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Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches

Talk at the Marie Curie Middle School graduation



ER speaks at Marie Curie Middle School graduation. She speaks about responsibility of Americans towards for communities and their country.

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[Unknown Speaker:]

A presentation of Mrs. Roosevelt and an introduction of Mrs. Roosevelt to you, to one of our pupils, Eleanor Holsten. Eleanor.


A great honor has been bestowed upon me this morning. I was chosen to present the greatest lady in the whole world, my friend, Eleanor Roosevelt.


Please understand. Parents, teachers, and graduates, I would like to thank Eleanor for having introduced me and to tell you how glad I am that I can be with you on a day which is for all of you a very important milestone. They come as one grows older, and with each end to something you begin with something new. And what you have done before is just preparation for the next thing that you are going to undertake. Now, I am going to tell you young people graduating from junior high with some years still when you can prepare, that I think you are starting your final preparation at a most interesting and exciting period in the history of the United States. You know, we've had great periods in our [coughs] history. I think perhaps the very early days, when we were becoming a nation, was one of the most exciting periods.


Then we had a time when we almost divided and we forced a war amongst ourselves. But we stayed one nation. And at different times, we've had periods where great challenges came to us and we had to meet them. We didn't know very much about the problems that we were facing. I remember very well something that you young people don't remember at all. A year of the law really rigged depression that we had in this country. We had very little idea then of how we were going to leave this particular challenge. Now we have a different kind of challenge, but it's just as important. We are faced with a divided world. A world which is partly communist and partly democratic. And we in our nation are the leaders of the non-communist world. And you young people are going to meet many of the problems. And the way you meet the problems of the next few years will decide whether the world is going to be a communist or a non-communist world. So you have a great adventure before you. But you also have a great responsibility. It's not this time in our history when you can afford not to do your best. When we have great periods in our history, it has called out from our citizens, the very depth that was in them. And it has brought out among us great men and women.


I think one of the most interesting ways of learning history is to read the lives of the great people all the way down. How they were inspired to greatness and what they contributed to making their nation great. Now you are going to be in a period when greatness is required of all of us. It may well be that your particular piece of work will be done at home in your own community because at present, one of the ways in which we are active in the struggle between communism and democracy, is at home in the way we paint the picture that the rest of the world watches as to thwart our way of life and our form of government really can give people. All over the world, there are people struggling to have something a little bit better in their lives than they have ever had before. And so they watch these two giants and they compare and here in every home and every community in our country we paint the picture of what it means to live in a non-communist country. How much our beliefs and our way of life can give people in the way of greater pursuit of happiness.


You remember that this part of our ideals and the pursuit of happiness does not mean that you always attain happiness. Your joy is in trying to attain. And I would say that you [coughs] you are going to have some extraordinarily interesting opportunities. I have a young friend who this year graduated from a university. And he won a scholarship which he could have accepted and gone to one of the old universities in Great Britain and studied [coughs] and gained a higher degree. But at the same time, he was offered the opportunity to teach high school for two years in a new country that will gain its freedom next year. This is Nigeria, in Africa. And he chose to go to Nigeria because he said he thought he would learn more. He thought he would teach but at the same time he would learn, learn about a new continent. Learn, learn about new people and see what he could contribute to preparing them to govern their country better, to live better, to get rid of disease, to have a better opportunity for education. This is just one of the many things that we did not have as an opportunity a few years ago. But the view is opening up to us in many different parts of the world and it's opening up to you. And it's one of the ways in which you will save your country. Because these new nations in Asia and in Africa are the ones that do not really know yet what they believe in, what they think will give them the best chance for a better life.


And so it is our opportunity and our challenge to see what we can show them by example here. How we live, how we solve our problems here, because we have wonderful communication which send out to the whole world whatever is being done in this country. It's astonishing how much they know in countries all over the world about what goes on in our communities in this country. And then we have the opportunity to prepare ourselves. First, to broaden our own lives while you have the opportunity just learn as much as you can about as many things as you can. Every new window you open is something that will enrich your appreciation and your life in the future.


Knowing about music, knowing about art. You may not be- become a great musician. You may not become a great artist. But knowing how to appreciate whatever that dance will very much enrich your life. And remember, that none of us ever finishes learning. When you stop learning, then you're not growing any more. And it's growing that makes life interesting. But what you're doing while you're in school, while you have the opportunity to study, is to make of your mind the kind of an instrument which when you have to know something you can use in any way you want to use it. Now that you don't achieve if you just do things that are easy. One of the reasons sometimes or taking caution that we really find difficult is because it trains our mind and makes our mind an instrument that we can call upon to meet problems as they come to us later in life.


