Remarks by the First Lady at "42" Film Workshop
State Dining Room
11:57 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Well, hello! How’s everybody doing?
MRS. OBAMA: Welcome to the White House. (Laughter.) It’s nice. Let's do this. (Applause.) I know sometimes it’s hard to know how are you supposed to act in the White House. (Laughter.) Everybody is sitting with their -- just loosen up, loosen up. It’s okay. You all are here. You’re just going to talk. I can tell you all talk a lot. (Laughter.) So you’re just going to talk a little more right here in the White House. We are honored to have you. Welcome, welcome.
Let me start today by thanking Paulette for moderating today’s workshop. Paulette is the new Director of the Office of Public Engagement right here in the White House, and we’re glad to have her on our team. I want to give her a round of applause -- Paulette. (Applause.)
I want to thank Harrison Ford -- I’ve wanted to say that for a while. (Laughter.) Harrison Ford. So you think you trip because I’m here? I’m tripping out -- (laughter) -- because he’s here. And look at this stage -- Mr. Harrison Ford, Chadwick Boseman -- he’s as cute as he was in the movie. (Laughter.) Just admit it. (Applause.) Outstanding -- as well as Brian Helgeland, who is here as well. You’re going to hear from them.
And I want to thank all of you young people here, because I want to make sure I know who’s here. We have students from Gaithersburg, Maryland -- who are you, where are you? (Applause.) Maryland in the house. Alexandria, Virginia. (Applause.) You guys are here. We’ve got some D.C. kids. (Applause.) Of course you all are the loudest ones. (Laughter.) It’s okay. We’ve got students from the Animo Jackie Robinson Charter High School in Los Angeles -- where are our L.A. kids? (Applause.) There you go. You can be louder. (Laughter.) It’s okay, you all traveled.
But I want to make sure that you all know how welcome you are here in this house, because the truth is we do these things -- we make sure that we do these workshops so that you all know that this is your house, too. So we want you to make yourselves at home. We want you to feel good and relaxed and learn and ask questions, okay?
And finally, I saved the best for last. I want to pay special thanks to a woman that I am totally in awe of. And I’m not going to get emotional. I’m going to say that now, because I can tend to get emotional. But she’s a woman of strength, of courage, conviction; a woman who paved the way for me, but she paved the way for millions of Americans all across this country. We have with us Mrs. Rachel Robinson. (Applause.)
And this is what a beautiful woman looks like. She is a proud 90-years-old, and I’m telling you that because she told me she’s proud of it. (Laughter.) And I told her she wouldn’t have to tell anybody how old she was because she doesn’t look a day over 40 (laughter) -- beautiful, and smart, and gifted, and graceful. So we are just so thrilled to have everyone here.
Now, the President and I, we watched this movie over the weekend. It was just us, because our girls were away. And they are definitely going to watch this movie. We think that everybody in this country needs to watch this movie. And I can say with all sincerity that it was truly powerful for us. I don’t know about you, but we walked away from that just visibly, physically moved by the experience of the movie, of the story.
And it wasn’t simply the wonderful performances, because the performances were brilliant -- brilliant. I mean, I’m no movie critic, but you all are pretty good. (Laughter.) And it wasn’t the wonderful screenwriting or the directing. It was the raw emotion that it just makes you feel after the experience. I mean, watching anyone go through what Jackie and Rachel Robinson did -- the outright discrimination they encountered at every turn, from the fans in the stadium to the airport receptionist, even from some of his own teammates. And you’re left just asking yourselves, how on Earth did they live through that? How did they do it? How did they endure the taunts and the bigotry for all of that time?
And while so many in this country still face clear challenges, they still exist today. I was struck by how far removed that way of life seems today. I mean, there’s work to be done, but things have changed. Major League Baseball is fully integrated. You can’t imagine the baseball league not being integrated. There are no more “Whites Only” signs posted anywhere in this country. Although it still happens, it is far less acceptable for someone to yell out a racial slur while you’re walking down the street -- it still happens, but not tolerated. That kind of prejudice is simply just not something that can happen in the light of day today.
And then on the other hand, for us to be able to sit in the same room as Rachel Robinson -- do you all understand? We are here with Rachel Robinson -- (applause) -- the woman who lived through that life whose memories and perspectives will forever be shaped by those experiences. Her presence here today makes us realize just how connected we are to that part of our history. It is very real and very tangible. In the end, I can’t help but marvel at just how far we’ve come over the course of this woman’s life. But it also remind us how far we have to go, how much more work we have to do.
Jackie and Rachel Robinson’s story reminds us how much hard work it takes to move a country forward. It reminds us how much struggle is required to make real progress and change.
So as you reflect on this story, not just today, but I hope you keep thinking about it for the rest of your life, I want you to think about how much strength it took day in and day out for Rachel and Jackie Robinson and for thousands of other people just like them all across this country to keep pressing ahead, even though some folks wouldn’t even treat them like they were human beings. They just kept pressing ahead.
