Remarks by the First Lady at the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards
2:40 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Thanks so much. Well, good afternoon.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
MRS. OBAMA: And welcome to the White House. It’s good to have you here. I am thrilled that all of you are here joining us today.
I want to start by thanking the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and all their work for sponsoring these awards each year. They’ve just done an amazing job. And I’d like to ask all of the members of the committee to please stand so that we can recognize you for all of your hard work. (Applause.) It’s a pretty impressive group.
I also want to specifically acknowledge -- I’m off my game. (Laughter.) I haven’t been -- I’ve been speaking a lot, and then sort of took a little time off -- but our committee co-chairs George Stevens and Margo Lion for all of their hard work. Thank you both. (Applause.) And we also have Jim Leach, Rocco Landesman, Susan Hildreth, Mary Schmidt Campbell; we have Minister Deng who is here, and our youth program speaker, Starr Arroyo who’s going to -- you’ll hear from Starr. (Applause.)
And I also want to thank Congressman Platts for joining us today. Where’s the Congressman? There you are. I walked right past you. Thank you so much for being here today. (Applause.)
And finally, I want to thank all of the educators, the artists, leaders, all of you who are working every day in communities all across this country to run the programs that we are going to recognize here today.
And every day, you all are doing the hard work. You are pushing and inspiring our kids. You’re revealing their boundless promise, and teaching them to believe in themselves. Because of the programs that you all run, young people are learning breakdancing, hip hop, African drumming -- a lot of stuff going on, right? -- a little traditional music. They’re putting on plays, publishing poems and articles, and working on museum exhibits. They’re becoming historians, designers and champion debaters. Yes. (Laughter.)
And the young people from the Mariachi Master Apprentice Program who will perform for us a little later on, they have even recorded their own CD. That’s pretty good. (Applause.) So we are looking forward to that. I got to hear a little bit of their practice yesterday. They’re pretty good, pretty good. (Laughter.) Very proud to have you guys here.
And I know that many of you who are here today, you make all this happen on shoestring budgets; you do it in unbelievable ways, in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. And I know that you put a lot of late nights and long hours in to give these kids opportunities worthy of their promise.
But you keep on doing this year after year because you have seen firsthand the transformative power of the arts and arts education in the lives of young people across this country. You know that the skills that you’re teaching -- skills like problem-solving and teamwork, self-expression -- these skills aren’t just valuable in the studio or in the theater, but they are critical in the classroom and will be in the workplace when you all get there, right?
You all see that every day -- the promise of the work in the rising GPAs, because all of these students are doing wonderful things. I met a young woman who is going to go into biology, studying at UCLA, in our mariachi band -- women in science, great things.
You see it in rising graduation rates, because all of these kids are going to college, right? Let’s hear it again.
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, indeed. You see kids who never considered going to college finally saying to themselves, well, if I can publish my own writing; if I can create my own artwork; if I can get up in front of all these people and perform anywhere, including the East Room of the White House, well, then certainly I can go to college, right? (Laughter.) Of course I can continue my education and expand my ambitions and pursue my dreams, right? You are here. You can do anything.
And that’s why it is so critical that we preserve arts education in our schools. It is absolutely critical because we know how important it is for our children’s development. We all know. Every one of us who are here in this room will do whatever it takes to make sure that our own kids get access to sports and music and arts and recreation. So if it’s good enough for our kids, it’s good enough for all of our kids, right? (Applause.)
And that’s one of the reasons why we’ve worked so very hard, and it’s been a labor of love to make sure that the White House is a showcase for America’s rich cultural life. And we’ve worked to open our doors as often as possible to as many young people as we possibly can. We have hosted youth workshops on everything from modern dance to classical music to spoken word poetry and so much more. And we’re looking for another four years to do even more. (Applause.)
Because what we do know is that ultimately, arts education doesn’t just teach our kids valuable skills, it doesn’t just give them an important forum of self-expression and self-reflection, it also helps to shape their character. In so many ways it shapes who they are.
And I think that one of today’s programs -- Arts Corps -- really says it best in their motto. Their motto is, “Make art anyway.” Right, make art anyway. That’s what your programs are doing every single day. In spite of all the challenges and obstacles that our young people may face out there in the world -- because life is hard, right? I say that to Malia and Sasha every morning when they get up tired. I’m like, yes, life is hard! (Laughter.) You’ve still got to get up. You’ve got to get up. (Laughter.) But in spite of all of this, all of your fears and your doubts, you teach them art -- to make art anyway. To make art anyway.
You teach them that no matter what life throws their way, if they draw on their own talent and courage and creativity, if they are persistent and tenacious and bold -- bold, right? -- then they can truly make something extraordinary of their lives. Because that’s what we expect: nothing but extraordinary. You all can do this, right? That’s what we expect.
And that is why it is such a pleasure to honor you all here today -- for the work that you do, for inspiring our kids, for keeping their promise alive, loving them, supporting them. We thank you. We honor you, and we are so proud to support you as you continue your outstanding work. So don’t get tired. (Laughter.) Because I know it gets hard, but don’t get tired. The work you do is so critical, and we thank you.
And with that, it is now my pleasure to introduce one of the distinguished co-chairs of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities -– a man whose tremendous career in the arts and tremendous service to our country is such an inspiration to us all. And this is the time of year when you really get sick of me -- (laughter) -- because we spend a lot of time together. Please welcome George Stevens. (Applause.)
* * * * *
(The awards are presented.)
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness. Well, see, this is why we do what we do. This is why we’re here -- because there are thousands of young people out there with this level of talent and passion and energy. And to think that we wouldn’t invest in this, that we wouldn’t find the resources to continue to allow these gifts to grow, that is why what you all do is just so amazing and so important and so necessary.
We are so proud to have you all here. You did an amazing job. We want to thank you. We want to thank Starr for that phenomenal speech. I’m glad I went before you. Yes. (Applause.)
And to all of our award recipients, to all of the young people who benefit from it, just understand this as young people -- this is what I say to all of the young people here -- your job is to pass it on, right? It’s not enough just to receive these gifts and blessings, but to understand that you are blessed and your job now is to pass it on, to find someone in your life that you are going to mentor, that you are going to pull up.
And whether it’s in the arts, or whether it’s academically, your job is to find the next you and hold them tight and make sure they get the same chances that you got, right?
Thank you so much for being here. It is always a joy to host these awards. I want to thank our committee. I want to thank all of our guests. Now, enjoy the reception. We’ve got good food. We’ve got good stuff in there. (Laughter.)
So thank you all. It’s been a wonderful afternoon, and we’ll see you again next year. (Applause.)
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