Remarks ByGeorgetown University
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Eleanor Roosevelt Lectures
December 4, 1998
I am delighted to be here at this wonderful university. I want to thank my friend and your president, Father O'Donovan, for his introduction, for his leadership, for his many contributions, not only here to this university but to the much broader American community as well.
I am delighted to be here with others from whom you will hear as the program goes on: Dr. Glen Johnson from Val-Kill, Dr. Dorothy Brown, Dr. Sue Martin, Ambassador Betty King, Dr. McGrab, Dr. Milnik, and your own Dr. Jo Ann Moran Cruz, and Tracy Roosevelt.
This is a very important first lecture in a very significant series that has been undertaken by the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill at Hyde Park in New York. I am very honored to be taking part in this extraordinary lecture series, and I am very pleased to be a part of something that preserves the legacy of Eleanor Roosevelt, that gives new generations of all of us, men and women, here in America and around the world, a real opportunity to know more about this extraordinary woman.
What I wish to discuss this afternoon is how Eleanor Roosevelt's legacy as a person, as a leader, as someone who in her own way makes human rights part of our everyday experience and vocabulary, how she can help today to continue to guide us in protecting the human rights of all people, and in particular, of children. I believe that this is an important, unfinished piece of business in our century and one of the challenges of the new millennium. It is, of course, more than fitting to have this first conversation about human rights at this great university and community--one which has always responded to the call of service to God and to humanity. It is the home, as Father O'Donovan just reminded us, of a student community that sends more than a thousand young people a year into Washington, DC, schools and neighborhoods, bringing math and reading, role models and friendship and a hug to some of our nation's most vulnerable children. It is the home of a brilliant faculty who have devoted their lives to their students, to scholarship, to service. Whether it's in the classroom or in some other activity, Georgetown continues to make an important mark on what we are as a people, how we define ourselves now and in the future. It is certainly the home of many distinguished alumni who have used the Jesuit ethos of service in this world, from Mark Gearan who sends Peace Corps volunteers to every corner of the Earth, to George Mitchell who helped bring peace to Northern Ireland, to my husband, to my Chief of Staff Melanne Verveer who is here with me today.
Now as you might imagine, being somewhat in awe of this great university that has produced so many important people and has made so many important contributions to our country, I thought I needed to discuss this speech with Eleanor Roosevelt. [laughter and applause] When I first told people a few years ago that I sometimes held imaginary conversations with Mrs. Roosevelt, there were some--particularly, I must say, in the journalistic community--who thought they finally had irrefutable evidence of my having gone off the deep end. [laughter] Well, I can only commend to you this imaginary conversation technique, whether it is with a parent, or a grandparent or a beloved former teacher or a famous person. It does help to get your ideas straight because you think, Now what would my grandmother say about this? or What would Mrs. Jones (who desperately tried to prevent me from dangling participles) have to say about this? So talking to Mrs. Roosevelt, even in my imagination, has proven to be a very great source of strength and inspiration. You can imagine some of the situations I find myself in when I say, "Oh my goodness gracious, what would Mrs. Roosevelt say?" [laughter]
As anyone can tell you, particularly my daughter, I am technologically challenged. But I decided in preparation for this speech to try a more modern, more acceptable way of communicating with her. So first I tried to E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org, but I think the server was down. I tried calling on her cell phone, but the circuits were busy. Then I tried paging her but was told she had traveled to another part of Heaven to work with a group of angels on strike, and that I would need a universal skypage to get through to her.
So there I was last night--I got home from New York late--worried about what I was going to say, staring at some pages of print, when I realized that her life has already given us so many times over the guidance we need on today's topic, not just some inspirational words that we might hear in our minds, in our imaginary conversations such as, The thing to remember is to do the thing you think you cannot do, but also in her example, in the path that she created, in the life that she lived. Wherever I go as First Lady, I am always reminded of one thing: that usually Eleanor Roosevelt has been there before. I have been to farms in Iowa, factories in Michigan, and welfare offices in New York where Mrs. Roosevelt paid a visit more than a half-century ago. When I went to Pakistan and India I discovered that Eleanor Roosevelt had been there in 1952, and had written a book about her experiences.
