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For Immediate Release
Office of Mrs. Bush
June 19, 2002

Opening Remarks by Mrs. Laura Bush at White House Conference on Character and Community, June 19

Thank you, and welcome to the White House Conference on Character and Community.

White House Conference on Character & Community
We all agree that education opens the door of hope for all of America's children. Education is a broad topic. Some people think of education in terms of the Three R's -- reading, writing, and arithmetic -- but another R is essential: responsibility.

Most of us have learned the Four R's. The bedrock lessons and values that shaped our lives as children continue to make our lives meaningful as adults. Good parents and teachers try to instill these values in children.

Gwendolyn Williams, a third-grade teacher at Manatee Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida said, "My students are at school for six hours each day. Most of them spend more (awake) hours with me than they spend with their parents. Therefore, I see my class as a family. It's the perfect environment to teach responsibility, respect, honesty, fairness, sharing, trust, diversity, tolerance and caring. Character education is a major part of my curriculum."

Children want to experience the joy of helping others. They should learn at an early age that helping others makes them feel good.

Think about when you were in second grade and your teacher asked you to draw a picture of someone you wanted to be when you grew up. You drew a firefighter, a police officer, an athlete, a doctor, an astronaut, a teacher or sometimes even a president.

These are people whose actions make them heroes. We drew them because we wanted to be heroes like them.

But you don't have to walk into a burning building or wear a badge to rescue someone.

You don't have to score a touchdown to win points with someone. You don't have to go to medical school to help a person feel better. You don't have to walk on the moon to change this earth, and you don't have to sign a bill to change your state or country.

Kindness and heroism can't always be drawn in a picture. But they can be taught in our classrooms and churches, clubs and other places where children gather.

Today's Conference on Character and Community gives us the opportunity to share our stories, experiences, and perspectives for the good of our country and our children. In doing so, we recognize that character and service are national priorities. Service rises from strong character; and strong character compels us to serve. We all have the responsibility to promote strong values. And we know that character education is important and can be effective.

Our next speaker personifies the concepts of duty, honor, and country. His record of service is marked by a deep commitment to the values we're talking about today. He spent 35 years of his life serving his country as a professional soldier in the Army -- a career of distinction and success.

He retired from the Army at the top of his game, but he never stopped serving his country. In fact, Colin Powell had a promise to make -- America's Promise. And he continues to keep his promise of service today. Americans are proud to have him serving our country. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Secretary of State Colin Powell.

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