The White House

Office of the First Lady

Remarks by the First Lady at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Awards Luncheon

East Room

1:15 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome to the White House.  Yes!  (Applause.)  If I do say so myself, it looks pretty nice in here.  (Laughter.) 

It is always a pleasure to be here with all of you today as we recognize this year’s winners of the National Design Awards.  Every day, these visionary designers are pushing boundaries, creating and revealing beauty where we least expect it, and helping us all lead healthier, more sustainable lives. 

Tim Prestero and his colleagues at Design that Matters helped create revolutionary products for developing countries, including a neonatal incubator made of spare car parts, and a projector for nighttime adult literacy classes in Africa. 

Another one of our honorees, Janine Benyus, has been a leading light in the field of biomimicry, helping us draw inspiration from nature to design new, sustainable technologies.  And as she puts it, “We are part of a brilliant planet; we are surrounded by genius.”

And then there’s Richard Saul Wurman, who has -- quite dashing and sassy, I must say -- (laughter) -- who has spent his career transforming information into knowledge and helping us better understand the world around us.  He has published, written and designed more than 80 books -- been a little busy -- and he actually coined the term “information architecture.”  But in the end, as he put it, he does this work "not for fame, fortune or money," but "just really to do something good." 

And that is the defining characteristic of today’s honorees.  All of them have done something really good for our country and our world.  From the clothes we wear to the technologies we use to the public spaces we enjoy, their work affects just about every aspect of our lives.  And on days like today, when we gather to celebrate these extraordinary individuals, it’s easy to go on and on about everything they’ve achieved and the impact that they’ve had.  It is a very easy thing to do with this group. 

But it’s also important to remember that today’s awards ceremony is only part of the story.  We know that for these men and women, the journey to this day began long before they ever walked through the doors of the White House.  It started in studios and classrooms and dorm rooms, where they spent long hours and late nights hunched over a sketchpad or squinting at a computer screen, drafting and redrafting and re-redrafting.  (Laughter.) 

And this is a point I especially want to emphasize for all of the young people who have joined us today.  What you guys have to understand is that these honorees weren’t born brilliant designers.  They became brilliant designers because they worked hard.  They’re here today because they had a dream, and they put in long, hard, exhausting work -- all of that that it takes to follow that dream. 

And that’s why we invited all of you amazing young people here today, because we want to send you a simple message:  That if you put the time and effort in, if you dream big and truly believe in yourselves, then one day you, too, can create the designs that can change our lives.  You can do this, and maybe even come back and win an award, or two, or three -- or eight, or 10.  (Laughter.)

You all are here today because we believe in you -- and that’s really important for you to know.  You are here because we all believe in you.  And that’s why Cooper-Hewitt created its DesignPrep Scholars program, and I am thrilled that you all have done this.  And I know that we've got some young people from the program here today.  I got to meet some of them, and I'd like to ask them to please stand so that we can see you in the room, all of the -- yes, do it.  Come on, you can do it.  (Applause.)  Stand up.  Make yourselves known.  (Applause.)  Now, the first thing you have to learn is you can't be shy about getting some attention.  (Laughter.) 

Cooper-Hewitt created this program because they know how much promise all of you have, and they want you to have every opportunity to fulfill that promise.  And that’s the same reason why we’ve worked so hard to open the doors of this White House to as many young people as possible.  Whether it's hosting workshops on everything from jazz to poetry to modern dance, we want to expose talented young people just like all of you to the rich culture -- to the rich cultural life of this country. 

And we want you to feel and believe that you belong here.  That is really important -- that you belong in those chairs, that you get comfortable around these tables, like you have a place in our museums, that you have a place in our concert halls and the halls of power not just here in D.C. but anywhere you go.  And that is also the mission of the man that I have the pleasure now of introducing. 

Dr. Wayne Clough, who I've come to know and respect and admire, is the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and he has been working tirelessly with his team to ensure that all Americans can benefit from everything the Smithsonian has to offer.  He’s created all kinds of educational programs for our young people.  He has put the Smithsonian on YouTube -- that’s for the young people -- (laughter) -- on Facebook, Twitter.  They're doing it all.  You're tweeting -- okay.  (Laughter.)  So he is doing everything in his power to keep the Smithsonian on the map, and to make sure that everyone around this country and around the world has access to its resources. 

So one thing I want the young people to know is that in exchange for this lunch, the one thing that I ask young people is that when you get in these seats that you reach back, as well, because that’s how we give back.  Your responsibility is to make a place for the next set of young people when you get these opportunities; when you become the Secretary of the Smithsonian, or the First Lady of the United States, or the President of the United States -- whatever one you choose -- (laughter) -- that you always find a way to keep bringing other young people along with you.  We got that?  Fair deal?  All right.

And with that, I am so thrilled that -- to introduce Dr. Wayne Clough, who will take us to the next phase of the program.  And we're close to lunch.  (Laughter.)  Thank you, Wayne.  (Applause.)

END
1:20 P.M. EDT

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