So I was particularly honored when I received the Eleanor Roosevelt Center Gold Medal at Val-Kill, a beautiful wooded retreat where she went to entertain friends and family, to think and to write. As I walked through her home I tried to imagine again how she worked tirelessly there for what she believed in, and I was told a story that I have never forgotten. It was a day in the 1950s, and she had a speech to give in New York. She was so sick that her throat was literally bleeding. Everyone wanted her to cancel, but she refused. She drove from Hyde Park to 125th Street in Harlem, and when she got out of the car, a young girl with her face beaming handed her a bouquet of flowers. Eleanor Roosevelt turned to the person with her and said, "You see, I had to come. She was expecting me."
Well, they were always expecting her and she always came. She came to give support and to give a voice to those without either--to the migrant workers who watched her march through fields that had been newly plowed and were thick with muck. They would just matter-of-factly greet her by saying, "Oh, Mrs. Roosevelt, you've come to see us", as if it were the most natural thing in the world; to the Japanese -Americans during World War II, and to African Americans every day during her long life. She helped to support people who faced problems of discrimination and challenges.
Another of my favorite stories is of an African American child, a first grader, whose mother worked in a laundromat. His father was a mechanic who could not get good work. They lived in a tin shack without any foundation so every time it rained their house slid down the hill. This child wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, telling her that his house was literally falling down a hill. So she went to Kentucky, set up a meeting with the heads of the realty association and the banks, which led, not only to that child getting his house on much firmer footing, but also eventually to integrated housing in Lexington, Kentucky. The next year in the mail, he sent his second grade picture to Mrs. Roosevelt, and she carried it with her to remind her of the boy she had never personally met. On the back, he had written his name with such care, erasing it many times so that it was just right, that it left an imprint on the front of the photo. He also included a letter: "Dear Mrs. Roosevelt," it said. "Thank you for my house. I know you did it."
Without fanfare, she went everywhere and anywhere she thought her presence would make a difference. She wanted to see with her own eyes the everyday violations that rob individuals of their dignity and all of us of our humanity. And then she rolled up her sleeves and tried to do something about what she saw.
That is the path she is asking us to walk today: to open our eyes and hearts, to use our minds and hands, to fulfill the promises of her greatest achievement of all, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It happened exactly fifty winters ago. As the Chair of the commission drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt worked tirelessly from 1946 to 1948. Imagine how she must have felt on December 10, at 3:00 a.m., when the nations of the world agreed to create this new common standard for human dignity. We know how everyone else felt. The delegates gave her a standing ovation.
Let me read a passage from that document: "The advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief andfreedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the commonpeople." The Declaration, as we know, did not take place in a vacuum. As Father O'Donovan has already reminded us, it was a world-wide response to evil, and I use that word deliberately. Those who study Hitler's rise to power and the Holocaust know that the Nazis were able to pursue their crimes precisely because they were successful at constricting the circle of those who were defined as fully human. They proceeded step by step to dehumanize through laws and propaganda Jews, the mentally ill, the infirm, gypsies, homosexuals--all of whom they identified as unworthy of life, as not human--as alien, other.
Throughout history and even today, we have seen in many places and in many times this cold, dark region of the human soul, this schizophrenia of the soul that permits one group to de-humanize another. And it was that all-too-human characteristic that the Declaration and Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to help us resist. In the half-century since the Declaration, this document has created an ideal that nations and individuals have reached toward, knowing that, because we are not perfect we will never quite achieve it, but knowing that we must never stop trying. Many countries have used the Declaration for their own constitutions. Courts of law look to it. It has laid the groundwork for the world's war crimes tribunals.
At the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, it was the strength and challenge of this Declaration that enabled us to say for the world to hear that human rights are women's rights, and women's rights are human rights. It was the power of the Declaration that led in 1989 to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I am very proud that my husband signed that Convention. And now I hope with all my heart that the United States will join with the Vatican and all the other nations of the world except Somalia and ratify the Convention once and for all. [applause] And this is why: in spite of our progress on human rights over the last half-century, it is unconscionable that we still have not seen the circle of human dignity expanded to include all the children of our world. There are still too many excluded from the Declaration, too many whose suffering we fail to see, to hear, to feel, or to stop.
Now, any look back at human history shows that every nation, every society, has its blind spots, spots that somehow blind us to understanding how the full circle of humanity and dignity should include all of our fellow human beings. In our country it has taken us most of our 222 years--some of them bloody, few of them easy--to extend the benefits of citizenship to African Americans, to those without property, and to women. Eleanor Roosevelt was thirty-five years old before she was given the right to vote.
