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Clinton toasts 2000 at White House VIP dinner

December 31, 1999
Web posted at: 9:33 p.m. EST (0233 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton toasted the new millennium at a White House dinner on Friday, welcoming what he said was a "blessed opportunity " and a "profound responsibility."

Clinton, who also toasted first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, mentioned the many technological and scientific milestones the United States has contributed to the passing century. But "the greatness of a nation," Clinton said, "relies on its soul."

President Clinton spoke on the eve of the next millennium  

Many of the nation's most respected figures were invited to attend the dinner, including former boxing champion Muhammad Ali, former astronaut, Sen. John Glenn, and actor Robert DeNiro.

Earlier, Clinton appeared at a Washington ceremony honoring the world's children.

Prior to that, Clinton spoke at Washington's Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, where he hailed what he called America's gift to the world, the democratic system of government.

"Think of this: 100 years ago, not a single country in the world recognized the right of all their citizens to choose their leaders," Clinton said. "Now, one half of the peoples of the world live under a government of their own choosing."

Clinton on Friday morning officially opened a full day of national celebrations on the eve of the next millennium, saying the "unique opportunity" of the upcoming calendar change -- just hours away in Washington -- was also an opportunity for the people of the United States.

Clinton's opening speech was just the first in a full day carefully orchestrated events to mark the end of the 20th Century, the beginning of the 21sy Century, and the popularly held beginning of the second millennium of the Christian calendar.

"This is a unique moment for our country," Clinton told a crowd assembled just off the National Mall, where a gala public celebration was scheduled for later Friday night. "Our economy is strong, and our social fabric is on the mend."

"Light may be fading on the 20th century, but the sun is still rising on America," Clinton said.

The challenge for the people of the United States into the 21st century, he continued, would be to continue to build on the economic and social progress he described as marking a positive end 1900s, not just at home, but also abroad.

"There is no better time for us to be a good neighbor to the people of the world who share this smaller and smaller plant," the president said.

"There is no better time to reflect on our hopes and dreams," Clinton said before asking the people of the United States to stop at some point before midnight and consider their individual aspirations for the future century.

"Take just a little time today to dream of what you want for your grandchildren, and what you want the 21st Century to be like."

But the center of attention Friday was the first lady, whose two-year-old White House Millennium Council project revealed its National Archives time capsule during the opening ceremonies.

The time capsule, a metal cabinet rendered to look like a three-dimensional, waving American flag, will be displayed at the National Archives throughout 2000. At the end of the year, the capsule will be sealed and stored, to be reopened 100 years hence.

A prototype of the capsule was displayed at Friday's opening ceremony.

"This will be a gift that will convey to our great grandchildren and their children what we were thinking at the end of the 20th Century," Mrs. Clinton told the crowd.

"We should make this a time of thanksgiving," Mrs. Clinton added. "Not merely to think of what we might have or what we might wish for, as the president said, but to think of what we can do.

"Imagine what type of world we will create," she said.

Hillary Rodham Clinton
The first lady revealed a prototype of the National Archives time capsule  

The Millennium Council's time capsule will contain a number of varied items suggested by the 20th Century "thinkers, creators and builders" who participated in the project, as well as items suggested by teachers and students from across the country, Mrs. Clinton said.

Among the artifacts to be included: a transistor, Louis Armstrong's trumpet, a shard of the dismantled Berlin Wall, a photo of civil rights activist Rosa Parks, and a film of Neil Armstrong's first walk on the moon.

The Clintons had a tight event schedule on the last day of 1999. The first couple were hosting black-tie parties at the White House before heading back down to the National Mall for the capital city's nighttime festivities. Sandwiched in between those parties was a sumptuous "Millennium Dinner," replete with Beluga Caviar, oysters, lobster and foie gras appetizers, and a rack of lamb entree.

Friday afternoon, the president and Mrs. Clinton appeared at the Reagan Trade building New Year's ceremony for international diplomats and their children.

The focus of that ceremony, Mrs. Clinton told a large assembled audience, was to provide encouragement to today's children, those who would become adults in the upcoming new age -- whether those children benefitted from material privilege, or whether they lacked for homes, food or love.

My wish for the new millennium is for all children ... to grow up wiser, and stronger and more prosperous for the future than ever before," Mrs. Clinton said.

"It is my hope that government and leaders will work to put the needs of our children first," she said. "That all in a position of power will ask, 'Is it good for the children?' before making a decision. Let us resolve to put the well-being of our children at the forefront of all our hopes and actions."

Speaking after his wife, President Clinton said, "What we celebrate today is not a common calendar or history or faith, but a common future."

The goal of that common future, Clinton continued, should be for people the world over to strive to erase humankind's most base, most destructive modes of behavior.

"All around the world we see the failure to use freedom wisely," Clinton said. "We still give in to primitive hatreds, to fears of those who do not look like us."

"These fears, when ignited by unscrupulous leaders, have led to terrible violence."

One of the solutions to eradicating racial and ethnic hatreds, Clinton said, could lie within modern telecommunications technology, which has increased dialog, trade and understanding worldwide.

"It is a good thing that we are more and more free and more and more interdependent," he said.

Despite the celebratory tone of the day, the president has had to attend to a number of serious matters Friday, including the unexpected resignation of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who stepped aside Friday morning, six months ahead of schedule.

"I liked him because I think he genuinely deplored communism," Clinton told reporters. "I think he genuinely believed Democracy was the best system."

Clinton was being kept informed of any Y2K concerns, and was staying in touch with federal law enforcement agencies trying to predict and prevent possible New Year's Eve terrorist activity.

The president and Vice President Al Gore were getting updates throughout the evening from John Koskinen, the White House Y2K chief, who is headquartered at a command center just blocks from the White House.

Koskinen is overseeing activities at the headquarters of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. Operatives at the command center will collect data from some 180 countries and all 50 states.

Written by Ian Christopher McCaleb.


Clinton sends wishes for 'unforgettable celebration' (12-30-99)

CNN's comprehensive Year 2000 coverage includes in-depth looks at New Year's Eve celebrations and the Y2K scare. (12-29-99)

U.S. takes last-minute terrorist precautions at home, abroad(12-29-99)


The White House Web site

The White House Millennium Council Web site


Friday, December 31, 1999

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