The White House

Office of the First Lady

Remarks by the First Lady at a Discussion with Education Stakeholders

State Dining Room

4:17 P.M. EST
 
MRS. OBAMA: Thanks so much. (Applause.) The applause should go to all of you. Thank you. Welcome. (Applause.) You guys rest yourselves. You work hard enough. I don’t want you to wear yourselves out clapping for me here in the White House. 
 
It is truly a pleasure to welcome you all here today to the White House. I want to start by thanking Jen for that wonderful introduction, but also for her work as one of the millions of teachers out there who are doing their part to keep our kids on track. And as she said, it's not just her role as a teacher, but also as a mom, which is -- I say that all the time. In the end, it's the most important job we have, no matter -- whether you're teaching or serving in the White House, it's the first part of contributing to this society. So thank you for your work. Thank you for being here.
 
And I have to recognize my dear friend Miss Alicia Keys for her eloquence, and her foresight in seeing the value of this movie and investing in it, along with many other very smart people. I was telling Alicia that I saw this movie this summer and I wept, like I know all of you all did, because you can't help but weep and laugh and look in horror and cheer for these two young kids. Because they represent all of our kids. 
 
And the minute I got through watching this movie, I said, I am going to screen this at the White House; I'm going to -- this is the movie that should begin the conversation that is already happening about what we have to do to invest in kids in this community. Because there are millions of Mister and Petes out there who are just struggling to make it. So I am thrilled that you could be here today. Get it done. Took a little second. Had a few things in the way, but we got through it and we're here. (Laughter.) 
 
And I also want to thank the screenwriter, Michael. Michael -- where is Michael? Michael is here. (Applause.) Well done, well done. 
 
And most of all I want to thank all of you for taking the time to participate in this screening and this discussion, and for the work that you're doing to move our kids forward and basically keep our country thriving and on top. And again, there's a reason why I invited you all here. We did this because for many of you, this movie isn’t just a powerful story of -- or a great piece of art. For so many of you, it’s the reality you see every day in your classrooms and in your communities. 
 
This is not unfamiliar. Many of you work with kids just like Mister and Pete. You see them every day -- kids struggling against heartbreaking odds in neighborhoods torn apart by poverty and hopelessness, surrounded by gangs and guns and drugs. You see this every day. But, see, this is the thing, the beauty of this movie -- this movie isn’t just about the challenges that kids like Mister and Peter are facing. And that's really why this movie was so powerful to me, because it’s also about their courage. It’s about their grit, their resilience. Those are three words you are going to hear me say a lot over the next three years -- grit, resilience, courage -- that these kids displayed even in the most hopeless circumstances. 
 
Kids are living like this every day. And all of you see this firsthand every single day in your lives. And think of all the kids you know who somehow maintain that fierce commitment to their dreams just like Mister did. He was going to be an actor, right? (Laughter.) He was going to find a way to get to that audition. 
 
Think of all the kids who show each other the kind of love and loyalty that Mister and Pete showed to each other even when they don't see it in their own lives. Even when they don't get it themselves, somehow intrinsically, they find a way to replicate it in their lives wherever they can find it. Think about all the talent, all the intelligence, all that drive that you see in every single one of these kids. You see it -- all that untapped promise, that vast, unfulfilled human potential; the frustration that comes when you have something deep inside of you, and you got nowhere to go with it -- nowhere to go.
 
And all of that is both the tragedy, and, more importantly, the opportunity that exists for millions of kids in this country. We all know that these kids could be the next generation of workers and innovators and leaders. You all know that. They could be building the businesses and making the discoveries and enriching the communities that will fuel our economies for decades to come. So when all of you are out there working to inspire and educate these kids, you’re not just building a better future for them and for their families, you’re actually building a better future for our country. That's the work that you do. You may not get credit for it, but that's what you’re doing.
 
And that's really what drives me, and that is truly what drives my husband, your President. That's why he’s set a goal that by the year 2020, our country would once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. He wants to get us back on top. And as part of that effort, tomorrow we are going to be hosting a White House summit of university presidents from all across the country, and we’ll be challenging them to recruit and support even more underserved young students at their schools.
 