And we also know in this new global economy that no nation can move ahead when its children are left behind. Eleanor Roosevelt understood that. She knew that whether we treated children with respect would determine not only the quality of our lives, but ultimately who we were as a nation and what kind of life we would leave for the next generation. You could see it in the way she talked to children. I have seen so many pictures of her bending down from her tall frame and leaning her entire body over to hear a child, looking right into the eyes of that child, trying to understand that child's dream, trying to convey that she believed in that little boy or girl, and that she would always attempt to give those children a voice.
The Declaration makes that commitment clear. It reads, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." All human beings--it did not say all men, or all members of certain races, regions or religions. It did not say all adults. It also did not make choices between children because, in fact, it says specifically, "All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection." Human rights are not given to us by a parent or the government; they do not miraculously appear when we turn eighteen; no piece of paper can give them or take them away. We know that children should be treated with extra care, not less, that every child should be viewed as being endowed with rights and dignity accorded to all human beings.
Now of course that's not always been the view of children. For millennia we viewed children as the property of their families, principally of their fathers. They were mostly used for work, work outside and inside the house. Parents were given the right in every culture to abandon, ignore or even sell their children. But over the centuries, we grew to understand that children were not just little adults, that they needed the nurturing, the care, the love and discipline of a family. And we began to understand too, as industrialization spread across the world, that in order for children to be successful in the world that is being created, they needed education, they needed protection, they needed to grow slowly but surely into adulthood. We have only to go back to the 19th century to see how different times were. In Dickens' Hard Times, poor children grow up in a town where the black soot from the factory virtually extinguishes the sun, and the school is taught by a teacher appropriately named Choke M. Child. So in this century, we have begun to appreciate more that children are people, are individuals, and are not property.
Now what does that mean to us? Well, clearly in our country, it has meant passing laws and enforcing them to prevent children from being abused in labor; being abused even by those closest to them: their family; being given certain protections, whether they are caught up in the court system or the welfare system; being given the right of (what sounds like an oxymoron) compulsory education; being, in other words, viewed as people themselves whom we must nurture into full citizenship. If you have ever worked with children, you can see in their eyes how so often we fail at that very fundamental task of respecting them. I have worked with abused and neglected children for more than twenty-five years. I have looked into the eyes of many poor children, many abandoned children, and I am always amazed that there are still some in our world who continue to dismiss the suffering of children, who believe that somehow children are so resilient that they will always bounce back, and that it is not the responsibility of all of us to care for all of our children, and that we indeed interfere with the rights of parents when we do anything as simple as trying to prevent children from being physically abused.
We have got to change attitudes. We have seen great progress in doing so here in our own country and around the world. There are others who say that human rights are a Western invention, and that they come from a Judeo-Christian base, and that they do not have universal application. But we know differently. We can go back and trace the roots of the beliefs that are set forth in the Declaration. They were not invented fifty years ago. They are not the work of a single culture, whether it is Confucius who articulated such rights in ancient China, or Sophocles who wrote about 2500 years ago about such rights when he had Antigone declare that there were ethical laws higher than the laws of kings. But whether it is the Golden Rule--which appears in every possible religion in one form or another--we know that at root we understand, whether we admit it or not, that we as human beings are bound to each other in a mutual web of respect that we should nurture for our own sake, as well as for others.
Now what are these rights? Well, for children, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child declares that every child is born with the right to be protected from abuse and abduction, violence, and work that threatens his or her development. It says that every child has the right to worship freely and express opinions and aspirations, that every child has the right to health, to education, to life. These are the promises that Eleanor Roosevelt and every other champion of human rights held out for all people, but it has been up to us, the adults, to make these promises real in the lives of children.
In many African villages, I am told that neighbors greet each other not by saying hello, but by asking, "How are the children?" Well the answer is that today, fifty years after the Declaration, children are doing better around the world. They are more likely to live to see their fifth birthday and even their seventy-fifth. In health, nutrition, education, water supply and sanitation, three out of five countries are pretty much on track to reach the child survival goals set by the 1990 World Summit on Children. Over the last two decades, infant immunization rates have risen from 5 percent to 80 percent, saving more than 3 million lives a year.
Around the world, I have personally seen governments and non-governmental organizations come together to put the lives of children first. Just a few months ago, Yemen adopted a national strategy for girls' education, including eliminating school fees for girls. Last year in the United States, we extended health insurance to millions of children, and enacted the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which says that our first priority in the child welfare system is the health and well-being of children. There are many examples I could give you of the progress we have made--certainly over fifty years, but even over ten and the last five years. But still we have to ask, How are the children? And the honest answer is, Which children? Where do they live? Who are their parents? How affluent are they? What kind of societies are they part of? Because despite the advances, in many places around the world, children are not doing very well at all. There are old foes like malnutrition and malaria, and new foes like trafficking and child prostitutes and laborers; there is still a long distance for us to travel.
