[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[June 5, 1998]
[Pages 894-898]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Commencement Address at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 
Cambridge, Massachusetts
June 5, 1998

    Thank you, Dr. Vest. I think you're the 
real thing. [Laughter] Chairman d'Arbeloff, Dr. Gray, members of the 
corporation, the faculty, especially to the members of the Class of 1998 
and your families, the Classes of 1948 and 1973, Mayor Duehay, members of the City Council. I thank the Brass 
Ensemble for the wonderful music before. Let me say I am profoundly 
honored to be here on the same platform with Dr. David Ho and grateful for the work he has done for humanity.
    When we met a few moments ago in President Vest's office with a 
number of the students and other officials of the university, I said you 
had a good representation of speakers today, the scientists and the 
scientifically challenged. [Laughter]
    But my administration has been able to carry on in no small measure 
because of contributions from MIT. Sixteen MIT alumni and faculty 
members have served in important positions in this administration, 
including at least two who are here today, the former Secretary of the 
Air Force, Sheila Widnall, and the Deputy 
Secretary of Energy, Ernie Moniz. Four of your 
faculty members and your president have done important work for us. I 
thank them all.
    And I come here today with good news and bad news for the graduates. 
The good news is that this morning we had our latest economic report: 
unemployment is 4.3 percent; there have been 16 million new jobs in the 
last 5 years; there are numerous job openings that pay well. The bad 
news is that you now have no excuse to your parents if you don't go to 
work. [Laughter]
    MIT is admired around the world as a crucible of creative thought, a 
force for progress, a place where dreams of generations become reality. 
The remarkable discoveries and inventions of the MIT community have 
transformed America. Early in your history, MIT was known for advances 
in geology and mining. By mid-century, MIT pioneered x rays and radar. 
Today, it's atomic lasers, artificial intelligence, biotechnology. MIT 
has done much to make this the American Century. And MIT will do more to 
make America and the world a better place in the 21st century, as we 
continue our astonishing journey through the information revolution, a 
revolution that began not as our own did, here in Massachusetts, with a 
single shot heard around the world, but instead was sparked by many 
catalysts, in labs and libraries, startups

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and blue chips, homes and even dorm rooms across America and around the 
    I come today not to talk about the new marvels of science and 
engineering; you know far more about them than I do. Instead I come to 
MIT, an epicenter of the seismic shifts in our economy and society, to 
talk about how we can and must apply enduring American values to this 
revolutionary time, about the responsibilities we all have as citizens 
to include every American in the promise of this new age.
    From the start, our Nation's greatest mission has been the 
fulfillment of our Founders' vision: opportunity for all, best secured 
by free people working together toward better tomorrows and what they 
called ``a more perfect Union.'' Americans believe the spark of 
possibility burns deep within every child, that ordinary people can do 
extraordinary things. Our history can be understood as a constant 
striving, on foreign fields and factory floors, in townhalls and the 
corridors of Congress, to widen that circle of opportunity, to deepen 
the meaning of our freedom, to perfect our Union, to make real the 
promise of America. Every previous generation has been called upon to 
meet this challenge. And as we approach a new century and a new 
millennium, your generation must answer the call.
    You enter the world of your tomorrows at a remarkable moment for 
America. Our country has the lowest crime rates in 25 years, the 
smallest welfare rolls in 27 years, the lowest unemployment in 28 years, 
the lowest inflation in 32 years, the smallest National Government in 35 
years, and the highest rate of homeownership in our history. Such a 
remarkable time, a period of renewal, comes along all too rarely in 
life, as you will see. It gives us both the opportunity and the profound 
responsibility to address the larger, longer term challenges to your 
    This spring I am speaking to graduates around the country about 
three of those challenges. Last month, I went to the Naval Academy to 
talk about the new security challenges of the 21 century, terrorism, 
organized crime and drug trafficking, global climate change, the spread 
of weapons of mass destruction. Next week at Portland State in Oregon, I 
will discuss how our Nation's third great wave of immigration can either 
strengthen and unite America or weaken and divide it. And I thank Dr. 
