For Immediate Release February 18, 2009
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY AT
SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK EVENT
4:20 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Well, hello. Welcome to the White House. How are you guys doing?
MRS. OBAMA: That's good. It's good to see you all. I've heard you all have been just quiet as mice. Have you been behaving in here? Is it exciting?
MRS. OBAMA: Come on, it's exciting. Isn't this a beautiful house?
MRS. OBAMA: Well, we are so, so very proud and happy to have you here.
First, I want to thank the Admiral for sharing his story with us. I hope you all were listening, because this is a very wise man who is a very amazing professional in his own right, and he has made our transition to this place just fun and welcoming. He is our friend. So let's give another round of applause. (Applause.)
I wanted you to hear from the Admiral because he plays a very important role in making the White House a wonderful place for the President and his family, and that goes for any President who comes through these doors. What the Admiral does for us he would do for any family who lived here. And he makes this a very special place for people to visit, not just here in this country but from around the world.
Like Barack and I, the Admiral didn't rise to his position because of wealth or because he had a lot of material resources. See, we were all very much kids like you guys. We just figured out that one day that our fate was in our own hands. We made decisions to listen to our parents and to our teachers, and to work very, very hard for everything in life. And then we worked even harder any time anybody doubted us.
Each and every day the Admiral and his staff, who run this beautiful house, demonstrate the highest level of professionalism. It's amazing to watch them. They do their jobs with pride and grace. And that's one thing I hope that you all pick up, is the level of pride and grace that you put into anything you do. They work very hard to make the White House a warm family home and a great presidential residence commanding pride and respect throughout this country and around the world.
As President and First Lady, Barack and I are just the caretakers of this house. We're just borrowing it for a little bit. But while we live here, we're your neighbors, okay? And we want you to feel welcome here at the White House, which really is, as the Admiral said, it's the people's house that belongs to all of us. So just remember that, okay?
And as the people's house, we believe the White House should be a place for learning and for sharing new and different ideas, sharing new forms of art and culture, and history and different perspectives. We want you to visit and we want you to take advantage of these opportunities and maybe see something for yourselves that maybe you never thought you could do or be.
So I'm happy to welcome you here for our little Black History Month celebration. I'm glad you guys are here.
So many milestones in black history have touched this very house. Just to name a few, did you know that African American slaves helped to build this house?
MRS. OBAMA: You knew that? Did you know that right upstairs in a bedroom called the Lincoln Bedroom, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that marked an important step forward in ending slavery? Did you know that happened right here?
MRS. OBAMA: You knew that? Well, did you know that in 1878, Rutherford B. Hayes was President at the time, and Marie Seilka became the first soprano, the first African American artist, to perform right here in the White House? That was in 1878. Did you know that? Because I didn't know that.
MRS. OBAMA: And in the 1960s, did you know that Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders met here with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to debate and discuss the end of segregation? Did you know that?
MRS. OBAMA: Pretty cool, huh?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes.
MRS. OBAMA: Yes. Well, you're yawning. Wake up! (Laughter.) I'm just kidding. (Laughter.)
And of course, who lives here now? President Obama. And he's making history every single day. Why? Why?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: He is the first African American President of the United States.
MRS. OBAMA: That's correct. (Laughter.) Would you like to stand? (Laughter.) You want to say that one more time?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: The first African American President of the United States of America.
MRS. OBAMA: Very good. (Applause.) So you guys know your history. That's a good thing. That means your parents and teachers are doing their jobs.
But I encourage you not only to focus on the famous names that you read in the history books or that you see on TV, but I want you to also think about the extraordinary people who live in your own world, the folks in your own lives -- parents, grandparents, yes, teachers -- all those folks who play important roles in black history and American history every single day.
You're living right among them -- people like Admiral Rochon, who has his grandchildren here today. Where are Alex and Olivia? Where are you, guys? Where are they? Hello, welcome. It's good to see you all. That's the Admiral's grandchildren. Let's give them a welcome. (Applause.)
All of these folks who are in your world right now are writing a chapter in history of their own. But the truth is, is that the next chapter in history will be written by all of you. Did you realize that? The next chapter in history is written by you.
So you have to ask yourselves, what will you do in life to help someone else in need? You have to ask yourselves, what are you going to do to make your own community stronger? What are you going to do to make sure that this nation is even greater? And what are you doing right now in school and in your neighborhoods to prepare yourselves to assume a level of responsibility and to be good citizens? Those are the questions that you can ask yourselves right now, even at your age.
And think about, as the Admiral says, getting up every single day and working hard, as hard as you can; putting your best foot forward all the time, not just when somebody is looking, but every single moment; and supporting your family, the folks in your own households; making your beds, putting the dishes up, cleaning your rooms. That's part of the preparation. How do you help your neighbor? And how are you going to build a better life and a future for yourselves?
That's not just a story that Barack Obama is writing, or Admiral Rochon is writing. Those are the stories that we're all writing together. And you're an important part of that.
So we are so excited about the future that you are going to take hold of in just a few years. So I welcome you again to the White House, and I hope you enjoy what is going to be a phenomenal performance. We've got some special guests with us today who are also national treasurers, a group -- one of my favorite groups in the whole wide world, Sweet Honey In The Rock. Doesn't that name sound good?
MRS. OBAMA: Well, their voices sound even better. This group was founded in 1973 by Bernice Johnson Reagon. Sweet Honey In The Rock has continued the African American tradition of using music and song to advance freedom and social justice. So will you guys now help me welcome them? (Applause.) Give a big round of applause to Sweet Honey In The Rock. (Applause.)