For The Record: Bush’s School Speech on Drugs

September 20, 1989 4 min read

[P]residents don’t often get the chance to talk directly to students. So today, for each of you sitting in a classroom or assembly hall--this message goes straight to you.

... It may seem to you that your parents and your teachers grew up in simpler times. But most of them lived through the civil-rights struggles. Some of your fathers fought in Vietnam. And for many of you, your parents and teachers were among the first to face drugs.

If you care enough to talk to them, you might be surprised at how much they understand.

... I’m not sure why it is, but some people just make you find the best in yourself. They can help you become a better person, help you discover more of who you are.

There are others who may seem like friends, but they’re not--and they prove it every time they offer you drugs.

Every day, with a thousand small decisions, you’re shaping your future. It’s a future that ought to be bright with potential. And most of you are doing the right thing.

But for those who let drugs make their decisions for them, you can almost hear the doors slamming shut.

It isn’t worth it. We know that now; attitudes that once encouraged or excused drug use have changed.

... Each of you has a decision to make--and dozens of chances to make it: at a party, on the street, in the school parking lot. And parents, teachers, coaches, politicians, presidents--no one else makes that decision for you. But if you talk to someone you trust, they may remind you of what’s at stake.

Yes, it’s your decision. I can’t tell you how to make it. But I will tell you what it means. You all watch tv. You see the news--the crime, the devastation.

Every dollar that goes to drugs fuels the killing. As long as there are Americans willing to buy drugs, there will be people willing to sell drugs--and people willing to kill as a cost of doing business. There is a connection between the suppliers and even “occasional” or “weekend” users that can never be forgotten.

Casual drug use is responsible for casualties of the drug war. From the city streets of America to the street bombings of Colombia, even dabblers in drugs bear responsibility for the blood being spilled. And unlike those of you in school this fall, those killed by the drug trade never do get a second chance.

Drugs are rightly called an “equal-opportunity destroyer.” They have no conscience. They don’t care where the money comes from. They just murder people--young and old, good and bad, innocent and guilty; it doesn’t matter. For too many, drugs mean death.

... This is a promise: The killing must and will stop. Where you’re sitting right now--in school--I know you’ve got your dreams. Everyone does. But out on the streets, a nightmare for America is happening, every day, every night.

Somewhere a teenage girl who ought to be in school is giving birth to a baby already addicted to cocaine. That baby is coming into this world shaking and twitching from withdrawal--so sensitive to the touch that it can’t be held or fed properly.

How can drugs cause so much pain? How can they lead brothers to kill brothers, mothers to abandon children? And behind all of the senseless violence, the needless tragedy, what haunts me is the question: why?

I have one answer. Drugs are still a problem because too many of us are still looking the other way. And that’s why I wanted to talk to you today.

I’m asking you not to look the other way. Maybe you’re in trouble--or on the edge of trouble. Maybe you know someone who is. Maybe you’ve got younger brothers or sisters; you know they’re looking up to you. Don’t risk your life--or theirs.

And if you’re struggling with the kind of problem that can truly be the toughest--if you have parents who have problems with drugs or alcohol--find someone you can trust. Talk to them about it.

You know--all of you in a classroom know--who’s got a problem. Today, I’m not just asking you to get help. I’m asking you to find someone who needs you and offer to help. I’ll say it again: If you’re not in trouble, help someone who is.

... Saying “no” won’t make you a nerd. It won’t make you a loser. In fact, it will make you more friends than drugs ever will. Real friends.

But if that’s not enough reason, there’s another side: Using illegal drugs is against the law. And if you break the law, you pay the price because the rules have changed.

If you do drugs, you will be caught. And when you’re caught, you will be punished. You might lose your driver’s licence; some states have started revoking users’ driving privileges. Or you might lose the college loan you wanted because we’re not helping those who break the law. These are privileges, not rights. If you risk doing drugs, you risk everything--even your freedom--because you will be punished.

... You’re here to make a difference--for yourself, and those around you. So learn to count on each other. Take care of each other. Give someone else another chance.

A version of this article appeared in the September 20, 1989 edition of Education Week as For The Record: Bush’s School Speech on Drugs