President George W. Bush: 'Revive the Spirit of Citizenship'

Commencement address at University of Notre Dame, May 2001.

BY: President George W. Bush


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Today, I am adding two initiatives to our agenda, in the areas of housing and drug treatment. Owning a home is a source of dignity for families and stability for communities -- and organizations like Habitat for Humanity make that dream possible for many low income Americans. Groups of this type currently receive some funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The budget I submit to Congress next year will propose a three-fold increase in this funding -- which will expand homeownership, and the hope and pride that come with it.

And nothing is more likely to perpetuate poverty than a life enslaved to drugs. So we've proposed $1.6 billion in new funds to close what I call the treatment gap -- the gap between 5 million Americans who need drug treatment, and the 2 million who currently receive it. We will also propose that all these funds -- all of them -- be opened to equal competition from faith-based and community groups.

The federal government should do all these things; but others have responsibilities, as well -- including corporate America.

Many corporations in America do good work, in good causes. But if we hope to substantially reduce poverty and suffering in our country, corporate America needs to give more -- and to give better. Faith-based organizations receive only a tiny percentage of overall corporate giving. Currently, six of the 10 largest corporate givers in America explicitly rule out or restrict donations to faith-based groups, regardless of their effectiveness. The federal government will not discriminate against faith-based organizations, and neither should corporate America.

In the same spirit, I hope America's foundations consider ways they may devote more of their money to our nation's neighborhood and their helpers and their healers. I will convene a summit this fall, asking corporate and philanthropic leaders throughout America to join me at the White House to discuss ways they can provide more support to community organizations -- both secular and religious.

Ultimately, your country is counting on each of you. Knute Rockne once said, "I have found that prayers work best when you have big players." (Laughter and applause.) We can pray for the justice of our country, but you're the big players we need to achieve it. Government can promote compassion, corporations and foundations can fund it, but the citizens -- it's the citizens who provide it. A determined assault on poverty will require both an active government, and active citizens.

There is more to citizenship than voting -- though I urge you to do it. There is more to citizenship than paying your taxes -- though I'd strongly advise you to pay them. Citizenship is empty without concern for our fellow citizens, without the ties that bind us to one another and build a common good.

If you already realize this and you're acting on it, I thank you. If you haven't thought about it, I leave you with this challenge: serve a neighbor in need. Because a life of service is a life of significance. Because materialism, ultimately, is boring, and consumerism can build a prison of wants. Because a person who is not responsible for others is a person who is truly alone. Because there are few better ways to express our love for America than to care for other Americans. And because the same God who endows us with individual rights also calls us to social obligations.

So let me return to Lyndon Johnson's charge. You're the generation that must decide. Will you ratify poverty and division with your apathy -- or will you build a common good with your idealism? Will you be the spectator in the renewal of your country -- or a citizen?

The methods of the past may have been flawed, but the idealism of the past was not an illusion. Your calling is not easy, because you must do the acting and the caring. But there is fulfillment in that sacrifice, which creates hope for the rest of us. Every life you help proves that every life might be helped. The actual proves the possible. And hope is always the beginning of change.

Thank you for having me, and God bless.

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