I think there is something that we could learn from the Soviet Union. They know quite well that one of the important things is to train a youngster's mind so it will be a good instrument for use. And they have specialized in teaching young people how to learn languages because they want to prepare them to go out and influence people in other parts of the world to believe as they believe, just as we hope to do. And so they specialized in languages because languages take with them, to any country you go, a friendly gesture. To go into a country and you know the language of the country right away, it's much easier to get on with the people you are with. You understand them better; they can understand you. And just having taken the trouble to learn their language flatters them. You took the trouble to learn a language so that you could know them better. And what the soviets say to their young people is you take your skill; you are going perhaps as a teacher, perhaps as an engineer. But at the same time, you take a friendly gesture and you impart the ideas that you have learned. Now that is exactly what I hope many of our young people will remember.


Now the way, of course, the Soviets use their languages is to teach basic ways that you learn. And then it is easier to acquire a new language. Every time you learn one language, it makes it easier to learn another. And they of course also have an incentive, which they don't like it when you tell them that it is a capitalistic incentive but nevertheless it is. When they are in higher education, they have a bare subsistence of allowance. But if they learn another language, they can add twenty percent to their allowance and if they learn two languages, they can add another fifteen percent, thirty-five percent to the allowance, and every language after that, ten percent more. Now, this is quite a capitalistic incentive [ER laughs]. We don't have anything like that. But I think that our young people should perhaps have the incentive to realize that they are in a struggle for the survival of the democratic world. And that they have to meet on a voluntary basis what is an enforced obligation to young people in the Soviet Union. So I hope that you will take the next few years and prepare yourself to use your minds for everything you need in your lives. Remember that here you are always painting a picture and you are part of the community and you paint the picture. And then remember that you have a real adventure to live and that it's an adventure which can serve your country and can bring your way of life and your beliefs to enrich not only the future of our own country but the future of the world.


Mrs. Roosevelt, as president of the senior class of Marie Curie Junior High School I am honored to present you with a small token of our appreciation. Your attendance at our graduation makes this most important occasion even more momentous and one we shall never forget. Thank you.

[Unknown Speaker:]

Mrs. Roosevelt, I don't know how we can express our thanks to you because the words from you have so much more moment and impact and importance for parents and children alike. But I should like you to know that what you have done is to corroborate the very things with which we have consistently through the years told our boys and girls. That education is not something which should come easily and thoughtlessly to them but something which they should consider as being intimately connected with their love of country. Because in their own development, in their own education, lie the future of the United States and of the world. I always feel a sense of deep attachment, particularly upon graduation day, to our boys and girls. And having Mrs. Roosevelt here this morning certainly will add something to this graduation which will linger for many, many years. I want to thank you again on behalf of all of the boys and girls, their parents, and the faculty, Mrs. Roosevelt. And since we have come to that-- [applause] I should therefore introduce the two people whom I omitted at the beginning of this program to introduce to you: Mrs. Bertha Holsman and Mr. Max Holsman, through whose kindness, Mrs. Roosevelt came here this morning.


I should also tell you that Mrs. Roosevelt attended Mrs. Holsman's graduation from Junior High School, also. And out of deference to Mrs. Roos-Mrs. Holsman rather, I'll say oh some fourteen, fifteen years ago at least. [Audience laughs] Also, strikes say a responsive chord in me when Mrs. Roosevelt spoke of languages. Having had an opportunity to try languages in various countries in the past few weeks wherever I went, I tried to speak the languages of the country. I couldn't do very well in Turkey and Greece, but I did do fairly well I thought in Israel and in France and in Italy. And wherever I met Spanish people, I spoke to them in Spanish and we did very well in German. But the disconcerting part was that very often when I spoke to them in their native tongue, they would reply to me in English. [Audience laughs] Whereupon I would say, "Please, I prefer to speak to you in order to practice my German, or Hebrew, or Italian, or French, or Spanish.", and they would say, "We want to practice our English in the same way." [Audience laughs] And frankly if you ask me where I had the most difficult uh uh rather the greatest difficulty, it was right in England itself, where I find that they comrades spoke a peculiar kind of English which bore only a slight resemblance to what we call American. We will continue with-


Program Participants

  • : Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962

About this document

Talk at the Marie Curie Middle School graduation



Eleanor Roosevelt

Project Editors
  • National Endowment for the Humanities

Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches is a project and publication of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, The George Washington University, Academic Building, Post Hall, Room 312, 2100 Foxhall Road, NW, Washington, DC 20007

Transcript Editors

Transcribed and published by the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, 2019-11-27

Transcription created from holdings at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library