Two rural school teachers made a lasting impression on me. They were my parents--one a school superintendent; the other an English teacher. Both had a way of going far beyond what was expected of them.
When they saw youngsters coming to school hungry, they knew that little learning would take place. So they started a hot lunch program. They hauled surplus flour and butter from the railway depot to school in their pickup truck so bread could be made for the students.
Because my father knew that education was more than reading and writing, he formed a band, and became its leader. He also felt that learning teamwork was important, so he organized a basketball team. Of course, the school couldn't afford a coach, so he took on the extra duty himself.
And because there were some students who lived out beyond the bus routes and couldn't get to school, my mother and father took those students into our own home to stay during the school year.
I've thought of my parents often during the past four years as I have served in the office of Governor--the place where I now have the chance to affect the education of Missouri's children.
I evoke their memory today because who we are, and what we value most comes from the past. Even as we stand here today, we are encircled by the symbols of Missouri's heritage--the capitol...church...courts...and citizens of our state. I am also mindful that looking over my shoulder is one of the great founders of our democracy, Thomas Jefferson. We are here today because he--at the turn of a new century--dreamed of a nation that would one day stretch from shore to shore.
Today we approach our new century.
A lot has changed--not just from Jefferson's time, but even from the days of my parents when it was a huge undertaking to travel ten miles from home. Today we ride over highways undreamed of back then. One such highway is already transforming our lives--the information super highway. Last month we heard about a new computer that performs a trillion calculations a second; it handles in fifteen seconds what would take someone with a calculator 250,000 years to accomplish.
We prepare to explore a new era--an era in which learning to operate a computer will be as crucial as it was for our parents' and grandparents' generation to operate a car.
These generations of Missourians met their challenges and left us a worthy example--they helped America fight and win cruel wars, came home and built the strongest economy the state has ever seen, and sent a message of freedom heard around the world.
We must not mock their vision with lesser dreams.
Enriched by their values, inspired by their achievement, we are intent on giving our children the tools and opportunities needed for global living.
In keeping with that commitment, I will--as my first official act of this new term meet with some students of the high school graduating class of the year 2000.
To those students and others like them, I pledge not merely to celebrate what we have accomplished, but to dedicate myself to those whose accomplishments are yet to come.
Such work does not begin today; we have made progress since I stood here four years ago.
Missouri's economy is strong, with more than 300,000 new jobs.
We are reforming Missouri's schools, cutting the crime rate, and moving people from welfare rolls to payrolls.
When disaster struck, in the form of the worst floods the state had seen in hundreds of years, Missourians moved quickly to help their neighbors. We created relocation plans for the future that have already saved millions of tax dollars and much disruption of lives.
I say all this not just because of the statistics--for there are limits to what numbers can tell us about the daily lives of people.
I speak of our progress because I have seen it first hand.
I've seen it in Rogersville, where I went to one of our A+ Schools and spoke with high school seniors who would have been dropouts, and now are being trained for real jobs.
I've seen it in Nevada, where folks are converting an abandoned building into a telecommunity center. Soon they will be able to use video conferencing and other high tech resources--usually available only in big cities--to compete for new businesses and jobs.
I've seen it at William Woods University, where a woman who had been on welfare recently came up to me. She was in the FUTURES program--Missouri's superb initiative designed to train able-bodied welfare recipients and get them back on their feet again. This young woman was graduating from college and beginning her new life as a teacher. She pointed to her own two children, two and four years old, and said--"The FUTURES Program not only made a difference for me, it's making a difference for them."
Yes, we are preparing our people and our state for the 21st century. But much is left to be done.
The achievements of a generation, like any journey, are made up of small individual steps.
The most important of these steps will be made hand-in-hand with our children, whose care and future we value more than our own well-being.
It has been said that: "A child is a person who is going to carry on what you have started. He is going to sit where you are sitting and when you are gone, attend to those things which you think are important. He will assume control of your cities, states and nations. The fate of humanity is in his hands. Teach him well."
Abraham Lincoln put it this way in one of his earliest of public statements: "I view education as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in."
I think this is what Governor Lon Stevens had in mind at his inaugural exactly a hundred years ago. As he stood on this hilltop, looking into a new century, he reminded Missourians that when it came to our public schools, "nothing should be more carefully guarded or more vigorously promoted."
What was true in 1897 is equally true in 1997.
Let there be no doubt--this administration will vigorously promote education, not just with words, but through plans and hard work that translate into achievement.
To those who know that the skills for the jobs of the 21st Century cannot always be acquired by the 12th grade, we pledge an all-out effort to make grades 13 and 14 as available as a high school diploma is today.
To those who know that without computer training you cannot find opportunity in the workplace of the century ahead, we pledge this--a state in which every school is linked to the information highway, and equipped with the computers to provide hands-on training for every student.
Let it be our goal to make every Missouri youngster computer literate by age twelve.
To those determined that Missouri's colleges and universities maintain their excellent reputation, let me say this--we too, share that resolve. There should be no company locating in another state because workers with the skills needed by new businesses were unavailable within our borders.
Reaching new levels of excellence will not be easy for any of us. The difficulty of educating a child is apparent to anyone who has sat with a son or daughter over algebra homework, or tried to persuade them to turn off Nintendo 64 to read a book.
Education doesn't just happen in the classroom. It happens in the home. It occurs when schools are safe. It comes when students are healthy and well-nourished.
And so, we further pledge that we will create the surroundings in which education can flourish, where schools are free of guns, gangs and drugs, and where learning is enhanced by good health and nutrition.
And because we know that learning begins long before school ever starts, we are expanding our nationally recognized Parents as Teachers initiative and support for early childhood education. We must make Missouri a state in which every child goes to school healthy, immunized and ready to learn.
A while back, as I toured a school with the local superintendent, he explained his approach to education. "We want to leave no child behind," he told me as he proudly pointed out the extra effort his community was putting forth to keep children in school and excited by learning.
His is a fitting goal for all of us. We must improve learning in all our schools, from Hayti to Hannibal; Eminence to Independence; St. Joseph to St. Louis.
Economically and socially, we cannot afford a Missouri of educational haves and have-nots.
We must leave no child behind. If we are to embrace the future, we must first embrace the child.
This cannot be the mission of government alone. Nor can it be accomplished only with dollars and hardware.
So, I urge new partnerships to begin between government and business and communities that will forge new endeavors. Surely, the education of our children is too important to remain the province of one party or one administration. We seek, we need the abilities and insights of all. Only then can we thrive as a people.
We in this age of technology know that the finest computers will help us realize our aims only if those using them are instilled with the values and vision on which our state and nation have been built.
This is truly our greatest challenge as we are summoned by a new century. One that calls for bold plans and courageous deeds.
May we not approach this new era with faltering steps or flinching spirit.
Rather, let us go forth hand in hand, like partners in a great adventure. Girded in faith, made strong by hope, firm in the knowledge that He who directs the course of the universe as well as the flight of the sparrow, will guide us in a sure and certain path.
And generations from now, when the balloons and bunting are gone, and when our speeches are shelved in the archives, those who are children now will remember our deeds. May they look back and say, we preserved the future for them.
Let them say, too, that Missouri, once the gateway to the frontier, opened a gateway to the future. And in that new era, may we be guided not only by innovation and enterprise, but by virtues as timeless as those taught by those two Ozarks school teachers who shaped my life more than half a century ago.