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Leon Panetta calls for national community service for young people

Friday, Oct. 6, 2000

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Oct.6, 2000 - Santa Clara University alumnus and former congressman Leon Panetta told a packed audience at the Santa Clara Mission de Asis today that one of the nation's greatest challenges is to "inspire young people to advocate for justice."

The former White House chief of staff was a classmate of SCU President Paul Locatelli, S.J., Class of 1960, and earned a Santa Clara law degree. He co-directs with his wife Sylvia the Leon and Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy at California State University, Monterey.

In a morning keynote speech to an international audience of 500 from Jesuit colleges and universities, Panetta said that addressing a lack of interest in public service among today's youth is a major challenge facing Jesuit educators.

"In public life, and for that matter in life itself, it is not enough to have a conscience - you must have the compassion and leadership to exercise that conscience on behalf of what you believe is right," Panetta said. "That is justice."

His institute surveyed college students recently and learned that students believe that "whatever is happening in Washington, or for that matter the state capital, is just not relevant to what they care about." At the same time, the survey found that 75 percent of the students said they would volunteer for service in their community.

"They found that relevant - they could see the results of their work," he said. "Therein lies the greatest hope - to inspire young people to advocate for justice."

Panetta called for the creation of a national system of public service, in which young people could spend a year or two "in service to the nation - in education, in health care, conservation, the Peace Corps."

He said a new version of the GI Bill of Rights could help fund educational opportunities to help students develop "a sense of discipline and teamwork that becomes a foundation for the rest of their life."

Panetta's speech was the lead keynote address to the international conference on Jesuit education at the University.

Approximately 400 delegates from 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the U.S., plus Roman Catholic leaders from Rome, Latin America, and the Far East are meeting to identify the pursuit of social justice as a central theme for Jesuit higher education.

The conference, "Commitment to Justice in Jesuit Higher Education," is presented jointly Oct. 5-8 by Santa Clara University, Boston College and the University of Detroit Mercy.

The conference also is the kickoff event for the year-long sesquicentennial celebration of Santa Clara University, California's oldest institution of higher education.

Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, will speak tonight, at 5:30 p.m.

In three days of meetings, delegates are being asked to develop strategies to promote social justice in their local communities and in the world in human rights and women's rights, and in issues affecting refugees, undeveloped nations and the environment.

The third keynote speaker, Claire L. Gaudiani, president of Connecticut College, speaks at 9:15 a.m., Oct. 7, in Mayer Theatre, on "Academic Institutions as Citizens for Justice." All three keynote speeches are being Webcast live, at www.scu.edu/bannan/webcast.

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For daily news updates from the conference, see www.scu.edu. If you have questions, seek additional background material, or wish to arrange interviews, contact Barry Holtzclaw, 408-554-5126, or email news@scu.edu.

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