The Revoluntionary College Project
Lady Bird Johnson

ABOVE - Former Maryland Governor Harry Hughes, Lady Bird Johnson, and President Cater enjoy a light moment during the Fall 1983 Convocation.

Red SwirlLady 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 existence.

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 area.

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 tyranny.

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:

"Education is the only valid passport out of poverty.

Education is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity.

Every boy and girl in Amerce has the right to all the education he or she can absorb.

Education 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 dramatically opened?

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.

 


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