June 15, 2002 - Wichita Eagle: Bush urges grads to volunteer

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Bush urges grads to volunteer

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Bush urges grads to volunteer*

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Bush urges grads to volunteer


Knight Ridder Newspapers

COLUMBUS, Ohio - President Bush on Friday challenged America's new college graduates to foster a "culture of service" by becoming lifelong volunteers.

"Service to America is not a matter of coercion. It is a matter of conscience," he told the 5,500-member class of 2002 at Ohio State University. "So today I am making an appeal to your conscience, for the sake of your country.

One reason Bush chose to speak at Ohio State is that the school has an unusually high rate of volunteerism, with nearly 70 percent of the graduating seniors having performed public service.

"Your idealism is needed in America," the president said, and added that too many citizens are still relegated to "the shadow of our nation's prosperity."

"America needs more than taxpayers, spectators and occasional voters. America needs full-time citizens. America needs men and women who respond to the call of duty, who stand up for the weak, who speak up for their beliefs, who sacrifice for a greater good."

Bush delivered the remarks to an audience of some 60,000 in Ohio State's football stadium, but his message was aimed at an entire generation of young Americans. It is a theme Bush hopes to make one of the hallmarks of his presidency.

Bush, who promised during his campaign to usher in "the responsibility era," has called on Americans to devote at least two years -- or about 4,000 working hours -- to public service over the course of their lifetimes. He also has set a goal of doubling the Peace Corps and increasing the size of its domestic equivalent, AmeriCorps, by 50 percent.

Bush's plans to promote volunteerism track similar efforts in Congress, where Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Evan Bayh, D-Ind., have introduced legislation that would add 200,000 AmeriCorps volunteers -- a fivefold increase.

The issue strikes a personal chord with Bush, a baby boomer who, like many of his generation, behaved recklessly for a time before settling down.

Earlier this month, in another commencement speech at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., Bush said President Ulysses S. Grant left the academy with a stack of demerits for bad behavior.

"During my college years, I guess you could say I was a Grant man," he said.

At Ohio State, the president alluded to the religious underpinnings of his call to service.

"We are commanded by God and called by our conscience to love others as we want to be loved ourselves," he told the graduates.

Bush also urged his young audience to build on the spirit of national unity that followed the Sept 11 attacks.

"Some believe this lesson in service is fading as distance grows from the shock of September the 11th," he said. "Your generation will respond to these skeptics one way or another. You will determine whether our new ethic of responsibility is the break of a wave, or the rise of a tide."

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