Presidents stress volunteerism

October 16, 2009 8:28:14 PM PDT
While en route from Texas A&M University, President Barack Obama took a slight detour to thanks some soldiers. Obama, former President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State Robert Gates stopped by the Duncan Dining Center to talk to a group of cadets from all branches -- and all Aggies.

"Your Commander in Chief is proud of you," Obama told them. He then praised former president Bush and Secretary Gates after speaking to thousands about community service.

During his speech, the president emphasized creating communities of volunteers, saying that the government can build the great facilities, but it cannot create the people to run the organizations. He said that all people can have a role to play, including young people.

"The need for action always exceeds the limits of government," Obama said. "While there's plenty that government can and must do ... there's a lot that government can't and shouldn't do and that's where active, engaged citizens come in."

Obama appeared with former President George H.W. Bush, who 20 years ago launched the "thousand points of light" volunteer service movement. He mentioned that it was that movement that caused his wife, Michelle Obama, to get involved in her community.

Bush first spoke of the "thousand points of light" in his acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican convention, using it as a metaphor for all the things Americans do, individually and in groups, to help fellow citizens. He created the Daily Point of Light Award in 1989 to honor volunteers. Friday's event honored the 20th anniversary of his volunteer movement.

In recognizing that initiative, Obama said Bush "didn't call for one blinding light to shine from Washington, but for a vast galaxy of people and institutions to solve problems in their own backyards."

The president said he's optimistic about the future, despite the recession and security threats, because young Americans today are ore engaged in service activities than any generation in decades.

"In the end, service binds us to each other and to our community and to our country in a way that nothing else can," he said.

Obama signed legislation in April tripling the size of the AmeriCorps community service program. He also launched a "United We Serve" campaign that ended with a national day of service on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Several hundred protesters gathered outside the auditorium where Bush and Obama spoke. Bush had said the event was not political, but the protesters gave speeches criticizing Obama's efforts to revamp health care. Many of the protesters were from anti-tax Tea Party groups that bused in members from around the state.

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