The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
October 7, 2002

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity Award Dinner
The Plaza
New York City, New York

Thank you very much.

Distinguished guests, good evening.

Elie (Wiesel), thank you for the very kind introduction and this great honor. I've been looking forward to this evening, because it gives me the opportunity to thank you for your important work.

Elie's lifelong work is one of my lifelong loves - teaching. I know from my own experience in the classroom that it takes a lot of patience and love to teach young people to read and write and comprehend.

But it takes something vastly greater to teach people to love one another; to develop in them the values of tolerance and justice.

This is the work of Elie Wiesel and the Foundation for Humanity. Elie witnessed the worst of human hate, then dedicated his life to cultivating the best of human hope.

He has been our conscience, insisting that people throughout the world confront and acknowledge their own part in the horrors of the Holocaust.

He has been our historian, insisting that we tell and retell the story to our children and grandchildren. And he has been our guide, living the values of love, tolerance and justice that defeat hate and lead to hope.

Elie's entire life has been dedicated to the conviction that Dr. Martin Luther King articulated in his Letter From Birmingham Jail: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Elie has taught on the stage of the world; my teaching was done in a small second-grade classroom. In those young minds, entrusted to me for six or seven hours every day, I saw such eagerness to learn and to explore new ideas. Children delight in learning, and they are so eager to please. I remember watching my students as they watched me, learning from my reactions, absorbing the way I responded to all their questions and their occasional misbehavior.

It's a sobering experience for a new teacher to realize, as James Baldwin once said, "Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them." James Baldwin (1924- 1987), Nobody Knows My Name (1961).

Teaching is the most difficult and most rewarding job, and teachers literally have the future in their hands every day. That's why I spend so much time encouraging people to consider a career in teaching, especially today, when many people are searching for more meaning in their lives and livelihoods.

I hope more new college graduates, and more people who are retiring from other careers but still want to work and make a difference, will join the heroic ranks of people who educate our children.

Of course, every teacher - and every parent- knows that teaching isn't just about reading and writing and arithmetic. These skills are vital. But teaching is as much about the heart as it is about the mind.

Education is also about shaping children's character, and helping them become good citizens. We must teach our children right from wrong. We must teach them to respect life and to respect each other's differences. We must teach them the values that defeat hate and terror.

Children around the world are watching.

And as my husband said, "tolerance can never be assumed, it must always be taught.There is a contest of light and shadow in every nation, in every generation. Intolerance is not merely a problem of the past.We are called by conscience to set our hearts against all assaults on human dignity."

Those words of his were spoken long before September 11th, but they have even more meaning today.

Children around the world have now witnessed in their own lifetime an assault on human life and human dignity. We must teach them that hate is always wrong, and life is always valuable.

Education is the most important long-term investment we can make in the future, because through education, America's children - and all the world's children -- have a far better chance of living in peace and prosperity.

That is why Americans celebrated with the people of Afghanistan as children there went back to school --- for many young girls, for the very first time in their young lives.

In Afghanistan, under the brutal repression of the Taliban, the world again witnessed the kind of hate and intolerance we must always stand against.

The isolation the Taliban forced on women there was not normal -- not by international standards, not by Islamic standards, and not by Afghanistan's own standards.

Before the Taliban, women were elected representatives in Afghanistan's parliament. Women worked as teachers, doctors and professionals. Women were educated and women were a vital part of Afghanistan's life.

And thanks to America and our coalition partners around the world, the women of Afghanistan are once again participating in the life and rebuilding of their country.

One of the great joys of my time in the White House has been to meet with some of these inspiring women. And one of the first things they talk about is the urgent priority of building schools and training teachers and educating the children of Afghanistan.

They know education can help children see beyond a world of hate and hopelessness. With education comes greater self-respect, and respect for others. With education comes greater understanding and tolerance.

Children want to learn how to be responsible citizens and to participate in society; they want to learn about human rights and civic duties. We can help children understand that their actions affect other people; that they can have a positive effect on their communities and on the much larger world around them.

I applaud the Elie Wiesel Foundation for your brave and persistent work to seek the truth and shine a light on it; to promote the values of life and love, and to further the cause of justice.

Thank you very much for this honor, and thank you for inviting me.

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