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Public Statements

Kennedy Calls on the Next Generation to Participate in Government

Location: Easton, MA



Today, Senator Edward M. Kennedy addressed the 62nd annual convention of young men at the American Legion Boys State Program. Four hundred high school juniors from all across Massachusetts heard Senator Kennedy speak on the critical need for participation in all levels of government.

"We did not make the world we live in, but we have the chance to change it," said Senator Kennedy. "Each of you has the power to send forth your own ripple of hope, and many of you are already doing so."

Boys State allows prominent young men to meet, listen, and interact with current political leaders as part of a weeklong program focused on government processes and American history.

The American Legion created the Boys State Program, which is based on the belief that young men (and women in the Girls State program) should be given the opportunity to learn leadership skills and gain practical experience of the structure of American government. The program was initiated by Hayes Kennedy, an instructor at the Loyola University School of Law in Chicago, and it is now present in 49 states.

Below are Senator Kennedy's remarks as prepared for delivery.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy
Remarks to Boys State
June 12, 2006

(As prepared for delivery)

Vicki and I are honored to be here with all of you, and we're inspired by your interest in public service. Boys State graduates accomplish great things, and we know that many of you will go on to major positions in the nation's life.

Throughout our history, America has been blessed that men and women of conscience, ability, and vision have responded to the nation's call in times of need.

I think of Rosa Parks, who through her simple, brave, and eloquent act shamed a nation into finally confronting the vast discrimination that many chose to ignore for so long.

Without her act of civil disobedience, how much longer might we have waited for the spark of conscience to ignite the determination of millions of others to call for change?

We did not make the world we live in, but we have the chance to change it. As my brother Robert Kennedy told the students in South Africa in 1966:

"Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

Each of you has the power to send forth your own ripple of hope, and many of you are already doing so.

When I look back over my years in the Senate, I'm amazed at the progress we've made on issues of social justice, economic opportunity, and basic fairness, and it gives me hope for our future.

When I first came to the Senate in 1963, nearly half of our senior citizens lived in poverty and poor health. Women were not equal in the workplace, and we know too well how the ingrained system of segregation made African Americans second-class citizens, under constant threat of violence.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Medicare. Women's rights in the 1970's. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991, all helped our nation come closer to living up to its ideals.

None of these successes was easy. They required the sustained commitment of private citizens and elected officials of both parties to overcome entrenched opposition.

When the Senate was debating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to outlaw segregation in public accommodations, we faced an intense filibuster.

Martin Luther King, Jr., fearing it would succeed, appealed to supporters to join protests of segregated restaurants.

Two who responded were the elderly mother of Massachusetts Governor Endicott Peabody, and the elderly wife of the Episcopal Bishop in Massachusetts. The sight of these two women being arrested and jailed for sitting-in at the Ponce De Leon restaurant in St. Augustine, Florida attracted enormous national attention, and the ripples of hope they sent out helped create a national current that swept away the filibuster.

Time and again throughout our history, we've learned that citizens have great power to find solutions to our problems. All they have to do is try.

Our Founders had no model for creating the world's most enduring democracy, and President Lincoln had no formula to keep the Union together.

President Roosevelt did not have a handbook for pulling our nation out of the Depression. Harry Truman did not have all the answers immediately after World War II for rebuilding Western Europe.

But at each of these critical times, they did have Americans ready, willing and able to serve their fellow citizens and reach out to others - Americans like all of you.

There's no doubt that we're in a similar time of extraordinary challenges today, and again we need to call on the American people to help guide us through them.

We all need to be part of the debate. We cannot shrink from the public square and leave it to others.

We must find our way out of the quagmire in Iraq. As you know, I favor an early timetable for withdrawal of our troops, and I hope that it can happen as soon as possible. We have already lost too many brave young men and women there in a war America never should have fought.

Another great challenge we face is to make globalization work for the American people.

For fifty years after the end of the cold war, America dominated the world economy. Europe and Japan were still struggling to rebuild after World War II, and much of humanity was trapped behind the walls of Communism.

