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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 21, 1998
                      REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT 
                      National Building Museum
                         Washington, D.C.            

8:42 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you very much. I thought they were all talking, so I made them come up here. (Laughter.) But I thank Secretary Cuomo and Paul Polo and Phil Piccagallo for making me feel so welcome. I got here in time to hear Steve Forbes talking, and I appreciate his warming the crowd up. (Laughter and applause.) That's the most high-class warm-up act I've had this year. (Laughter.)

Ambassador Foglietta, Ambassador Salleo; Regis Philbin, thank you for welcoming me; and to my good friend, Tony Bennett, welcome. I'd like to also congratulate tonight's honoree, Philip Guarascio, and thank all of you for giving me a chance to come by and share a few moments of your 10th anniversary.

For over 90 years, the Sons of Italy has been a community organization in the truest sense. For 10 years, you've given out this National Education and Leadership Award, finding what I think is one of the very finest ways you could ever express your pride and your ethnic heritage and your devotion to the next generation.

I asked before I came on the stage if I could have an opportunity to personally congratulate the scholarship recipients here tonight, and I hope that I can do this because they, after all, represent not only your commitment, but all our futures.

The Italian-American tradition of work and faith, faith and community, is just as alive today as it was when the Sons of Italy first began to meet. As President, I have tried to pursue policies that embody those values -- values that led so many Italian American families to such great success in America.

We've got a lot to be thankful for tonight: the lowest unemployment in 28 years; the lowest welfare rolls in 27 years; the lowest inflation in 32 years. But we all know that we've got a lot to do and that we can't stop until we can see the values that embody the Sons of Italy alive and well in every neighborhood in America. I'd like to say a special word of thanks to Secretary Cuomo for his extraordinary work in trying to make sure that we get that done. (Applause.)

I'm told that tonight everybody who is here can claim to be Italian. I see my favorite Italian with an Irish name, Senator Leahy, out here. (Laughter.) It's shameless. He's the only man I know who can show up at every Irish and every Italian event, claim to be one of you and always be telling the truth. It seems an unfair advantage even in America. (Laughter.)

Tonight I know you're also celebrating the life of Frank Sinatra. I had, as one of the many perks of becoming President, the chance to get to know Frank Sinatra a little and to appreciate on a personal level what people all over the world appreciated in his music and his movies. I think it's important tonight because of what you stand for to note that while we have lost his remarkable voice, we have also lost a generous spirit, of a man who raised more than $1 billion dollars for charity and left a lot as well, and really did, as I said a couple of days ago, always manage to do it his way.

I want to thank you, for everything you do, but especially, in closing, I want to say that if you look ahead to the 21st century, we will be living in an economy that is increasingly based on ideas, but our ability to take advantage of it will rest more and more on the strength, the depth, and the character of our soul; on whether we can learn to live together across all the lines that divide us to find a home among people who aren't exactly like us, but down deep inside, have more in common with us than what divides us.

Tomorrow, in the land of my ancestors, Ireland and Northern Ireland, the people will be voting on whether to discard decades of war and hundreds of years of conflict to chart a new path for peace for their children. We are working hard to preserve a peace in Bosnia among people of different religious traditions. We see on the Indian subcontinent new tensions among people of different religious and ethnic groups. We struggle still to make peace in the Middle East at a time when computers have made instantaneous the transfer of money and information and ideas across the globe.

If we are to make the most of the education that you have worked so hard to give to the children of Italian immigrants, then we truly must work just as hard to embody the values by which you have lived and through which you have found a true home in the United States.

Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)

END 8:48 P.M. EDT