Vice President of the United States

President of the United States


George H. W. Bush's signature

The phrase "a thousand points of light" was popularized by US president George H. W. Bush, and later formed the name of a private, non-profit organization launched by Bush to support volunteerism.[1]


The term was used by George Bush in his speech accepting the presidential nomination at the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans. Written for Bush by Peggy Noonan and Craig R. Smith, the address likened America's clubs and volunteer organizations to "a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky."[2] Bush reprised the phrase near the end of his speech, affirming that he would "keep America moving forward, always forward—for a better America, for an endless enduring dream and a thousand points of light."[2]

He repeated the phrase in his inaugural address on January 20, 1989:

I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good. We will work hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes leading, sometimes being led, rewarding. We will work on this in the White House, in the Cabinet agencies. I will go to the people and the programs that are the brighter points of light, and I will ask every member of my government to become involved. The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.[3]

A 1991 article in The New York Times noted that the phrase had inspired "a host of caustic political satires, including cartoons of devastated communities as 'a thousand points of blight.'"[4]

Earlier uses

In his book You Can't Go Home Again (1939), Thomas Wolfe lovingly describes the spirit of America saying, "It's your pasture now, and it's not so big--only three thousand miles from east to west, only two thousand miles from north to south--but all between, where ten thousand points of light prick out the cities, towns, and villages, there, seeker, you will find us burning in the night" (Wolfe 507). It was later repeated in C.S. Lewis's 1955 novel The Magician's Nephew, in which Lewis wrote: "One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out." In his 1946 science fiction short story, Rescue Party, Arthur C. Clarke describes an alien space craft racing to save humanity from the sun’s impending nova: “One entire wall of the control room was taken up by the screen, a great black rectangle that gave the impression of almost infinite depth. Three of Rugon’s slender control tentacles, useless for heavy work, but incredibly swift at all manipulation, flickered over the selector dials and the screen lit up with a thousand points of light.[5]" In 1917 H.G. Wells three times states in Mr. Britling Sees It Through variations of: "But never was the black fabric of war so threadbare. At a thousand points, the light is shining through."

The illustration dates back to John Winthrop's 1630 sermon "A Model of Christian Charity".

Points of Light organization and awards

George Bush, appearing with victims' rights advocate Doris Tate at a ceremony in which Tate was named as one of the "thousand points of light."

During his presidency Bush handed out "Point of Light Awards" six days a week to citizens working to aid their communities through volunteer work.[6]

In 1990 Bush spearheaded the creation of the Points of Light Foundation, the goal of which was to promote private, non-governmental solutions to social issues.

The foundation was criticized in a 1995 investigation by the Los Angeles Times for spending only 11% of its budget on grants to volunteer organizations, while spending $22.3 million on "promotions, consultants, salaries, travel and conferences," including "$5.5 million to produce a television advertising campaign and $1.4 million for a celebration of community service." The Times also noted that the foundation received more than half its budget from federal funds.[1]

The foundation's name changed periodically, but following a merger in 2007 with the Atlanta-based HandsOn Network, the conjoined organization came to be called simply Points of Light. The organization now has headquarters in Atlanta, Washington and New York, and bills itself "the world's leading volunteer organization."[7] Bush now serves as honorary chairman of the board; his son Neil Bush serves as the board's president.

Points of Light has more than 250 affiliates in 30 countries and partnerships with thousands of nonprofits and companies dedicated to volunteer service around the world. In 2012, Points of Light mobilized 4 million volunteers in 30 million hours of service worth $635 million.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b The Los Angeles Times (January 9, 1995). "Bush's Points of Light found a little dim". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved October 15, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Bush, George (August 18, 1988). "Address Accepting the Presidential Nomination at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans". The American Presidency Project. Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley. Retrieved October 15, 2012. 
  3. ^ Bartleby.com. George Bush Inaugural Address. Friday, January 20, 1989.
  4. ^ DeParle, Jason (May 29, 1991). "'Thousand Points' as a Cottage Industry". The New York Times. Retrieved October 15, 2012. 
  5. ^ Clarke, Arthur C. Short story, Rescue Party, appearing in Astounding Science Fiction (1946), Street and Smith Publications, and reprinted in The Sentinel, Masterworks of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Berkley Books, NY (1983), page 25.
  6. ^ Gerstenzang, James (October 1, 1991). "Bush, Mickey Mouse Praise Points of Light Program". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 15, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Points of Light Overview." March 2012. [1].
  8. ^ "Points of Light 2012 Year in Review" (PDF). Points of Light. Retrieved 22 May 2013.