And for the rest of my time as First Lady, in addition to all my other initiatives -- so nothing is going away, we’re just adding more on -- (laughter) -- I’m going to be doing my very best to promote these efforts by talking directly with young people. That's my focus. Everybody else is going to be talking about resources, but the one thing I can bring to this is the message that we can give directly to young people. 
 
 I’m going to be conveying the simple truth -- I’m going to tell them that they have everything they need to succeed already. It’s all in there, but they still have to be committed to getting their educations. I’m going to be making a special effort, obviously, to reach kids like Mister and Pete, who face such overwhelming obstacles in their lives. And as you all know, too often these kids view their difficult life experiences as weaknesses. They view what they go through as a source of embarrassment and shame sometimes. But as we all know, it’s really just the opposite, and it’s important for them to understand that. 
 
I want these young people to understand that their struggles can actually be a source of strength and even a source of pride, because they’ve overcome obstacles and learned skills that many of us will never have, that many of us need to actually get the real work done. I tell my kids, you can’t always teach resilience. It’s the life you live that gets you there. And these kids have lived some lives. 
 
So I remind these kids, look, if you could go through all that you’ve already gone through -- and just think of what you’ve already made it through. You’ve lost people you love to violence and drugs. You have to have a strategy just to get to school safely. You’re smart enough to figure out how to stay out of gangs. You’ve seen your family fighting just to get by and you still keep moving. You’ve adjusted to living in another country and needing to learn another language. Maybe no one in your family speaks that language yet you’re still going to school and you’re still making it.
 
So what I want these kids to understand is that if you can do all of that, then certainly you can fill out a FAFSA form. (Laughter.) That is not the intimidating part of life. If you can do that, then surely you can get up in the morning and get to class, get to school on time and pay attention. That’s not the hard part. They’ve already gotten through the hard part. They can do all that they can do, surely they can seek out some adults in their lives because there is always one adult -- I don’t care how bad the school is or how bad the neighborhood -- there is always one adult who will move mountains for a kid who wants something. 
 
You all are those people. You can seek that adult out. You can get the help you need. I want to give them the confidence to know that what they go through prepares them for all that they need to do in the future. I remind them, though, that all of that is their responsibility though. In the end, that’s up to them. But it is our responsibility to make sure that they have those caring adults in their lives. It’s our responsibility to make sure they have schools that will teach them. It’s our responsibility to make sure they have programs that support them, and universities that will seek them out and give them a chance, and then prepare them and help them finish their degrees once they get in.
 
And I go to the scene that you talked about, Alicia, in the movie -- because that is the scene that just did me in. I still can’t think about that scene without breaking down. But when the police officer, after all that Mister went through, this boy just broke down and he says, “Keep fighting, because there ain’t no ceiling for a kid like you.” There’s no ceiling. But Mister says, “I can’t do it alone.” And as Alicia says, no one can do it alone. And we have to show these kids that they’re not doing this alone. That’s what we’re here for. 
 
So I want to thank you all for being that hand that is there for these kids, and to keep finding ways to do this, because you’ve got an ally in the White House. You’ve got a President who believes in this, who’s going to work. You’ve got the Secretary of Education who believes in this. You have a First Lady who’s going to do whatever I can to support you and these kids. So we have to keep working together, we have to keep fighting, because these kids are worth it. They are worth it.
 
So with that, I thank you. I’m going to leave and let you guys finish your discussion. I’m going to introduce Roberto and Catherine who are education policy leaders for this administration, and they’re going to come up today and continue the conversation that this film has started, and hopefully it will be a conversation that we’ll continue to have throughout the country -- how do we continue to help lift these kids up; what do we do to make sure that they’re not alone. And the first responsibility for young people is to own their education. We all know that. If they’re not owning it, then there’s very little that we can do. But I’m going to work on that, too.
 
So thank you again, Alicia, Michael. To all the producers, the people who made this movie possible, thank you all. This is truly one of my favorite films this year, and it obviously has moved me and it will be the guiding post for my work over the next three years. So congratulations on a job well done. And let’s get to work.
 
Roberto, Catherine, you guys can come on up. We’ll get it done. (Applause.)            
 
               END        4:30 P.M. EST
 
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