Bird Johnson, 1983
Friends – old and new. Douglas and Libby Cater have
brought many longtime dear friends together, and so many
new and interesting ones, at this beautiful and historic
college in Chestertown. And these holidays I had
the pleasure of their company and conversation in this
glorious fall setting.
Lyndon and I first met the Caters when Douglas was a
respected journalist on the Washington Scene. We came to
know them as co-workers when they joined us in our White
House years and Douglas was helping draft much of the
education legislation so dear to Lyndon’s
heart—legislation and appropriations that would
underscore America’s belief in investing in the minds
and talents of its young people. Those were heady days
of action for we believed that a civilized society is
best assured with the widest accessibility to learning.
I heard then a quotation that seems to be the challenge:
Education is a loan to be repaid with a gift of self.
And that is the theme I hope to underscore this
afternoon—your gift of good citizenship—real citizenship
as a thinking citizen in whatever environment you live.
A visit to a college campus is always filled with
nostalgia for me. I have thought back often to the time
when I was a student and what it meant to me, coming
from a small town in the Piney Woods of deep East Texas
to a campus 300 miles away. For me, it flung open the
doors of the world, offering an ever-widening field of
opportunity—there to be feasted upon to the extent of my
appetite and abilities.
For example—a geology course I took stretched my
perspective of the life of man on this physical planet.
My major in history gave me a background of
irreplaceable worth in evaluating the decades I have
lived through in our country and in our world. It
happened that I minored in Philosophy, which for me was
not an ivory tower sort of subject, but a yardstick by
which I could measure and try to fathom the differing
values mankind has used during the centuries of his
The main essence of what I discovered was that education
was not a neat, wrapped-up package, but the beginning of
a quest that lasts a lifetime. It infects one with the
excitement of learning. I cannot emphasize too strongly
the importance I see in the role the arts and humanities
play in enriching one’s life. What survives the years
after such studies is a greater capacity to enjoy the
world, elasticity for exploring new ideas, a daring to
doubt, to cherish unchanging inner truths while being
willing to consider new ones.
If I had one wish for every incoming student, it would
be that whatever profession or career is undertaken; a
wide knowledge of the arts and humanities would be
incorporated into the course of study. Such knowledge is
a constant source of enrichment… celebration of man’s
humanity…an enticement to travel and enjoy new
intellectual avenues—and it is yours for a lifetime.
Learning never has to end! Your generation will make a
living in a world of new technology, but life is most
worth living through an understanding of history, art
and our environment—a special concern for you in this
treasure trove of nature’s beauty.
In driving here, crossing the Chesapeake, that
awe-inspiring stretch of blue that gathers in one giant
estuary the coveted waters of five great rivers, I felt
a part of the flow of history…the beautiful swimmers,
the watermen, the marshlands, the havens for ducks and
geese of every hue and feather—including, I am told, the
elusive White Whistling Swan. It is almost too much for
this nature lover to take in. All this confined to
one short visit. No wonder George Washington made the
trip to Chestertown so often.
Such richness and beauty of nature is fragile in these
times and must be protected. I applaud your many active
groups for the preservation of your unique
environment—from the waters to the shore to the
beautiful old historical buildings. More power to you!
May I add my blessings and my support. In fact, they
tell me the Chesapeake Bay needs the cooperation of
three governors—and the one I know best is already deep
into conferences and planning on protecting the
ecological balance and water quality of this growing
History speaks to us here. Think of it—John Smith on his
small barge, sailing in and out of the hundreds of miles
of inlets and waterways, making, through some miracle of
native cunning and navigation genius, with a liberal
blessing from providence, the first and amazingly
accurate map of these bay waters in the early 1600s,
Washington College put itself on the map by exhibiting
his and other early historic maps for the first time
assembled together here last winter.
Here in this historic place—this seedbed of democracy
where the very charting of our country began—it is
fitting that at this college, guided in its formative
years by George Washington himself, you are offering
learning in human dimensions with your ratio of 12
students to one professor.
There are special virtues to a small college, many of
them obvious, some of them more subtle. Here you, like
the Ancient Greeks, are once again placing the
individual in the center, and educating the whole person
for a life enriched in mind and spirit—bringing the love
of thought and values and ethics through that educated
person to the community, the country, and the world.
What more important role could there be than educating
for citizenship in a democracy? From our beginnings as a
nation, we have put more faith in education than in any
other priority in America. We have always seemed to know
that, but in an increasing way over the years, we have
acted on it. We, as a freedom-loving, peace-seeking
nation, have regarded education as an investment in the
future—our best weapon against stagnation as well as
In his White House years, Lyndon brought a tremendous
enthusiasm to education—education at every level—as only
a one-time schoolteacher can. More than 60 education
bills became law in the course of five years—and each
occasion, as Doug Cater has said, “Always made the
president’s eyes light up.” I can hear Lyndon saying:
is the only valid passport out of poverty.
is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity.
and girl in Amerce has the right to all the education he
or she can absorb.
is a path to a society that is not only free but
civilized. It is the path to peace—for it is education
that places reason over force."
And he quoted often from our own Texas father of
education, Mirabeau B. Lamar: “A cultivated mind is the
guardian genius of democracy and while guided and
controlled by virtue, the noblest attribute of man. It
is the only dictator that free men acknowledge.”
We gather here at a time when, as a nation, we are
obliged to look carefully at all our national programs
and priorities. In such a time, the question inevitably
is raised: Can we afford to make education available to
every boy and girl of this land?
But the larger question is: Can we afford not to?
In considering the answer, one wonders: What kind of
country would we have if we began closing the doors of
opportunity which we have so enthusiastically and
Hearing of the exciting plans that your new president is
envisioning for Washington College’s third century, I am
sure that the answers here on this campus insure a
steady march forward toward excellence. The role of the
small college in higher education in America is a
critical one. New programs tried here can serve as
models for institutions throughout the country. From
what I have learned of your faculty, your students and
your new and vigorous administration—all supported by
dedicated alumni and this charming Eastern Shore
Community—I believe we can be optimistic about the
future of at least one small college!
You play a vital role in our democratic society. For the
college must do more than teach “how to” to citizens and
future leaders. It must provide a sense of curiosity and
wonder that stays with you and never stops. Relatively
few of you may become scholars. But all of you will be
citizens—thinking, participating citizens. Your lives,
the lives of your children and your country will be
enriched if you leave this place with an educated heart
as well as an educated mind.