Hello, everybody! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,everybody. All right, everybody go ahead and have a seat. How is everybody doing today? (Applause.) How about Tim Spicer? (Applause.) I am here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, from kindergarten through 12th grade. And I am just so glad that all could join us today. And I want to thank Wakefield for being such an outstanding host. Give yourselves a big round of applause. (Applause.)
I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten
or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school,
so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are
some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now --
(applause) -- with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade
you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer and you
could’ve stayed in bed just a little bit longer this morning.
I know that feeling. When I was young, my
family lived overseas. I lived in Indonesia for a few years. And my
mother, she didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids
went to school, but she thought it was important for me to keep up with
an American education. So she decided to teach me extra lessons
herself, Monday through Friday. But bec
ause she had to go to work, the only time she could do it was at 4:30 in the morning.
Now, as you might imagine, I wasn’t too happy
about getting up that early. And a lot of times, I’d fall asleep right
there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would
just give me one of those looks and she’d say, "This is no picnic for me
either, buster." (Laughter.)
So I know that some of you are still
adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have
something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk
with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this
new school year.
Now, I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked about responsibility
I’ve talked about teachers’ responsibility for inspiring students and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track
, and you get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with the Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s
responsibility for setting high standards, and supporting teachers and
principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working, where
students aren’t getting the opportunities that they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the
most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, the best schools
in the world -- and none of it will make a difference, none of it will
matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities, unless you show
up to those schools, unless you pay attention to those teachers, unless
you listen to your parents and grandparents and other adults and put in
the hard work it takes to succeed. That’s what I want to focus on today:
the responsibility each of you has for your education.
I want to start with the responsibility you
have to yourself. Every single one of you has something that you’re good
at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a
responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the
opportunity an education can provide.
Maybe you could be a gre
writer -- maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a
newspaper -- but you might not know it until you write that English
paper -- that English class paper that’s assigned to you. Maybe you
could be an innovator
or an inventor -- maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone
or the new medicine or vaccine
-- but you might not know it until you do your project for your science
class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a senator or a Supreme Court
justice -- but you might not know that until you join student government
or the debate team.
And no matter what you want to do with your
life, I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be
a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or
an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military
You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those
careers. You cannot drop out of school and just drop into a good job.
You’ve got to train for it and work for it and learn for it.
And this isn’t just important for your own
life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide
nothing less than the future of this country. The future of America
depends on you. What you’re learning in school today will determine
whether we as a nation can meet our gre
atest challenges in the future.
You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving
skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and
AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our
environment. You’ll need the insights and critical-thinking skills you
gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness,
crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free.
You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity
you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.
We need every single one of you to develop your talents and your skills and your intellect
so you can help us old folks solve our most difficult problems. If you
don’t do that -- if you quit on school -- you’re not just quitting on
yourself, you’re quitting on your country.
Now, I know it’s not always easy to do well
in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now
that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.
I get it. I know what it’s like. My father
left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single
mom who had to work and who struggled at times to pay the bills and
wasn’t always able to give us the things that other kids had. There were
times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I
was lonely and I felt like I didn’t fit in.
So I wasn’t always as focused as I should
have been on school, and I did some things I’m not proud of, and I got
in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a
turn for the worse.
But I was -- I was lucky. I got a lot of
second chances, and I had the opportunity to go to college and law
school and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, she
has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and
they didn’t have a lot of money. But they worked hard, and she worked
hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.
Some of you might not have those advantages.
Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that
you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job and there’s
not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where
you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things
you know aren’t right.
But at the end of the day, the circumstances
of your life -- what you look like, where you come from, how much money
you have, what you’ve got going on at home -- none of that is an excuse
for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude in school. That’s
no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or
dropping out of school. There is no excuse for not trying.
Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny
for you, bec
ause here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.
Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma,
Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school.
Neither of her parents had gone to college. But she worked hard, earned
good grades, and got a scholarship to Brown University -- is now in
graduate school, studying public health, on her way to becoming Dr.
I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los
Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s
had to endure all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which
affected his memory, so it took him much longer -- hundreds of extra
hours -- to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind. He’s headed to
college this fall.
And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my
hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to
foster home in the toughest neighborhoods in the city, she managed to
get a job at a local health care center, start a program to keep young
people out of gangs, and she’s on track to graduate high school with
honors and go on to college.And Jazmin, Andoni, and Shantell aren’t any
different from any of you. They face challenges in their lives just like
you do. In some cases they’ve got it a lot worse off than many of you.
But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their
lives, for their education, and set goals for themselves. And I expect
all of you to do the same.
That’s why today I’m calling on each of you to set
your own goals for your education -- and do everything you can to meet
them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework,
paying attention in class, or spending some time each day reading a
book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular
activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied bec
of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that
all young people deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe
you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready
to learn. And along those lines, by the way, I hope all of you are
washing your hands a lot, and that you stay home from school when you
don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall
But whatever you resolve to do, I want you to
commit to it. I want you to really work at it. I know that sometimes
you get that sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without
any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or
basketball or being a reality TV star. Chances are you’re not going to
be any of those things.
The truth is, being successful is hard. You
won’t love every subject that you study. You won’t click with every
teacher that you have. Not every homework assignment will seem
completely relevant to your life right at this minute. And you won’t
necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
That’s okay. Some of the most successful
people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. J.K.
Rowling’s -- who wrote Harry Potter -- her first Harry Potter book was
rejected 12 times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was
cut from his high school basketball team. He lost hundreds of games and
missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have
failed over and over and over again in my life. And that’s why I
These people succeeded bec
ause they understood that you can’t let your failures define
you -- you have to let your failures teach you. You have to let them
show you what to do differently the next time. So if you get into
trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to
try harder to act right. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean
you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one’s born being good at all things. You become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity
athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note
the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. The same
principle applies to your schoolwork. You might have to do a math
problem a few times before you get it right. You might have to read
something a few times before you understand it. You definitely have to
do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be
afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for
help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength bec
it shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something,
and that then allows you to learn something new. So find an adult that
you trust -- a parent, a grandparent or teacher, a coach or a counselor
-- and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when
you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you,
don’t ever give up on yourself, because when you give up on yourself,
you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who
quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried
harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their
It’s the story of students who sat
where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and they
founded this nation. Young people. Students who sat where you sit 75
years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for
civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit
20 years ago who founded Google and Twitter
and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask all of you, what’s
your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve?
What discoveries will you make? What will a President who comes here in
20 or 50 or 100 years say about what all of you did for this country?
Now, your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books and the equipment and the computers you need to learn.But you’ve got to do your part, too. So I expect all of you to get
serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect gre
at things from each of you. So don’t let us down. Don’t let your family down or your country down. Most of all, don’t let yourself down. Make us all proud.
Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. Thank you.
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