Ho for what he said about immigration and our 
    Today I ask you to focus on the challenges of the information age. 
The dimensions of the information revolution and its limitless 
possibilities are widely accepted and generally understood, even by lay 
people. But to make the most of it we must also acknowledge that there 
are challenges, and we must make important choices. We can extend 
opportunity to all Americans or leave many behind. We can erase lines of 
inequity or etch them indelibly. We can accelerate the most powerful 
engine of growth and prosperity the world has ever known, or allow the 
engine to stall.
    History has taught us that choices cannot be deferred; they are made 
by action or inaction. There is no such thing as virtual opportunity. We 
cannot point and click our way to a better future. If we are to fulfill 
the complete promise of this new age, we must do more.
    Already the information age is transforming the way we work. The 
high-tech industry employs more people today than the auto industry did 
at its height in the 1950's. Auto and steel industries in turn have been 
revived by new technologies. Among those making the most use of 
technology R&D are traditional American enterprises such as 
construction, transportation, and retail stores.
    It's transforming the way we live. The typical American home now has 
much more--as much computing power as all of MIT did in the year most of 
the seniors here were born. It is transforming the way we communicate. 
On any business day, more than 30 times as many messages are delivered 
by E-mail as by the Postal Service. And today, this ceremony is being 
carried live on the Internet so that people all over the world can join 
    It is transforming the way we learn. With the DVD technology 
available today, we can store more reference material in a 3-inch stack 
of disks than in all the stacks of Hayden Library. It is transforming 
the way our society works, giving millions of Americans the opportunity 
to join in the enterprise of building our nation as they fulfill their 
    The tools we develop today are bringing down barriers of race and 
gender, of income and age. The disabled are opening long-closed doors of 
school, work, and human possibility. Small businesses are competing in 
worldwide markets once reserved only for powerful corporations. Before 
too long, our children will be able to stretch a hand across a keyboard 
and reach every book ever written, every painting every painted, every 
symphony ever controlled.

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    For the very first time in our history, it is now possible for a 
child in the most isolated inner-city neighborhood or rural community to 
have access to the same world of knowledge at the same instant as the 
child in the most affluent suburb. Imagine the revolutionary 
democratizing potential this can bring. Imagine the enormous benefits to 
our economy, our society if not just a fraction but all young people can 
master this set of 21st century skills.
    Just a few miles from here is the working class community of East 
Somerville. It has sometimes struggled to meet the needs of population 
that is growing more diverse by the day. But at East Somerville 
Community School, well-trained technology teachers with equipment and 
support from Time-Warner Cable have begun to give first to eighth 
graders an early and enormous boost in life. First graders are producing 
small books on computers. Sixth graders are producing documentaries. The 
technology has so motivated them that almost all the sixth graders 
showed up at school to work on their computer projects over winter 
    That small miracle can be replicated in every school, rich and poor, 
across America. Yet today, affluent schools are almost 3 times as likely 
to have Internet access in the classroom; white students more than twice 
as likely as black students to have computers in their homes.
    We know from hard experience that unequal education hardens into 
unequal prospects. We know the information age will accelerate this 
trend. The three fastest growing careers in America are all in computer 
related fields, offering far more than average pay. Happily, the digital 
divide has begun to narrow, but it will not disappear of its own accord. 
History teaches us that even as new technologies create growth and new 
opportunity, they can heighten economic inequalities and sharpen social 
divisions. That is, after all, exactly what happened with the 
mechanization of agriculture and in the industrial revolution.
    As we move into the information age, we have it within our power to 
avoid these developments. We can reap the growth that comes from 
revolutionary technologies and use them to eliminate, not to widen, the 
disparities that exist. But until every child has a computer in the 
classroom and a teacher well-trained to help, until every student has 
the skills to tap the enormous resources of the Internet, until every 
high-tech company can find skilled workers to fill its high-wage jobs, 
America will miss the full promise of the information age.
    We cannot allow this age of opportunity to be remembered also for 
the opportunities that were missed. Every day, we wake up and know that 
we have a challenge; now we must decide how to meet it. Let me suggest 
three things.
