The White House

Office of the First Lady

Remarks by the First Lady at Museum and Library Services National Medal Awards Ceremony

East Room

11:11 A.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Good afternoon, everyone.  It’s a -- afternoon or morning?  Good morning.  (Laughter.)  Well, hello, everyone, and welcome to a little museum that we like to call the White House.  (Laughter.)   

I want to welcome all of you -- our election officials, all the board members, the community members.  We are grateful to have you here.  And, Susan, thank you very much for that tremendous introduction, as well as your outstanding leadership. We are so grateful. 

And of course, I want to recognize our guests of honor, this year’s winners of the National Medal for Museums and Library Services.  You all are redefining what it means to lead a museum or a library in the 21st century.  All across the country –- from Brooklyn, New York, to Independence, Missouri, to Gallup, New Mexico –- you all are putting our -- your programs and exhibitions up to help us expand our horizons and connect us with the rest of the world. 

You offer dynamic classrooms for folks of all ages, from toddlers to grandparents.  You serve as a gateway to technology for so many in your communities.  And as any mom with young kids will tell you, on a rainy weekend afternoon, you are a welcome haven -- (laughter) -- where kids can learn and explore.

And really, the work to engage and empower our young people is some of the most important work that all of you do.  You’re teaching kids how to get their hands dirty in community gardens
-- my favorite.  You’re showing them how to dance and choreograph moves of their own -- another one of my favorites.  You’re opening up your planetarium doors and taking these young people on trips to outer space.  And when schools get out in the summers, you all are stepping up with all sorts of camps and learning opportunities.  So instead of spending months sitting in front of the television, our young people are stretching their minds, they’re making new friends, and they’re having a great time as they do it.

For example, at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, you’re leading summer expeditions where kids excavate dinosaur bones alongside professional paleontologists.  At the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, you’re offering summer internships to teach young people about marine biology, and you’re doing it by helping them feed and train beluga wales -- very impressive.  And at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, you’re offering a weeklong “Summer Ed-Venture” program with hikes and overnight camping to help kids discover the science that surround us in our natural environment.

So the work that you do in the summers, and throughout the year, quite frankly, is filling a crucial role for our country as we strive to give our young people a world-class education.  And as First Lady, as many of you know, that’s one of the issues that I am very passionate about.  I am passionate about giving our kids the skills and support they need to reach their fullest potential. 

And that’s why, just last week, I announced my Reach Higher initiative, where we’re hoping to inspire young people to continue their education beyond high school.  And whether that’s at a professional training program or a community college, or a four-year college or university, we all know that in order for today’s young people to be able to compete in a global economy, a high school diploma just is not enough. 

So we’re helping students understand the path they need to take to achieve their education by focusing on things like financial aid, college visits, supporting our high school counselors, and providing young people with summer learning opportunities to give them a chance to compete and understand what they want to get out of their education. 

So we’re helping students in that way because we’re depending on young people to set big goals for themselves.  That’s one of my messages, for them to reach higher and to work harder, to work like crazy to get where they want to be.  But we all know that these kids can’t do it alone.  That’s why we need all of us -- all of us -- helping these kids step up in every way.

So we’re going to be getting everybody involved in this effort -- from business owners and government leaders, to congregations and community groups, and of course, libraries and museums like the ones you all represent.  In fact, all of you are providing perfect examples of the kind of opportunities that we need to make sure that all our young people have. 

So I want to applaud you for those efforts.  But I also want to challenge you.  I want to challenge you to reach even higher for those kids in your communities who you might not see so often -- the kids who only make it to your buildings on a class field trip, the kids who don’t know how to get a library card, the kids whose neighborhoods don’t offer a lot of positive learning environments.   

And these kids exist in every single one of our communities.  And I know many of you are already touching these kids, but it is up to us to reach higher for them and to give them the opportunities they need to fulfill their boundless potential.  And, again, all of you are already well on your way, which is why we’re so thrilled and honored to have you here. 

This is a special privilege for me, to be here with all of you.  And I am particularly excited that you have brought community members along with you to share in this day.  So once again, congratulations on this honor. 

And now, I want to turn it over to Gladstone Payton from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to present the medals.  Thank you, all, and welcome.  (Applause.)

(Awards are presented.)

Well, what an excellent array of programs.  We are so proud of all of you.  We’re just hopeful that this is the boost that you need to keep doing the great work that you’re doing.  Having it here at the White House, having the media here, remembering that you all are opening so many doors for people in communities across this country.  It is an honor and a privilege.  Everyone, let’s give these awardees another round of applause.  (Applause.)

And that concludes our program, but we’re going to open up those doors.  We have a wonderful reception for everyone here.  I promised someone over there some cookies.  (Laughter.)  And he’s been suffering through all of this -- (laughter) -- just waiting for the cookies.  So I don't think I will delay any longer.

Once again, it’s an honor to have you all here.  Congratulations, and we look forward to seeing you again next year.  So enjoy.  (Applause.)

END
11:31 A.M. EDT

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