Over the last few weeks I have randomly pulled headlines from around the world. From Hong Kong, "Child Prostitutes Make Tearful Plea"; from Bangladesh, "The Plight of Street Children"; from Nairobi, "Poverty Blamed for Child Labor." Eleanor Roosevelt certainly would be the first to point out that a child's rights go far beyond simply responding to the images that we see on TV, or that reach us through the Internet or the newspaper. We have to ask ourselves, each of us, What is it I can do? What is it I can ask others to do? How can I move my government, my church, my friends forward to do more for children?
I think there are some very specific ways we can bear witness and things we can do to support those children whose lives are not much better today than they were fifty years ago, or who face new challenges, like being kidnapped, or being forced into combat, that we did not even imagine fifty years ago. We have to understand that we can not be satisfied just to give children help and nutrition for emergencies. We have to look at root causes. We have to support work by our own government, by our development agency, the United States Agency for International Development, by international organizations such as the United Nations Children's Fund. And it is particularly important that we do not forget the faces of these children here in our country at this time of prosperity and peace. Americans have so many blessings, but there are even those among us who are being left out.
If we talk about human rights and freedoms we have to ask ourselves, What does that mean to the 7 million children who still die every year of malnutrition? What does it mean to the 585 thousand women who still die of childbirth complications, or the girls who are fed last and fed least because they are not valued as much as their brothers?
What meaning can it have for a child who does not have access to school or for one who is shut out at school? We know that education, especially for girls, is the single best investment any country can make. It is what will give children a better future, keep them out of the labor market before they are ready, and keep them off the streets. And yet, 140 million primary school age children are not in school; 60 percent of that 140 million are girls. And I have seen first-hand the obstacles, the cultural and economic obstacles, that stand in the way of sending girls to school. In a small village outside of Lahore, Pakistan, I visited with mothers who had sent their daughters to the local primary school, and now they had daughters who had graduated who wanted to go on with their education, but there was no secondary school. I have met with families in Bangladesh, who, in return for food and money, permitted their daughters to go to school. It was a bribe, but it was a worthy bribe.
I have also visited places where child labor is the norm, not the exception and, as Eleanor Roosevelt said when she championed the Child Labor Amendment in our own country so many years ago, "No civilization should be based on the labor of children." But that is happening every day, even in this country, because children are being forced into labor, being sold into labor, and we are not doing enough about it. The types of labor children are subjected to in this new global economy have perhaps changed, but not the impact on the child. It is not a problem of the past. It should not be excused by saying that parents need money. And we should not close our eyes to the work of children that goes into beautiful carpets or comfortable running shoes, because the fact remains that one quarter of the children in the developing world--120 million, work full time. It is a very difficult problem because many of them are the sole support of their families, often with widowed or abandoned mothers and younger siblings, or they are helping to supplement the hard earned income of a father.
The new face of child labor also includes things that I do not think Eleanor Roosevelt even thought to worry about. Girls are being sold as part of an international trade in human beings, from South Asia to the Middle East to Central America. It is estimated that there are 250 thousand children in Haiti alone who are virtually enslaved as domestic servants. I heard about that on my recent trip to Haiti--how they are often given away, sold, separated from their families, sexually and physically abused, malnourished, and literally sometimes worked to death. There are the girls that I met in Northern Thailand when I visited their village and I could tell by looking at their parents' homes which ones had sold their daughters into prostitution. The homes were bigger, nicer; they sometimes even had an antenna or satellite on top. But the next day I visited with some of the daughters who had been sold into the brothels in Bangkok and other cities who, after they became infected with HIV, were thrown out onto the streets and found their way home. When they were rejected by their families, thanks to the good services of relief and religious organizations, they were taken in there. And I met those girls--some of them as young as twelve--dying from AIDS.
Eleanor Roosevelt worked hard to rescue European refugee children during World War II. But I do not know if she or anyone could have seen the horrific ways in which children are now being brutalized by war. Until relatively recently in human history, war was fought between soldiers: some conscripts, some volunteers, but by and large adult men--counting teenagers in their mid-to late-teens as adults in some societies--who were part of whatever the war effort was. In the last twenty or so years, that has increasingly not been the case. Who will speak today for the two million children who have been killed in conflicts in the last two decades, with six million seriously injured or permanently disabled; the one million left without parents, and the twelve million left without homes? The primary victims of modern warfare are women and children--civilians, people who are picked on as victims, who are kidnapped to be perpetrators, who are forced into being refugees. Who will speak for those children who are being used as instruments of war, from the young girls systematically raped in Bosnia, to the quarter of a million child soldiers around the world?
