Remarks by the First Lady at the National Mentoring Summit
1:58 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Well, there you go. (Laughter.) And that’s what the South Side of Chicago produces. (Laughter and applause.) Well done. Thank you, Deneen, for that outstanding introduction.
Look, it is a pleasure to be here with all of you today to celebrate National Mentoring Month. I know all you agree we could do this for a year, right? (Laughter.)
But I want to start by thanking Dr. Billington from the Library of Congress, as well as Wim Kooyer from MENTOR for being such gracious hosts and making this day possible. Has it been good? (Applause.) All right. (Applause.) I’ve heard good things.
So we’re also joined by the President’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who is here -- (applause) -- as well as Patrick Corvington from the Corporation for National and Community Service. Patrick. (Applause.) These are two people who -- and I’ve known these guys -- I’ve known Arne for a good chunk of my life. He has always mentored. And Patrick is making sure that more Americans are mentoring. So thank you both for your hard work and your commitment. Yes. (Applause.)
As many of you know, it is rare to have all the major mentoring organizations in the country together under one roof -- that's what’s going on here today -- along with leaders from every level of government and across the private sector. And I just want to say how proud and honored I am to be here with so many people making such a big difference in the lives of so many young people.
You all may come from different parts of the country. And maybe you come at this issue from a wide variety of angles. But you’re all here today because you know that in today’s world, having a mentor is more important than ever before. And that’s because, in many ways, being a kid today is tougher than ever before.
Right now, more young people are growing up in single-parent homes, and more of those parents are working multiple jobs and longer hours just to make ends meet.
More kids are growing up outside of those tight-knit neighborhoods that many of us remember; you know, those neighborhoods where folks looked out for each others’ kids and told on you when you weren’t doing what you were supposed to do. (Laughter.) Right?
And even though our children are connecting to the world and to each other in ways we never could have imagined, sometimes the messages they receive promote instant gratification over hard work and perseverance, young people. (Laughter.) And I know that all that can be a little overwhelming.
And then when you add in the age-old struggles of just plain old growing up –- the anxiety, the confusion, the academic and the social pressure –- you’ve got an entire generation of young people truly in desperate need of a friend, someone they can trust, an example they can follow.
And that’s where all of you come in. That’s why mentors are so important. You all are reaching out to kids who do have big, gigantic dreams and plenty of talent, but they don’t always have enough guidance.
And as all of you know, mentoring doesn’t have to require a huge commitment. It doesn’t take much. It can be as simple as taking your kid to the zoo, maybe shooting some hoops -- that's all Arne would be doing -- (laughter) -- maybe going shopping, or just sitting around talking. Kids don’t need you to be Superman. They just need you to be there. They need you to be someone they can count on.
And that’s really the core of mentoring. It’s about building that trust. It’s about providing comfort and stability in a world that often lacks both. And it’s about showing young people that the world is filled with opportunities, and then helping them seize those opportunities.
As mentors, you’re planting a seed that may not take root for years. But let me tell you, when it does, the benefits are undeniable. Studies have shown that young people with mentors are more likely to graduate from high school and set higher goals for themselves, and they’re less likely to skip school, use drugs, or fight, or as Deneen said, talk back to their parents. (Laughter.) I don't know if the studies said that, but I’m sure -- (laughter) -- that that is an important byproduct of mentoring. (Laughter.) By watching their mentors, children learn to expect more from themselves, they learn to reach just a little higher, they learn how to handle conflict and disappointment when things don’t work out right.
But the rewards go both ways, as you all know. For some of you, forging a mentoring relationship is a meaningful way to get involved in your own communities, or to broaden your own view of the world. It can be a chance to pay back someone who made a difference in your life by doing the same thing for someone else. And it is an amazing feeling when you can help a child discover the best in themselves, isn’t it? It’s amazing.
As one mentor said, and this is a quote, “I feel like my role in our relationship is to mirror back all the wonderful things that I notice about her. I’m here to remind her how strong and talented she is.” That's from a mentor.
And that’s the kind of relationship that Jennifer Shultz and Kendelle Brooks have developed. With a father and brother who spent time in prison, Kendelle struggled in school and was always in and out of trouble. But then he met Jennifer, who’s a deputy with the Mathews County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia. And for the last four years, they’ve bonded, I’m told, over sports, with Jennifer helping Kendelle stay on track and raise his grades. He’s a member of the JV football and basketball teams, and Kendelle had perfect attendance last year. And with a mentor -- yes, that deserves a round of applause -- (applause) -- and with a mentor who’s a police officer, you can imagine he is learning how to avoid the same trouble that so many around him may have gotten into.
