Remarks by the First Lady at National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards
2:24 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Well, hello, everyone. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Welcome to the White House -- again! (Laughter.) This is a good time. We are excited to have you all here. It’s a pleasure to be here today for the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards, where we honor outstanding organizations that are using the arts to lift up our young people.
And I want to start by thanking everyone from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities for sponsoring these awards. And we just announced seven tremendous new committee members this week, and we’re very excited about that. But I’d like to take a moment to ask everyone from the committee who is here to please stand so that we can recognize you for your amazing work. (Applause.) Thank you all so much.
As I told them backstage, this is a real, working committee. And I just want to tell you how proud I have been to work beside you all. You all do real roll-up-your-sleeves kind of work, and it really matters, not just to me and to the President but to the lives of so many young people. You all should be so proud of yourselves. We are absolutely proud and grateful. So thank you.
I also want to recognize Representatives Elijah Cummings and Bobby Scott. Where are -- hello. How are you? (Applause.) We also have Ambassador Kamau, who’s here. Ambassador, thank you. It’s wonderful to have you here. (Applause.) And of course, we have to recognize all of our young folks, the young people who are here today. (Applause.) We’re so proud. You guys are so special. I hope -- do you feel special right about now? You should. (Laughter.) That’s good. That’s the point. We want you to feel special. (Laughter.)
I also want to draw your attention to this beautiful pastel painting here on stage, which was made by our student speaker, Danashiya Pritchard -- Danashiya? -- who we are going to hear from. You don’t have to come up yet. She’s like, “Oh, my God, not now!” (Laughter.) She’s going to come up and tell us a little bit about herself and her work. We are so proud of you, sweetie. Don’t be nervous. (Laughter.) None of these people bite.
And of course, I want to thank all of the artists, the teachers, the administrators in the audience who do the real work. You guys are amazing. Every day, you are out there pouring your heart and soul into these programs. You’ve taking time out of your own lives to give young people the guidance and the support they need to be their very best. You’re doing whatever it takes. Many of you are answering phone calls and emails late into the night; you’re reaching into your own pockets when necessary. And you’re doing this because you know the difference that the arts can make in young people’s lives. You know this better than anyone.
You see firsthand that giving a child the chance to fill a canvas, or to perfect a harmony, or to shine on stage, that can stoke the flames of a lifelong passion, and it can teach valuable skills -- skills like hard work and persistence. I could go on and on. You know the skills. It can open up possibilities that young people might not otherwise see for themselves. And there are thousands of programs all across this country that are doing this kind of important work every day. And today’s honorees represent organizations that have found new and creative ways to give young people these opportunities.
For example, in Baltimore, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is providing instruments, mentors, and classes to help young people experience the magic of music and the magic of the orchestra at a very early age. In Chicago, my hometown -- (laughter) -- StoryCatchers Theatre is helping underserved young people and those in the juvenile justice system write, produce, and perform their own musicals based on their own personal stories. In Los Angeles, WriteGirl is matching at-risk young women with professional writers for one-on-one mentoring and coaching. And these girls are learning to express themselves through poetry, and journaling, and investigative writing. And in the last dozen years through this program, every single one of the program’s graduating seniors has gone on to college.
And these are just a few examples of how all of you are using the power of the arts to change our young people’s lives. And as First Lady, as you know, that is something that I’ve been working hard to do as well every day in the White House. With the incredible support of this phenomenal committee, we’ve been able to host youth workshops on everything from country music to modern dance to poetry. In fact, just a few weeks ago, we put together one of our best events ever -- something we called our “Careers in Film Symposium.” We had some of the biggest and best in Hollywood come, where we brought together about 80 students from Boston, New York and Washington. All of these were young people enrolled in arts and film programs that we were talking about, and they were there to help celebrate the day.
