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Clinton Asks Graduates to Fight 'Digital Divide'

By Frank Dabek
NewsEditor

The first ever Commencement address at MIT given by a sitting president of the United States featured a plan to aid America's youth by bringing technology to schools and a promise of increased funding for research.

Clinton used his address at MIT, which he called "a crucible of creative thought" and an"epicenter of the seismic shifts in our economy and society," to refine his administration's take on the information age.

Social and economic equality, increased growth, and prosperity are all part of the "limitless possibilities" of the information age, Clinton said.

"We can erase lines of inequity or etch them indelibly. We can accelerate the most powerful engine of growth and prosperity the world has ever known, or allow the engine to stall," he said of technology.

Prosperity not free

While Clinton spelled out the rosy prospects of the information age, including positive current economic statistics, he cautioned that Americans must still work to achieve those gains. "We cannot point and click our way to a better future," Clinton said. "If we are to fulfill the complete promise of this new age, we must do more."

Doing more entails placing a computer and trained teacher in every classroom by the year 2000, Clinton said. "Until every child has a computer in the classroom and a teacher well-trained to help America will miss the full promise of the Information Age."

Clinton used the East Somerville Community School as an example of industry working with schools to place technology in the classroom resulting in an "enormous boost in life" for first to eighth-graders. The school received significant support from Time Warner Cable which allows all of its students to learn, produce publications, and communicate using new computer equipment.

"That small miracle can be replicated in every school, rich and poor, across America," he said.

The unequal distribution of Internet access across class and racial lines was pointed out by Clinton as a potential pitfall of the new economy to be avoided by his inclusive plan. "White students [are] more than twice as likely as black students to have computers in their homes," Clinton said. "Affluent schools are almost three times as likely to have Internet access in the classroom."

Increased spending for research

Clinton also used the podium to announce his continued support for basic research, to rich applause from the assembled faculty and guests.

"We must help you to ensure that America continues to lead the revolution in science and technology," he said, while referencing the recent discovery of mass in the neutrino by Department of Energy funded physicists and the roots of the Internet in government funded projects. "It all started with research and we must do more."

Clinton received his most hearty applause of the speech by announcing the largest increase in research funding in history. Basic research is "a core commitment that must be part of how every American, regardless of political party or personal endeavor, thinks about our nation and its mission," Clinton said.

Benefits of E-rate touted

Clinton urged those at the ceremonies to lobby for the E-rate, a plan to provide libraries and learning institutions with Internet access grants funded by service charges on telecommunications companies. "I say we cannot afford not to have an E-rate," Clinton said. "Thousands of poor schools and libraries and rural health centers are in desperate need of discounts."

"Every child in America deserves the chance too participate in the information revolution,"he said.

The plan, which passed Congress as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, is now facing a battle to avoid being repealed or thrown out in the legal system.

Speaking finally to the graduating class, Clinton offered "my gratitude for your commitment, for goals reached and surpassed". In closing, the president urged graduates, "Rise to your responsibility to give something back to America of what you have been given."

"Twenty-first century America belongs to you. Take good care of it."