Obama’s speech to students: Work hard in school for a good career

September 8th, 2009 by

BIZ Journals

President Barack Obama will tell students across America in a televised back-to school speech Tuesday that it takes hard work in school to prepare for a rewarding career.

“No matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it,” Obama plans to say in a speech to be beamed to classrooms nationwide, according to prepared remarks released Monday by the White House.

“You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it,” Obama will say.

The planned speech has triggered controversy, with some conservatives warning that the president may try to use the address to indoctrinate students or score political points.

That’s despite the fact that Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush gave similar speeches during their presidencies. A few prominent conservatives, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, are endorsing Obama’s plans to encourage students to stay in school.

Officials in many school districts plan to make watching Tuesday’s speech optional.

Obama plans to tell students that teachers, parents and the government all have a role to play in educating students.

“But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities — unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed,” the president’s prepared text says.

“We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.”

Obama plans to talk about his own checkered background as a student, about being unfocused and getting into trouble.

“But I was fortunate,” he will say. “I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams.”

Obama plans to deliver the address at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., at 10 a.m. MDT. It will be carried live on the C-SPAN cable channel and streamed live at WhiteHouse.gov/live.



Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama
Back to School Event

Arlington, Virginia
September 8, 2009

The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.
I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.
I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.
Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, “This is no picnic for me either, buster.”
So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.
Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.
Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.
Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.
And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.
And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.
You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.
We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.
Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.
I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.
So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.
But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.
Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.
Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.
Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.
I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.
And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.
That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.
Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.
But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.
It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?
Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.


6 Responses

  1. Kappy McCue

    Here is a copy of an email I submitted to the Pinellas County School Superintendent and the school board.

    Dear Dr. Janssen,

    I really do not understand all the uproar regarding whether or not to
    let Pinellas County Students see The President’s speech encouraging
    students to work hard, set educational goals and take responsibility for
    their educations. Am I missing something?

    I spoke with an administrator at my child’s elementary school today
    regarding this. She said, “well, there are so many people on both
    sides.” Let me get this straight, there are actually parents who do
    “not” want their children to work hard, set educational goals and take
    responsibility for their educations. Okay, if she says so.

    I would love for my children to view the leader of our nation making a
    speech regarding the importance of receiving a good education. Isn’t
    that what we all want for our children? I do not understand why this
    is even an issue, let alone a partisan issue.
    Respectfully yours,

    Kathleen McCue

    P.S. By the way, I am a Republican.

  2. wendy

    What parent would not want their child to hear a speech like this unless they themselves are severely lacking the skills to talk to their child? I am just guessing that the only parents that are complaining will neglect or beat around the bush when it comes to the drug, alcohol, and sex talks with their kids. You see youth need to be given as much information about as many subjects they can so they can live an informed intelligent life unless we want that and live like the box style robots we have now Above all What I find most appalling is the lack of respect for our President and leader of this country. In most countries people would be hung, beheaded, or stoned for this but not here. We listen to people whine and have come to accept that as everyday rights when we need to use that ounce of respect factor that grandparents teach us everyday.

  3. Conkeeper

    Regarding your morning show aired 09/08, you made some incorrect statement concerning the conversational Mandatory school watching the President speech in schools. YOUR STATEMENT leaned towards the fact he is BLACK and that’s why all the fuss, THAT is ( in my option) in correct..I believe a large percentage of AMERICANS don’t care what color the President is. Hell i would have voted for Colin Powell if he was running. The fact that the GOVERNMENT is telling our children the MUST WATCH is the problem is, if wanted to make that speech, why could he not do as ALL OTHER President’s have done. Schedule it on TV at 8pm, then parents would be able to watch it with their children in their home if they CHOOSE. On the radio you have a easy way of just saying what you want and then just chose which caller you want to talk to, if your so RIGHT then make it a LIVE show and have it broadcast with people who can say what they want and how they feel and then you can play your LIBERAL game in front of them..Your statement about the GOVERNMENT has no right to tell who we can marry and not marry, as you where referring to the Gay’s, Bubba, what is wrong with you?? The Government has let more bad stuff get by and the people abuse it, next you will tell me teaching children to color outside of the line is OK. Wrong, it just lets the Children feel the have NO BOUNDARIES in like, so do what you want,,isn’t that WHY we have a GENERATION of Coke Heads and Meth Babies!!! We taught them no boundaries in life
    Conkeeper

  4. The Masked Blogger

    This speech is the equivalent of “don’t drink and drive” or
    or “give a hoot, don’t pollute” or “don’t smoke pot because it’s a gateway drug”; nothing but simple-minded pabulum for simple-minded people. If you “americans” really gave a damn about your child’s education, then you would have stopped supporting the same party that has decimated the public school system during the last 40+ years. Since most of you are to ignorant to know what I’m referring to, simply go back to bed and dream happy dreams!

  5. Michael Rankin

    Hey BABA,I’m ticked off at Americans that can not see the whole story in front of them….Meaning as soon f up bush jr. left office….HE left a big mess for us ALL!!!! And I can not understand is the fact how the folks out there forget!!! and yet point the finger soo soon and they need to look at the other fingrers pointing back at them!!!!We as The Voters Try to do the right thing! And I. As well as others want this country on the right track!! But NOOOO! We As the USA have A bigger problem and this will all always haunt us and that is Black VS.WHITE OR The other way around.!!!

  6. Mike

    Bubba, My two sense on his speech is that it wasn’t about black and white it was fear that he would push his political and moral views on our children. Once everyone was able to view the content of his speech I think that everyone was good with it for the most part. There are always going to be extremes. He had good intentions but to use what you guys said on your show this morning that 90% of the kids weren’t even paying attention so I ask why the speech? Political ageenda if you ask me. Waste of money and waste of time. Why do it during the school day why not at 7pm when parents should be spending time with their children. This will allow them to discuss the speech and focus on their beliefs not a school teachers or a schools.The speech should have been stucture toward all the parents who don’t communicate with their kids. The parents should be the ones making the speech not the president. He is not responsible for raising our children we are. Why force it? If my kids are not allowed to pray or speak of God in school then why should he be aloud to do whatever he wants. Our kids aren’t getting much of an education as is let alone to have to spend several days dealing with this which in my opinion will not better them as people. I pose the question if George Bush decided to make this speech would the Democrats support it. Hell No. Democrats never supported Bush in anything he did so to say it is based on skin color is just creating tension. It is party affiliation not skin color driving this. Hell Democrats are still bashing Bush and he is out of the picture. How can we progress or improve if we continue to look backwards not forwards. Yeah yeah I know how can we learn from our mistakes if we don’t look back. We all know how screwed up this country is. Fix it stop Bush bashing and fix it.

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