Emphasizing the importance of character, conscience and collaboration amid the alarming news of the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus, the White House released a proclamation designating April 5, 2020, as “Education and Sharing Day, U.S.A,” in honor of the 118th anniversary of the birth of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. The proclamation, signed by U.S. President Donald J. Trump, states that it is a day to recognize and reaffirm the Rebbe’s teaching that “education is essential to cultivating a spirit of curiosity and learning, developing character and conscience and strengthening the will to work collaboratively.”

It is the 42nd year since the Rebbe’s date of birth was first designated as a time to reflect upon the state of education in society, a bipartisan tradition that began in 1978 with President Jimmy Carter and has been carried out by every subsequent president since.

Referring to the Rebbe as “a compassionate and visionary leader whose influence continues unabated since his passing more than a quarter century ago,” the president highlighted the profound influence the Rebbe has had in the field of education and moral leadership.

“Knowledge inspired by unwavering virtues and commitment to faith were central to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s life and mission,” he wrote. “When put into practice, these values empower people of all ages to fulfill their unique purpose, and in turn to enhance and enrich our great Nation. On this day, let us acknowledge that each person has unique purpose that can be unleashed through an individual, whole-of-person approach to education, and let us renew our commitment to supporting education as a means by which individuals may grow their gifts, develop their talents, and fulfill their God-given potential. May we work to shape a brighter future by preserving these foundations of freedom of fellowship for generations to come.”

In reacting to the very first designation of “Education Day,” the Rebbe expressed that while the timing of the day was a tribute to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement “which sees in education the cornerstone not only of Jewish life, but of humanity at large, and has been dedicated to this vital cause ever since its inception more than 200 years ago—it is a fitting and timely tribute to the cause of education in general, focusing attention on what is surely one of the nation’s top priorities.”

The Rebbe spoke often about education as the bedrock of society, underscoring that it should not be limited to preparation for a career or even the acquisition of knowledge but, as he wrote to Carter, “education in a broader and deeper sense—not merely as a process of imparting knowledge and training for a ‘better living,’ but for a ‘better life,’ with due emphasis on character building and moral and ethical values.”

In President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 Education Day proclamation he echoed the Rebbe’s teachings when he noted that “throughout our history ... our educational system has always done far more than simply train people for a given job or profession; it has equipped generation upon generation of young men and women for lives of responsible citizenship, by helping to teach them the basic ethical values and principles that are both our heritage as a free people and the foundation of civilized life.”

The Rebbe spoke about his hope that “Education Day” would become a permanent institution, one which due to the universal nature of education would lend further significance to other days, such as Father’s Day and Mother’s Day.

“It is fitting indeed that the U.S.A. has shown, through a forceful example to the world, that it places education among its foremost priorities ... ,” the Rebbe said. “The proclamation of ‘Education Day USA’ is of extraordinary significance in impressing upon citizens the importance of education, both in their own lives as well as, and even more so, for the young generation in the formative years—particularly, in the present day and age.”