|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 23, 2003
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Fort Campbell High School Commencement
Austin Peay State University
Fort Campbell, Kentucky
Thank you for the warm welcome. Thank you, Patrice and congratulations. Thank you, Principal Killebrew, Assistant Principal Gallivan, Superintendent Diekmann, and distinguished faculty of Fort Campbell High. I'm proud to be at the home of the 101st Airborne Division. To all of the Screaming Eagles here, America thanks you for your courage and service to your country.
Welcome parents, family, friends and especially, the class of 2003. I bet when you were dissecting frogs in Coach Lange's class, you never thought this day would come. After grading some of your papers, he probably didn't either. Today marks the culmination of many years of determination and hard work - many years of worrying about SATs, a prom date, and making sure your shirt was tucked in. Congratulations - now you can un-tuck those shirts!
Congratulations especially to the parents. With daughters in college ourselves, President Bush and I know what you're feeling today. A great deal of pride, a little sadness and utter relief that they're moving out and you get to use the phone again. Today is a day you've imagined for your sons and daughters since they were born - and their graduation is an affirmation of your support.
Class of 2003, your graduation honors your loved ones - especially those who are still deployed. Those that are not here - are here in our hearts. You will honor them throughout your life as you work to improve your communities and the world. But there is no better time than now to thank your parents, family, and teachers whose hard work has brought you to this day - so I invite you to give them a big round of applause.
Today is bittersweet for parents. You are proud, yet anxious - unsure of what the world holds for your children - and what an empty nest holds for you. I remember the day our girls graduated from high school and headed off to college. They say parents often have to get out of the house when their kids leave because it gets lonely. Everyone deals with it in different ways. But I told George I thought running for President was a little extreme.
Congratulations to the faculty of Fort Campbell High. You've done a wonderful job of developing the minds and talents of this class. You've given them values, lessons, love - and too many reminders about tucking in their shirts. You can be assured that you send them into the world well- prepared and well-dressed.
Class of 2003, thanks to your parents and teachers, you've received a great education at an award-winning school. Fort Campbell strives to give students both a strong academic and social foundation. Here personal growth is as important as academic success. You've learned to respect and cherish life, to love and serve your neighbor and your country, and to use kindness and service to others as your guiding principles.
These are the same principles that inspire your moms and dads and every member of the United States military. You should be incredibly proud of your parents - every American should be proud to live in a country where citizens serve with such dedication. Our entire nation appreciates the sacrifices military families make - and we pray that our troops will return safely and soon. Over the last year, the world witnessed the skill and resolve of our military. We've seen their courage and their decency to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.
From the beginning of battle to this very hour, our troops have conducted themselves with honor and compassion. In Baghdad last month, U.S. Marines helped to free more than 100 children who, according to one report, had been jailed for refusing to join the dictator's Baath Party.
Malnourished and wearing rags, the children were overjoyed to see their parents and our troops.
Lt. Colonel Fred Padilla, Commander of the 1st Battalion 5th Marines said, "The children just streamed out of the gates and their parents just started to embrace us. Hundreds of kids were swarming us and kissing us."
Graduates, soon you will be heading out into the world. After today's fanfare, you will look back over your time at Fort Campbell and remember many things. You'll remember the friends you've made and you'll remember your favorite teachers like Ms. Ladd and Mrs. Robinson. Years from now you may remember cheering for the Falcons at football games or hanging out at Hooper Lanes. Maybe you'll remember the hamburgers in the cafeteria - I hear they're pretty unforgettable.
But I hope you remember this as well - remember the values you've learned from your parents and teachers - respect, perseverance, and integrity. In the past four years, you've gained the academic skills that will guide you in your next endeavor. But more importantly, you've learned who you are and who you can be. A high school diploma is a great achievement - but the true value of your education is not in a piece of paper - it is in the person you have become.
At times you may have been frustrated being a military child - being the new kid on the block all the time. You may have been annoyed moving for the 10th time - or worried about making friends at another new school. But these experiences not only make you special - they make you stronger. You have an amazing resiliency to adapt to new situations, friends, and cultures. Cherish these experiences - they make you who you are - and they will help you throughout your life, especially in college, the military and the working world.
Soon, you will venture into a world where you can wear more than green, white and blue polo shirts. Some of you, like Patrice, may be attending this very university or another college. Some may begin working right away. And some of you may join the military like Philip Bachus, who couldn't be here tonight because he is already in basic training. Some of you may not be sure what your plans are - and I may be one of the few people to tell you this - but its okay not to have your future mapped out.
You can not imagine what life will be like in a few years nor do you know what the future holds. The important thing is to follow your heart and to be open to new experiences. Don't be afraid of trying and failing - be afraid of not trying at all. Some very successful people have had their share of disappointment and failure. Walt Disney was once fired by a newspaper for lack of ideas. Dr. Seuss's first book was rejected by 27 publishers before it sold six million copies. And Michael Jordan was once cut from his high school basketball team.
I knew from an early age what I wanted to do. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Gnagy inspired me to become a teacher. I went to college and earned a degree in education. I started teaching - but soon realized that what I enjoyed most was teaching children to read. So I went go to graduate school to become a librarian. And then I fell in love and that changed everything!
The simple fact is that life changes - and our goals, dreams, and priorities change with it. If you plan every detail of your life, you will never live the life that was meant for you. I've learned that it's not important what you do in life or where you go - it's how you live life that's important and how you treat others. What matters is what you put into life, not what you get out of it.
You may think this is my parting advice to you today - after all, a commencement speaker is supposed to give some grand life advice. But I can't let you embark upon one of the most exciting adventures of your life without a few more words of wisdom. During your time at Fort Campbell, you took an "I Will" pledge to respect each other and serve your community. I invite you to take this pledge again today, and say "I Will" to some advice that I hope will guide you in the adventure of life. Today, promise yourself and all of us that:
You will treasure your education. Remember that education is freedom and it never ends. Whether you go on to college or to work, education is life long - so strive to learn every day.
You will continue to make public service a priority in your lives and work to help a neighbor in need.
You will take a chance on meeting new friends, while never letting go of your homies.
You will remember ten years from now, that Laura Bush said homey at your graduation.
You will work to be extraordinary at one thing, and good at many different things.
You will learn from your mistakes. Mistakes make life interesting, while learning from them makes it meaningful.
You will be responsible and accountable. Although your family and friends will always be there for you, today you are officially on your own.
You will read more than Cliff Notes. Buy a bookcase and fill it with classics like Shakespeare and Thoreau and read them.
And you will appreciate the little things in life - and especially the people in your life. Say 'I love you' to someone every day - especially to yourself.
You've made a lot of promises, but there is one last thing I want you to do as Fort Campbell seniors. Take a look around at your classmates. You may have known each other for four years or only four months - but this will likely be the last time you're all together. But unlike many of the moves and transitions you've made, you don't have to say goodbye. You will always be connected by the values you've learned here - respect, perseverance, and integrity. You've shared these as a class, and now you'll share them with the world. The future may be uncertain, but the friends and the memories you've made at Fort Campbell are forever. Congratulations, Class of 2003.