President Obama’s Message for America’s Students

Wakefield Student, Tim Spicer:
Good Morning. I would
like to extend a warm welcome to
President Barack Obama, Secretary of education
Arnie Duncan, White House staff, school board members,
county board members, superintendent Dr. Patrick
Murphy, senior staff, principle George Jackson,
Wakefield faculty and of course my fellow classmates. (applause) I am honored to have been
chosen to speak before my classmates as well as the
students across America today. Over the past three years,
I’ve taken advantage of every academic, extracurricular and
community opportunity that has been presented to me. As I reflect, a scholar
expressed disappointment in my writing and challenged me to
do better; being reassigned to another class was not an option. After that experience,
I was determined to excel. Therefore, I managed to succeed
in the advanced placement class by maintaining focus
along with using a setback as constructive energy. As I stand before my peers
today, I want you to know that excellent education
opportunities may be handed to us, but as students we
must take responsibilities for our future. We may be taught but we must
take ownership of our learning. As senior class president I
encourage all of our freshmen to take advantage of all the
opportunity’s that Wakefield High School has to offer. Along with the inspiration I’ve
taken from President Obama, I would not be standing here,
before you, to introduce the President of the United States
if I had not been here at Wakefield high school, in
Arlington Virginia, pursuing my education. Just as we are
fortunate to have President Obama to come here to
Wakefield today to speak to us, we are also fortunate that after
he leaves, we will continue to have the opportunities and
support that Wakefield gives to all of us. At this time it is with great
honor and pride that I ask everyone to stand to
welcome the — (applause) — to welcome the man that
proved “yes we can.” Ladies and Gentleman please join
me in welcoming the President of the United States of
America, Barack Obama. ♪♪(music playing)♪♪ (applause and cheering) The President:
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 because 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 a lot. 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 great
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
greatest 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, because 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. Jazmin Perez. 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 because 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 and winter. 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 succeed.” These people succeeded because
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 because
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 best. 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 Facebook 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 great 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. (applause)

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