It’s a relationship that Tina Colvin and her mentor, Veronica Cool, also know a little something about. Veronica, the mentor, came to the United States from the Dominican Republic when she was just 10 years old. But two years ago, she was paired with her mentee, Tina, who lives in West Baltimore. And together, they bonded instantly over their tough childhoods, their love of dance and their wacky sense of humor, something I can relate to. (Laughter.) Now they eat dinner together, they visit museums, go to baseball games and talk about Tina’s dreams of becoming a pediatrician. (Applause.) Yes, another -- (applause) -- big dreams. (Applause.) And like so many of you understand, in the process of building that relationship, they’ve become more than mentor and mentee; they’ve become family. As Veronica says, “Tina’s going to persevere no matter what. She’s going to make something of herself. She just needs the tools to do so.”
And as First Lady, let me guarantee you I am determined to do everything I can to give even more young people the tools they need to reach their potential. And that's -- (applause) -- thank you.
And one thing I learned growing up on the South Side of Chicago, you can’t just talk the talk. You have to walk the walk. That’s why, in 2009, we launched a White House Leadership and Mentoring Initiative. Some of you have participated in that. I see some of my supporters out there. We matched White House staffers with students in the Washington, D.C. area who, we believed, could benefit from a little encouragement, a little inspiration.
The President followed suit too. (Laughter.) Once I did it, then he had to have his mentoring project. But that’s good. We’re encouraging all Americans. (Laughter.)
And we’ve also, in addition to the program that we have in the White House, we’ve hosted mentoring events across the country in an effort to connect kids with adults who can help point them in the right direction.
The idea that we have behind all these initiatives isn’t simply to create a series of one-time experiences for just a small number of kids. It’s about encouraging more caring adults to step up and make mentoring a part of their lives. And our thought is that if the President and the First Lady can mentor, shoot, everybody has got a little time. (Laughter.) And it’s about making a real effort to help our young people do better in school and stay out of trouble, not just here in Washington, but all across the country, because we know you all have everything it takes to be outstanding. That’s not special. You have it already.
And that’s why today, I am thrilled to announce that the Corporation for National and Community Service has teamed up with several major companies to establish a Corporate Mentoring Challenge. (Applause.)
This is a program calling on businesses of all sizes to allow their employees to mentor for short periods during the work day, giving kids positive role models and offering employees a way to give back. And they’ve already received new commitments from leading companies who have agreed to harness their resources and help us make a difference on a very large scale. We want to do things big. And they will also be joined in this effort by other companies who have been mentoring for years, because there are so many of you who have already been doing this. You’ve set the stage, many of whom are here today, and we thank you for all the work that you’ve been doing over the years. (Applause.)
So many of these companies have long-standing relationships with local schools. They’re connecting employees with kids who need help, whether it’s in reading or writing. Others have provided grants to help build mentorship programs in areas where children often fall behind.
And, again, I want to encourage businesses across the country to follow this example in the months and years ahead. There is so much, so much good that we can all do here. And days like today make me hopeful that this is only the beginning.
People like all of you help me believe that a child who grows up surrounded by doubt and fear and negativity can still feel loved and inspired and hopeful for their future. And times like these also make me feel like we’re on our way to building a culture where no child ever feels like they’re on their own.
I want to close today by sharing a lesson that I’ve learned, a lesson that I try to live by. We should always have three friends in our lives -- one who walks ahead who we look up to and we follow; one who walks beside us, who is with us every step of our journeys; and then, one who we reach back for and we bring along after we’ve cleared the way.
See, and that last friend represents our need to mentor, to lend our experience and our wisdom in the hopes that it will give someone after us the strength to reach a little higher and dream a little bigger.
That’s what each of you is doing in your own lives and your own work. That’s why this is a big mission for me as First Lady, and if we continue, all of us -- and that means mentees, too -- you are never too young to mentor. You should already be thinking about who that friend is you’re going to be reaching back for. And if we continue to reach back and we continue to help those in need of someone to trust and someone to follow, then I’m confident that we can make even more progress together.
So congratulations. Congratulations on this day. Congratulations on your work. Mentees, you all are blessed, and I hope you know that, to have people who are not related to you ready to pull it together and make it happen for you. So thank you all and congratulations. I’m going to come down and shake some hands. You all take care. I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead. (Applause.)
2:13 P.M. EST