    First, we must help you to ensure that America continues to lead the 
revolution in science and technology. Growth is a prerequisite for 
opportunity, and scientific research is a basic prerequisite for growth. 
Just yesterday in Japan, physicists announced a discovery that tiny 
neutrinos have mass. Now, that may not mean much to most Americans, but 
it may change our most fundamental theories, from the nature of the 
smallest subatomic particles to how the universe itself works and, 
indeed, how it expands. This discovery was made in Japan, yes, but it 
had the support of the investment of the U.S. Department of Energy. This 
discovery calls into question the decision made in Washington a couple 
of years ago to disband the super-conducting supercollider, and it 
reaffirms the importance of the work now being done at the Fermi 
National Acceleration Facility in Illinois.
    The larger issue is that these kinds of findings have implications 
that are not limited to the laboratory. They affect the whole of 
society, not only our economy but our very view of life, our 
understanding of our relations with others and our place in time.
    In just the past 4 years, information technology has been 
responsible for more than a third of our economic expansion. Without 
Government-funded research, computers, the Internet, communications 
satellites wouldn't have gotten started. When I became President, the 
Internet was the province of physicists, funded by a Government research 
project. There were only 50 sites in the world. Now, as all of you know, 
we are adding pages to the World Wide Web at the rate of over 100,000 an 
hour, and 100 million new users will come on this year. It all started 
with research, and we must do more.
    In the budget I submit to Congress for the year 2000, I will call 
for significant increases in computing and communications research. I 
have directed Dr. Neal Lane, my new Adviser for 
Science and Technology, to work with our Nation's research community to 
prepare a detailed plan for my review.

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    Over the past 50 years, our commitment to science has strengthened 
this country in countless ways. Scientific research has created vast new 
industries, millions of jobs, allowed America to produce the world's 
most bountiful food supplies and remarkable tools for fighting disease. 
Think of what today's investments will yield. Dr. Ho will unravel the agonizing riddles of AIDS. There will be 
a cure for cancer; a flourishing economy that will produce much less 
pollution and move back from the brink of potentially devastating global 
warming; high-speed wireless networks that bring distance learning, 
tele-medicine, and economic opportunity to every rural community in 
    That is why, even as we balanced our budget for the first time in 29 
years, we have increased our investments in science. This year I asked 
Congress for the largest increase in research funding in history, not 
just for a year but sustained over 5 years. It is a core commitment that 
must be part of how every American, regardless of political party or 
personal endeavor, thinks about our Nation and its mission. [Applause] 
Thank you--those are the people who received the research grants over 
there. [Laughter]
    I want you to know that we are also working to address the threat to 
our prosperity posed by the year 2000 bug. I tried and tried to find out 
what the class hack project was for the Class of '98, and I failed. But 
I did learn that in the year 2000, the graduating class is proposing to 
roll all of our computers back by 100 years. And I am determined to 
thwart you. I will do my best. [Laughter]
    The second thing we have to do is to make sure that the 
opportunities of the information age belong to all our children. Every 
young American must have access to these technologies. Two years ago in 
my State of the Union Address, I challenged our Nation to connect every 
classroom to the Internet by the year 2000. Thanks to unprecedented 
cooperation at national, State, and local levels, an outpouring of 
support from active citizens, and the decreasing costs of computers, 
we're on track to meet this goal.
    Four years ago when you came to MIT, barely 3 percent of America's 
classrooms were connected. By this time next year, we will have 
connected well over half our classrooms, including 100 percent of the 
classrooms in the Nation's 50 largest urban school districts.
    But it is not enough to connect the classrooms. The services have to 
be accessed. You may have heard recently about something called the e-
rate. It's the most crucial initiative we've launched to help connect 
our schools, our libraries, and our rural health centers to the 
Internet. Now some businesses have called on Congress to repeal the 
initiative. They say our Nation cannot afford to provide discounts to 
these institutions of learning and health by raising a billion dollars 
or so a year from service charges on telecommunications companies, 
something that was agreed to in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that 
passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both Houses.