Who will speak for the three children I recently met in Uganda, Janet, Isaac and Betty? Like many children there in Northern Uganda, they have literally been stolen from their homes. The boys are used in battle as human shields. The girls are sent into slave labor, usually raped, and then given away as wives to rebel commanders. The children are often forced to kill other children who do not obey or try to escape. The rebels call themselves soldiers but they are cowards, for only cowards would hide behind children in battle.
I met the head of a boarding school of 139 students, a nun, Sister Rachele. Her school had been the subject of a raid by the rebels who had crossed the Sudanese border; had taken the school, tied the girls up, beaten them, and then taken them all away in the dead of night. But this tiny little woman of God was determined to get them back; she went after them. She was armed usually only with her faith, but she was able to pull together some funds to ransom some of the children. She served as a safe haven for those who could find their way back. Many have, but I was sad to talk with the mother of one of those boarding students who had not yet been rescued. Her mother does not know whether she is alive or dead. She only knows that she was taken as part of a war that she has no stake in whatsoever.
We also know that we cannot fulfill the journey that the Declaration started us on when we have 100 million children now living in the streets in the developing world alone. They are out of school, without homes or families. They are left to take care of themselves; they roam the streets in tattered clothing, they sell gum, and they beg and they dig through the trash for food. I have seen them in Bulgaria--Roma children, one of the most discriminated-against groups in Europe; you might call them gypsies. Roma children are put out on the street to beg, sometimes by their own parents. If there are too many children in the family or if they become rebellious, they are left there. Or if they want to go to school instead of turning tricks, they are left there.
I also saw them in Brazil, where three street children a day are killed, usually by the police doing the bidding of merchants who are tired of having these children camped in front of their stores. In both Bulgaria and Brazil, I saw how caring people can make a difference. I visited a center run by a Bulgarian-American who has taken in Roma children off the streets who are now going to school and learning and thinking about a better future. But it is a small percentage of those who need to be helped. I visited a unique program in Brazil in Salvador de Bahia, a circus school where children were taken in and taught skills to entertain people who would come and see them perform. They would then have money so they could be housed and given food and educated--children who once had no future, thinking that maybe they would have one. It is not only in warm places like Brazil. I even visited a center for street children in Mongolia where the children, because of the rapid changes in social life, because of problems of adjusting to the new global economy, are either being pushed out or are running away from homes that are in a great deal of stress and turmoil.
When we think about what is happening with these tens of millions of children around the world, we certainly cannot forget that there are still children right here in Washington, DC, and throughout America who need their rights protected as well. We should not, for example, condemn violence against children in Kosovo, and turn away from it on the streets of Washington. We cannot mourn the children of Mongolia and forget about homeless children here, or raise our voices about children out of school in Guatemala, and close our mouths when young people here drop out. We have to do better by our own children as well. We have been making progress here and around the world.
I have been pleased that this administration under the President has put the protection of children on the front burner. For example, this year we are increasing by tenfold the United States' commitment to take children out of abusive workrooms and put them in classrooms all over the world. Since September, the Voice of America has been broadcasting monthly public service announcements asking parents if they have talked about their children's health today, focusing on child survival issues, talking hard talk in some places, like not feeding your girl children, or their being exposed to HIV and AIDS. We join with Ukraine to combat trafficking of girls in and out of that country. And from Guatemala to Nepal, I have seen how small investments in educational scholarships for girls, or safe birthing kits, or Vitamin A, can lift up and transform lives. There is much that we can point to that is heading in the right direction, but there is much more we have to do.
Here is another story from Eleanor Roosevelt. She once talked about receiving a letter from an African American boy who had taken a drink out of what was then considered the wrong water fountain, and he was beaten up for it. He sent her the cup he had used to get the water and explained what had happened. She not only kept that cup; she carried it around with her as a reminder of all the work yet to be done. I wish we each had some little talisman that we could carry around with us that would remind us every day of the work still to be done. I hope we remember the children who are victims and weapons of war when Congress revisits our United Nations dues. It should be unacceptable to all Americans of any political persuasion that the richest and most powerful country in the world is the number one debtor to the United Nations. [applause]
I hope we remember the children toiling in glass and carpet and shoe factories as we work to fulfill the promises and one day ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I hope we continue to do all that we can to promote democracy around the world, to make sure that all parents have a voice that will be heard in the ballot box, and even the soap box, so they can speak out on behalf of the needs of their children. We know that we have to do more than pass, and even implement, new laws. We have to teach people that they do have rights, and how to exercise them.
