President Carter’s Sterling Visit, October 3, 1980

Reynolds Building, NOVA Community College, Loudoun Campus

On October 3, 1980, President Jimmy Carter came to Sterling, Virginia, visiting the Loudoun Campus of the Northern Virginia Community College to sign into law H.R. 5192: Education Amendments of 1980 . The resolution was sponsored by Representative William D. Ford of Michigan during the 96th Congress.

The President arrived on the campus by helicopter in the early afternoon before taking the podium to preach the benefits of education funding. The American Presidency Project has posted a transcript for the full text of Carter’s speech that day. An excerpt from the beginning:

It’s really a pleasure for me to be here. I had a wonderful welcome outside and almost decided not to come in. [Laughter] But because of the historic nature of this event I’m very grateful to all of you for letting me perform this act here in one of our fine centers of education of which we are all so proud.

We’ve come to this splendid new campus to celebrate the enactment of the Education Amendments of 1980, truly an historic piece of legislation for education. It’s appropriate that we’ve come to a community college to sign this bill. This campus is a symbol of extraordinary enterprise that is American education. The task of that enterprise is one of the’ most audacious ever undertaken by any nation in history—nothing less than the education of an entire people.

One of Virginia’s greatest sons, about whom I think frequently, living in the White House, Thomas Jefferson, set forth the dream of a system of general education which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest. Making Jefferson’s dream live and come true has been the business of our Nation under Presidents and Congresses of both parties. President Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, which opened up the great land grant universities of this Nation. President Truman signed the GI bill, which has enabled thousands and thousands of veterans to benefit from higher education which they would not otherwise have gotten.

President Eisenhower signed the National Defense Education Act, which for the first time made Federal loans available to undergraduate students. President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Higher Education Act of 1965. And as President I’ve also been busy. I’ve sought to breathe new life into this national tradition of devotion and commitment to education.

Carter had signed into law the Department of Education just a year before and was followed on the podium by Shirley Hufstedler, the first Secretary of Education. An hour after arriving on the campus, the President flew to Dulles Airport before taking Air Force One to Georgia.

Only a few weeks later, during the 1980 presidental campaign, future president Ronald Reagan would express his desire to abolish the newly minted cabinet department. He again reiterated his plans during his first State of the Union Address in 1982:

The budget plan I submit to you on Feb. 8 will realize major savings by dismantling the departments of Energy and Education, and by eliminating ineffective subsidies for business.

The attempts were ultimately unsuccessful and the Department of Education lives on.

In Over the Wire and on TV: CBS and UPI in Campaign ’80, authors Michael J. Robinson and Margaret A. Sheehan discuss Carter’s visit to Sterling on pages 196-198. The authors use the trip to highlight the disparity between wire services and television network coverage of Carter’s duties as president versus Carter’s position as a campaigner for president in the 1980 election.

The daily diary of Jimmy Carter from October 3, 1980 gives his detailed schedule, enshrining Sterling forever in the presidential history books:

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