Tipper and I went out to Columbine High School after the tragedy there, and we embraced the families of the children who were lost. And I will never forget the words of the father who whispered into my ear, "Promise me that these children will not have died in vain."
All of us must join together to make that promise come true. Laws and programs by themselves will never be enough. All of us, and especially all parents, need to take more responsibility. We need to change our hearts--and make a commitment to our children and to one another. We need to lift up the meaning in their lives.
I'm excited about America's prospects and full of hope for America's future. Our country has come a long way, and I've come a long way since that long ago time when I went to Vietnam. I've never forgotten what I saw there--and the bravery of so many young Americans. The price of freedom is sometimes high, but I never believed that America should turn inward.
As a senator, I broke with many in our party and voted to support the Gulf War when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait--because I believed America's vital interests were at stake.
Early in my public service, I took up the issue of nuclear arms control and nuclear weapons--because nothing is more fundamental than protecting our national security.
Now I want to lead America because I love America. I will keep America's defenses strong. I will make sure our armed forces continue to be the best-equipped, best-trained and best-led in the entire world.
In the last century, this nation more than any other freed the world from fascism and communism. But a newly free world still has dangers and challenges, both old and new. We must always have the will to defend our enduring interests--from Europe, to the Middle East, to Japan and Korea. We must strengthen our partnerships with Africa, Latin America and the rest of the developing world.
We must confront the new challenges of terrorism, new kinds of weapons of mass destruction, global and environmental problems and new diseases that know no known national boundaries and can threaten national security.
We must welcome and promote truly free trade. But I say to you: It must be fair trade. We must set standards to end child labor, to prevent the exploitation of workers and the poisoning of the environment. Free trade can and must be--and if I'm president, will be--a way to lift everyone up, not bring anyone down to the lowest common denominator.
So those are the issues, and that's where I stand. But I also want to tell you just a little more about two of my greatest heroes, my father and my mother. They did give me a good life. But like so many in America, they started out with almost nothing. My father grew up in a small community named Possum Hollow in middle Tennessee.
When he was just 18, he went to work as a teacher in a one-room school. Then the Great Depression came along and taught him a lesson that couldn't be found in any classroom. He told me and my sister often how he watched grown men, with wives and children they could neither feed nor clothe, on farms they could no longer pay for.
My father didn't know whether he could help those families--but he believed he had to try. And never in the years to come--in Congress and in the United States Senate--did he lose sight of the reason he entered public service: to fight for the people, not the powerful.
My mother grew up in a poor farming community in northwest Tennessee. Her family ran a small country store in Cold Corner. A store that went bust during the Great Depression. She worked her way through college, then she got a room in Nashville at the YWCA and waited tables at an all-night coffee shop for 25-cent tips.
She then went on to become one of the first women in history to graduate from Vanderbilt Law School. As Tipper told you, we lost my dad a year and a half ago. But we're so lucky that my mother, Pauline, continues to be part of our lives, every single day. She's here tonight.
Sometimes in this campaign, when I visit a school and see a hard-working teacher trying to change the world one child at a time--I see the face of my father. And I know that teaching our children well is not just the teacher's job; it's everyone's job. And it has to be our national mission.
I've shaken hands in diners and coffee shops all across this country. And sometimes, when I see a waitress working hard and thanking someone for a tip, I see the face of my mother. And I know: For that waitress carrying trays or a construction worker in the winter cold, I will never agree to raise the retirement age to 70 or threaten the promise of Social Security. It's just not fair to them, and I just won't do it.
I say to you tonight: We've got to win this election--because every hard-working American family deserves to open the door to their dream. In our democracy, the future is not something that just happens to us; it is something we make for ourselves--together.