It would have been easy for them to get mad, because I know I was mad just watching the movie. It would have been easy for them to get mad or to give up. But instead, they made hate -- they met hatred with decency. I want you all to keep that in mind -- they met hatred with decency. And, more importantly, they gave their absolute very best every single day -- do you hear -- they gave their best every single day.
From the time they were young people just like all of you, they worked hard to prepare themselves for greatness so that when the opportunity came their way, they were ready for that greatness. This would have been a totally different story had they not been prepared, had they not trained themselves, had they not educated themselves.
Yes, Jackie Robinson certainly was a tremendous athlete, but he was so much more than that. He bravely served in our Armed Forces. He attended college at UCLA. He competed as hard as he could at everything he did so that his gifts wouldn’t go to waste. And Rachel Robinson was in every way his equal, ladies -- in every way his equal. She made her education a priority. She worked hard in school. She eventually became a nurse.
So Jackie and Rachel Robinson weren't destined for greatness -- they prepared themselves for greatness, which meant that they could make a difference outside of baseball, as well. And that is the only thing that is important for you to understand. You can be great in your profession, you can earn a lot of money, you can be famous, but the question is what are you doing for others.
After he retired, Jackie Robinson became a leader in the Civil Rights Movement working with Dr. King, the NAACP. He helped to start a bank to help other minorities start their own small businesses and to own their own homes. And after his death, Mrs. Robinson carried on that legacy by starting the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which has provided college scholarships and training and career opportunities for more than 1,400 underserved students. In fact, I know that we have a few Jackie Robinson scholars here today who are studying at Howard, and Georgetown, and Yale, and Brown, and even my alma mater, Princeton -- righteous. (Laughter.)
And I have seen the quality of these scholars firsthand because one of my personal assistants, little Kristin Jones, was a Jackie Robinson scholar in 2003. And I was couldn’t be more impressed by the work that she has done and the young woman that she has become -- very proud of you. And more than anything else, that is Jackie Robinson’s legacy -- opening up a whole new world of opportunities to young people like Kristin and every single one of you here today.
And that's why it was so important for me to have all of you here for this event. We intentionally did this. Now, we’re going to have a screening for a bunch of fancy people somewhere later on down the line, but we wanted to be here with you. Because this isn’t just about watching a wonderful movie about an important moment in history, this is about helping all of you believe that you can write your own history.
And I can't say this enough to enough young people -- you might not be able to hit a ball like Jackie Robinson, but you can get your education. In fact, you must get your education and demand more of yourself every single day. You have to do that, and you have to pick up yourself when somebody knocks you down -- because you will get knocked down. But to do all of that, you have to put the work in. That's all I have to say.
All of this is about hard work. And you have to be willing to face any obstacle you might encounter along the way. That's what Jackie and Rachel Robinson did, and the same could be said for all the folks on this stage, quite frankly.
Before he became an actor, Harrison Ford had to overcome a crippling fear of speaking in front of an audience. So he’s terrified right now. (Laughter.) And it took Chadwick 10 years of hard work before landing his first starring role. So this stuff doesn't come easy. And then Brian sits down to create a script, and that means hundreds of hours of writing and rewriting, painful doubting and rewriting -- (laughter) -- oh, you can see the pain -- before he comes up with a finished product. And that's really the secret.
And I want all young people to understand -- what does it take? What does it take? What’s the secret? The secret is that no one comes out a finished product. None of us are finished products. There is no magic that makes someone an actor or a director or a doctor or a lawyer or a President or First Lady. There is no magic. That is the one thing I want you all to understand. If you gain nothing from this movie or any of our lives, there is no magic. It takes grit. It takes determination and a whole lot of hard work. And as you know in the movie, it takes guts.
So as you think about the obstacles you face in your own life, as you hear someone telling you that you’re not good enough, or that you don't belong, I want you to think about how Jackie Robinson got up and played after he got spiked in the leg. I want you think about that. I want you to think about how Rachel Robinson is still working to make this world a better place at 90 years old. She’s still not stopping. You can rest a little bit. (Laughter.)
And then I want you all to put your heart and soul into everything you do -- every single thing you do. Can you promise me that? There is no exception to that rule. Everything you do, you have to do 120 percent. And you all are capable of doing that. Everyone is capable of doing that. And that's going to start right now.
Your first test of how passionate you’re going to be is right here today. Because I want you all to take full advantage of what we have for you. I want you to ask questions. I don't want you to hesitate. I don't want you to be shy. Because the first step in greatness is just using your voice, just knowing that whatever question, whatever thought, whatever ideas that you have have meaning and relevance in the world, and you will not hesitate to make your voices heard.
Take advantage of these folks. Make sure you understand and ask questions and push and drive. And when you leave here I want you to promise me that you’re going to keep doing that every single day, no matter what you want to become in life; that that is how you’re going to lead your life -- with greatness, with focus, with drive, determination. And when you do that, and I know you will, you will be something great.
Don't know what it is. I still don't know what I’m going to do with my life. But you will be something great. You all have everything it takes to make that happen, and it is an honor for me to be here with you guys.
Have fun. I got to go work. But I’m going to get a report on what’s been going on here today, so talk and ask questions. Thank you, guys. (Applause.)
12:11 P.M. EDT