And we did everything right here on the State Floor. We set up in the Green Room a green screen so that the kids could learn about special effects. We brought in award-winning directors who worked one on one with these kids to teach them how to bring out the best in their colleagues and in each other. In the Blue Room, we let them play around with some makeup, which terrified our curator. (Laughter.) But they were able to practice that special-effects makeup, and they put on some disturbingly lifelike cuts and bruises on our staff members -- (laughter) -- who then walked around all day looking like -- with vampire bites. (Laughter.) And many of them forgot they had these on, and they were in the West Wing. And I think one of them passed by Denis McDonough, who sort of looked in horror. (Laughter.) But it was a lot of fun.
And as I walked around and talked to these young people, and I saw the looks in their eyes, I could tell that they were beginning to truly understand -- some of them maybe for the first time -- that they really do have what it takes to make it in the movie business or anywhere else for that matter; they started to envision possibilities for themselves that they never even imagined just from that day.
I spoke to one young man who told me that he had never thought of pursuing special effects until that day. And he was one of the kids -- I think he spent all of his time putting on that makeup. (Laughter.) But he was just drawn to it in a way that it surprised him. And we heard later from the teachers and coaches who told us that their students left with a purpose and a fire they’d never seen before.
So that’s what the arts can do, a little exposure. And the research shows that what those kids learned on that day won’t just further their interest in the arts; as you all know, it furthers their academic performance, as well. You all know this. Studies have shown that students who are highly involved in the arts stay in school longer than those who are less involved. Arts education also leads to better scores in reading and math. And it makes students much more motivated and engaged, period, in school. They come to school more, they set higher goals for themselves, and they have a reason to achieve them because they’re determined to succeed because they’re passionate about something.
And those are just some of the skills -- those skills, skills like grit and determination and resilience that they learn from this work. Those skills will lead students to success no matter what path they choose. You all know this. You experience this every day. And as you might have heard, I believe in this as well myself.
I’m going to be spending a lot more of my time trying to inspire students in this country to use those skills to complete their education, talk to them more about the importance of reaching beyond high school, and the power that they already have to make that happen. So I hope to join you in those efforts, and make that a big part of what I do for the time that I’m here. We know that arts education and programs like yours can play an important role in achieving the President’s North Star goal, which is one of the reasons why we are so passionately supporting you all.
So I simply want to say thank you to all of you for the critical work that you’re doing every day. Thank you for laying that foundation for so many kids. I met with our performers today, all of them so bright and articulate and confident, looking me in the eye, introducing themselves. (Laughter.) Only arts can do that. (Laughter.) Yes, indeed. (Applause)
And to all the young people who are here today, I just want to say this: I know you all probably already know this, but just in case you don’t, these programs will and are changing your lives. So stick with it. Stick with it. If you love what you’re doing, immerse yourself in it. Find the thing you’re passionate about and dig really deep. Don’t be afraid to fail. Just dig deep. Give it all you’ve got, whether it’s writing or design or music. Whatever it is, hold onto it.
Because no matter whether you ultimately want to go into the arts, or whether you ultimately want to go into business or teaching, whatever it is, the skills that you are learning in these programs will help you do whatever it is you can imagine for yourselves. But as I always say, you’ve got to work hard. That is really the message. None of this stuff comes easy. You have to be willing to put in the work. Just like you do in the things that you’re passionate about, you have to bring that kind of energy to every single thing you do. That means you’ve got to get up and go to school every day -- no exceptions. You’ve got to finish school. High school is not your starting point. It is not your end. It is the beginning. Completing high school is the beginning of a lifelong dream of education that I hope you guys pursue.
And we all have your back. We do. You’ve got a President who is working hard to make sure you have the resources you need. You have teachers. You’ve got parents. You’ve got this committee of people. They’re really important. (Laughter.) They are.
Just look at them. It’s like, these are some pretty impressive people. They care so much about you guys.
So we are investing in you, so keep investing in yourself. You promise me that. Promise? All right. (Laughter.) You’ve got what it takes. Set your bar high, okay? Set it really high. Don’t let anybody talk you down to a lower bar. Think big. Think about being here one day, running it, all right? (Laughter and applause.) And if you guys do that, you can do whatever you want in life. You got that?
So with that, I’m going to turn it over to the co-chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, my dear friend, Margo Lion. Thank you, Margo. (Applause.)
2:37 P.M. EST