tax credit -- not deduction -- credit -- for the cost of the first two years of college and a 20 percent credit for the cost of the third and fourth years of graduate school. Or if working people lose their jobs and need to come back and get further education and training, they can get tax credits to do it.

So when you look at all this together, I think we can really say now that when you put that with the student loan changes we've made, which make it easier to pay those loans back over a longer period of time, that you can really say now there's no reason that anybody should not at least have two years of college in America -- between the scholarships, the loans, and the tax credits. (Applause.) And that's an important thing that I want to see sweep the country.

So the last thing I'd like to say is -- I think the second speaker in our Town Hall meeting was a young student who said, you know, this racial deal, it's basically a problem for older people, you know, people in their thirties and forties and fifties. (Laughter.) And he got a lot of laughs out of it. But that may well be true. One thing is certainly true: those of you in this audience who are students in this university, or even younger, will live the vast majority of your lives in a new century. Your children will have no direct experience with the things that have consumed the lives of all of us who are 50 or older. And in a profound way, whether we can come together across all the racial, religious, ethnic, and other lines that divide us, celebrating our diversity, being glad about it, being happy -- we're a more interesting country because we are so different from one another -- but still saying there are things that bind us together that are more important, that we can preserve our country as one America in the 21st century as a beacon of hope and freedom and opportunity. That will affect your lives far more profoundly than many of the other things that may grab the headlines today or tomorrow or the next day.

So again I say, I hope you will continue the spirit and the dialogue manifested in this town meeting today permanently, because we will always benefit from understanding one another, from knowing more about one another, and from feeling like we can be honest with one another when we're mad or if we have an honest disagreement or we don't think we're being treated fairly.

And if we do it, then the chances are very high that we will be one America and that we will be a stunning rebuke to all those countries that have tragically taken the lives and the fortunes and the futures away from their children because they could not bridge their racial, their ethnic, their religious divides. That is not our America and it never will be if people like you will act on what you saw and felt today.

Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)

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