    I say we cannot afford not to have an e-rate. Thousands of poor 
schools and libraries and rural health centers are in desperate need of 
discounts. If we really believe that we all belong in the information 
age, then, at this sunlit moment of prosperity, we can't leave anyone 
behind in the dark.
    Every one of you who understands this I urge to support the e-rate. 
Every one of you here who came from a poor inner-city neighborhood, who 
came from a small rural school district, who came perhaps from another 
country where this was just a distant dream, you know that there are 
poor children now who may never have a chance to go to MIT unless 
someone reaches out and gives them this kind of opportunity. Every child 
in America deserves the chance to participate in the information 
    The third thing we have to do is to make sure that all the computers 
and the connections in the world don't go to waste because our children 
actually have 21st century skills. For 5 years now I've done my best to 
make education our number one domestic priority, creating HOPE 
scholarships, expanding Pell grants, to make the 13th and 14th years of 
education as universal as the first 12 are today. We've passed tax 
credits, reformed the student loan program, expanded work-study, created 
AmeriCorps to open the doors of college to every young person who is 
willing to work for it.
    We're working to make our public schools the best in the world, with 
smaller classes, better facilities, more master teachers and charter 
schools, higher standards, an end to social promotion. But the new 
economy also demands that our Nation commit to technology literacy

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for every child. We shouldn't let a child graduate from middle school 
anymore without knowing how to use new technologies to learn.
    Already, 10 States with an eye to the future have made technology 
literacy a requirement of graduation from high school. I believe we 
should meet this goal in the middle school years. I believe every child 
in every State should leave middle school able to use the most current 
tools for learning, research, communication, and collaboration. And we 
will help every State to meet this goal.
    If a State commits to adopt a technology literacy requirement, then 
we will help to provide the training that the teachers need. I propose 
to create a team of trained technology experts for every American middle 
school in every one of these States and to create competitions over the 
next 3 years to encourage the development of high-quality educational 
software and educational websites by students and professors and 
commercial software companies.
    All students should feel as comfortable with a keyboard as a 
chalkboard, as comfortable with a laptop as a textbook. It is critical 
to ensuring that they all have opportunity in the world of the 21st 
    Today I pledge the resources and unrelenting efforts of our Nation 
to renew our enduring values in the information age. But the challenges 
that we face cannot be met by Government alone. We can only fulfill the 
promise of this revolution if we work together in the same way it was 
launched together, with creativity, resolve, a restless spirit of 
    While this mission requires the efforts of every citizen, those who 
fuel and enjoy the unparalleled prosperity of this moment have special 
responsibilities. The thriving new companies that line Route 128 in 
Silicon Valley--I challenge them to use their power to empower others, 
to invest in a school, embrace a community in need, endow an eager young 
mind with opportunity, not to rest until every one of our children is 
technology literate. Many of you are doing such work already, and many 
of them are; but America needs all such companies to participate.
    And finally, to the graduates of the class of 1998, I, too, offer my 
congratulations and, as your President, my gratitude for your 
commitment, for challenges conquered, for projects completed, for goals 
reached and even surpassed. You, your parents, and your friends should 
be very proud today and very hopeful, for all the possibilities of this 
new age are open to you. You are at the peak of your powers, and the 
world will rightly reward you for the work you do.
    But to make the very most of your life and the opportunities you 
have been given, you, too, must rise to your responsibility to give 
something back to America of what you have been given. As the years 
pass, your generation will be judged and you will begin to judge 
yourselves not only on what you do for yourself and your family but on 
the contributions you make to others, to your country, your communities, 
your generation of children. When you turn your good fortune into a 
chance for others, you then will not only be leaders in science and 
industry, you will become the leaders of America. Twenty-first century 
America belongs to you. Take good care of it.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:55 a.m. at Killian Court on the campus 
of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In his remarks, he 
referred to Charles M. Vest, president, MIT; Alexander d'Arbeloff, 
chairman, and Paul Gray, former chairman, the Corporation of MIT; Mayor 
Francis H. Duehay of Cambridge; Dr. David D. Ho, scientific director, 
Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center; and Ernest Moniz, Under Secretary of