I was particularly pleased by an American-funded project I saw recently in Senegal, where, out in the villages they are learning about democracy, and they are acting out skits. Someone stands up and expresses an opinion, and then another stands up and they discuss it and take a vote on it, learning the rudiments of democracy. In this skit it is both men and women who are participating. As a direct result of that democracy skit, one small village decided on its own after talking about issues affecting it--health, the education of their children--to put an end to female circumcision. That was a very brave decision. They convinced people in the village that it should be done, and they put it to a vote and they voted for it. And then two men in the village went from their village to other villages and started talking to the people in the other villages and explaining that they had read the Koran, and there was nothing in it that talked about this. It was not good for their daughters; it sometimes led to hemorrhaging and bleeding to death, and sometimes caused grave complications in childbirth. Slowly, village after village began to recognize that it should be a fundamental right of a young girl to grow up whole, to have her health protected. And then the next thing I knew, I got a letter saying these villages had banded together and presented a petition to the President, and a law would be passed. Now that law will not end this cultural custom, but it will begin to change attitudes about it. More and more girls and women will say, "No, this is not necessary."
There are certain rights to health that we need to protect. First, think of what we could accomplish if we valued and respected every child, with particular emphasis on girl children, because they are still the most at-risk in so many societies around the globe. If we are to put children's rights on the same level as adults' rights, then we have to think about what it is that we want for our own children. Those of us in this beautiful Gaston Hall try to keep our children healthy, try to give them good educations that lead to a fine university education like this one here at Georgetown, try to protect them from abuse and neglect, abandonment and desertion. We try not to put them to work in full-time jobs before they are ready. We have to think about what we want for ourselves. In many countries where some of the worst violations of children's rights occur, those who are in power protect their own children and then look at others' children as being beyond the circle of human dignity.
We have to complete that circle, and that falls to every generation. It fell to our parents who fought depression and oppression. It fell to the generation that fought for civil rights and human rights. And it falls to each of us, particularly the students who are here today. I like very much the article that Tracy Roosevelt recently wrote. She talked about the legacy that her great-grandmother left all of us, and that any young person could follow by standing up for the rights of others, by standing against stereotyping of any person or group of people.
We may not have Eleanor Roosevelt's stature--either in height or in life--but each of us can contribute to a child's future. We can make sure that we are part of a society that values health care for everyone, a good education for everyone; the strength of families to give them the tools they need to raise their own children with future possibilities; to make sure we do everything we can to live free from abuse and violence and war, and to make it possible for every person and every child to speak freely and live up to their own God-given potential.
As we look forward to the next fifty years, we face many challenges and opportunities. It was almost fifty years ago that Eleanor Roosevelt spoke about this, the challenge of democracy and human rights, to a group of students, both high school and college students, in New York. If we listen to her, those words still ring true today. She said, "I imagine it's you people gathered here in this room who are going to do a great deal of the thinking and the actual doing, because a good many of us are not going to see the end of this period. You are going to live in a dangerous world for quite a while, I guess, but it's going to be an interesting and adventurous one. I wish you courage to face it. I wish you the courage to face yourselves, and when you know what you really want to fight for, not in a war, but to fight for in order to gain a peace, then I wish for you imagination and understanding. God bless you. May you win."
Those words are just as true for this generation of students as they were fifty years ago for the ones to whom Eleanor Roosevelt spoke. I go back to that first story. Despite how sick she was, Mrs. Roosevelt showed up and took that bouquet of flowers from that young girl. "You see," she said; "I had to come; she was expecting me." Think about all the children who are expecting us. Think as we go forward into Advent and celebrate this Christmas season, about a particular child whom no one was expecting, but who grew up to give us a chance to think anew, to live again in ways that connect us more deeply and profoundly to one another. Eleanor Roosevelt can serve as an inspiration, and a goad to our conscience and a reminder that, although as President Kennedy said, "God's work on this Earth is our own," we know we can never complete it. But we know that we can live richer lives if we try. To the children of America and the world, you see, we have to come, because they are expecting us to make good on the promises that were made to them fifty years ago.