We made wise decisions that created this prosperity and enabled it to flourish. We educated a generation of returning veterans through the GI Bill of Rights, and created a vital and growing middle class.

But today, our edge is slipping - other countries want their turn in the limelight.

Just-in-time delivery, the Internet, and the emergence of a well-educated and entrepreneurial class in India and in China are changing the world in profound ways.

We're not living up to these challenges of education. America has fallen from 3rd to 15th in producing scientists and engineers, and now we're 28th in math and science.

The new world economy is taking its toll on millions of families, who see their American dream undermined by inadequate wages, job losses, the evaporation of their pensions, and the soaring costs of college.

As in other times, we don't have all the answers, but we know a few prudent steps we can take immediately.

One thing we need to do as soon as possible is to remove the financial barrier to college. Our economic security is at stake, and we can't permit the cost of college to be an obstacle any longer.

We also need to create a new social contract with young college graduates. If they'll commit to teaching math and science in our public schools for several years, we'll release them from the staggering debt of college loans that too often dictates a graduate's choice of career.

We also need to give older workers the new skills they need to qualify for new types of employment when other skills are no longer in demand.

We need to make good health care available to all Americans. The current system is failing more and more citizens every year. It's both a moral failure and an enormous drain on our competitive position in the world.

In this new century of life sciences, extraordinary breakthroughs in medical research hold enormous promise, but far too few of our people are seeing the benefit.

Among industrialized nations, the U.S. ranks 22nd in average life expectancy and 25th in infant mortality. Over 46 million of our people have no health insurance.

The consequences are severe. Every year, eight million uninsured Americans fail to take their prescription drugs, because they can't afford them - 270,000 uninsured children with asthma never see a doctor, and 27,000 uninsured women are diagnosed with breast cancer.

The high cost of health care also wreaks havoc on our competitive position in the world. Ford Motor Company spends more on health care than it does on steel for its cars. Medical bills cause nearly half of all personal bankruptcies in the country today.

It's time for change. Sick children can't learn in school, and sick workers can't earn on the job.

We need new ideas and a renewed commitment to solve this problem. I'm proud of the steps Massachusetts has taken to provide good care for all our people, and I'm going to push in Washington to make it a reality for all Americans. I call my plan Medicare for All, and it will be exactly that.

But no current issue more clearly illustrates the difficult twin challenges of security in the post-9/11 world and the forces of globalization confronting us than the immigration debate now playing out in Congress and across this country.

The history of America is the history of immigration. My own ancestors had to face the "No Irish Need Apply" signs when they first arrived in Boston.

Generations of immigrants have performed difficult labor in exchange for unfair wages, but they earned their way into the American family through hard work and perseverance in the face of countless obstacles.

They brought new vitality to the American dream and constant proof that in this land of opportunity, anyone can build a better life for themselves and their families.

It is this belief - this powerful belief in America's possibilities - that has made us the most dynamic, creative, and upwardly mobile society the world has ever known.

It's an optimism stated movingly in the famous words inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

As the debate on immigration unfolds, there is a strong pressure by some to adopt an "enforcement only" approach.

They would build higher walls to keep aliens out. They'd round up and deport anyone not here legally, even it means separating them from children who were born here and are U.S. citizens.

That's the shortsighted approach adopted by the House of Representatives that has ignited growing opposition across the country. It's inhumane - and it's also unworkable, because it requires people to come forward willingly to be deported.

Would any terrorist do that?

We need an immigration policy that protects our borders, and that also provides a fair path to citizenship.

That's the common sense, humane, and comprehensive approach that Senator John McCain and I are offering in this debate and that President Bush supports. I'm very hopeful we'll have a final bill that protects America and makes us proud of America too.

Many of you will be facing these similar major issues in the years ahead. I commend you for your interest in public service, and for your commitment to working to improve your communities, our state, and our country.

In the years ahead, we'll need all your energy and determination to meet our great challenges, but I know we can.

As my brother Jack said, and as Bobby was fond of saying, some "see things as they are and say "why?" I dream things that never were and say "why not?"

May you never stop asking that question as you work to make America - and each of our communities - all that they can be.

Thank you all so much.

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