Well, the president that some conservatives call the personal representative of fascism and evil gave his "infamous" education speech yesterday to mark the beginning of a new school year. If this is the first wave in the president's effort to build support for an American version of the Hitler Youth movement then I guess I missed the point. President Obama said and did nothing offensive in these words. Clearly, this was an inspirational lesson from America's highest elected leader. Read the words for yourself. Forget what the right wing talk show hosts told you about this controversy and read the words. Ask yourself one simple question: "What was the great harm in this speech?" And if you took your children out of school because of this speech I have only one question: "Why?" If you are a Christian does your fear increase the likelihood that your children will grow up to be responsible and mature people?
I think the best response to this flap was given by former first lady Laura Bush. She praised Obama for his speech and said she was glad that he gave it. She also said that her husband would not become a critic of this president. How about those who appreciated Bush so much following the example of the former first lady.
Look, there is plenty of room for politics in America. We will have another election cycle next year. I will look critically at the direction of those in power and make a choice for or against their leadership. But between now and then I refuse to engage in the hateful and uncivil speech that I hear coming from so many on the right. Again, my greatest sadness is that this has penetrated into the spiritual life of thousands of our local churches. This very same poison kills ministers and slowly drains the spiritual life right out of a church. It violates the clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. If the Apostle Paul wrote about those in authority, and how Christians should respond to them in a vile and violent Roman Empire, why have we stopped listening to Paul and chosen rather to follow people like Beck, Limbaugh and Coulter?
A few weeks ago a good friend of mine, who studies these things rather carefully, noted to me that this president has specifically referred to Jesus Christ by name more than any previous president in his memory. I have not been counting references to Christ, and don't plan to begin, but my sense of things is that this statement is true.
I know, I know. You might say to me, "Yes, he uses the name of Christ but he is doing it with evil motives or purposes." I have no interest in bothering to answer this kind of response. Oppose the man politically for some of his positions, especially his radically pro-choice stance when I find reprehensible. But do not tell me that everything he does is always and only evil. By this standard no one could stand except the hypocritical critics who continue to sow hate and react with fear.
One suggestion: Turn off all the television and radio talk show hosts, left and right, and fill your mind with grace and truth. Your soul will be better for it and your mind will actually begin to experience a calm that you presently do not know from day-to-day. In fact, once you do this tell some of your good friends and urge them to do the same. Listening to these folks is a really serious addiction. The problem is that the addicts need to get off the juice if they are to become healthy again. Be courageous and tell them. They may resent you but if they love grace and truth they might also repent and thank you.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
IN A NATIONAL ADDRESS TO AMERICA'S SCHOOLCHILDREN
Wakefield High School
12:06 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,
everybody. All right, everybody go ahead and have a seat. How is
everybody doing today? (Applause.) How about Tim Spicer? (Applause.) I
am here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia.
And we've got students tuning in from all across America, from
kindergarten through 12th grade. And I am just so glad that all could
join us today. And I want to thank Wakefield for being such an
outstanding host. Give yourselves a big round of applause. (Applause.)
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 — (applause) — 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 bit longer this morning.
I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived overseas. I
lived in Indonesia for a few years. And my mother, she didn't have the
money to send me where all the American kids went to school, but she
thought it was important for me to keep up with an American education.
So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through
Friday. But because she had to go to work, the only time she could do
it was at 4:30 in the morning.
Now, as you might imagine, I wasn't too happy about getting up that
early. And 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 she'd say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."
So I know that 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 about responsibility a lot.
I've talked about teachers' responsibility for inspiring students and pushing you to learn.
I've talked about your parents' responsibility for making sure you
stay on track, and you get your homework done, and don't spend every
waking hour in front of the TV or with the Xbox.
I've talked a lot about your government's responsibility for setting
high standards, and supporting teachers and principals, and turning
around schools that aren't working, where students aren't getting the
opportunities that they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers,
the most supportive parents, the best schools in the world — and none
of it will make a difference, none of it will matter unless all of you
fulfill your responsibilities, unless you show up to those schools,
unless you pay attention to those teachers, unless you listen to your
parents and grandparents and other adults and put in the hard work it
takes to succeed. 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 that 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
Maybe you could be a great writer — maybe even good enough to write
a book or articles in a newspaper — but you might not know it until
you write that English paper — that English class paper that's
assigned to you. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor —
maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or the new
medicine or vaccine — but you might not know it until you do your
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 cannot drop out of
school and just drop into a good job. You've got to train for it and
work 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. The future of America depends on you. 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 and your
skills and your intellect so you can help us old folks 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 it's like. My father left my family when I was
two years old, and I was raised by a single mom who had to work and who
struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn't always able to give us
the things that other kids had. There were times when I missed having a
father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and I felt like I
didn't fit in.
So I wasn't always as focused as I should have been on school, and I
did some things I'm not proud of, and I got in more trouble than I
should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.
But I was — I was lucky. I got a lot of second chances, and I had
the opportunity to go to college and law school and follow my dreams.
My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, she has a similar story.
Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn't have a lot
of money. 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
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 — none of that is an excuse for neglecting
your homework or having a bad attitude in school. That's no excuse for
talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of
school. There is 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, because 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. Neither of her parents had
gone to college. But she worked hard, earned good grades, and got a
scholarship to Brown University — is now in graduate school, studying
public health, on her way to becoming Dr. Jazmin Perez.
I'm thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who's
fought brain cancer since he was three. He's had to endure 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. 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 in the city, she managed to get a job at a local
health care 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
And Jazmin, Andoni, and Shantell aren't any different from any of
you. They face challenges in their lives just like you do. In some
cases they've got it a lot worse off than many of you. But they refused
to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their lives, 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 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 some 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 young people 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, by the way, I
hope all of you are washing your hands a lot, and that you stay home
from school when you don't feel well, so we can keep people from
getting the flu this fall and winter.
But 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 that 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.
Chances are you're not going to be any of those things.
The truth is, being successful is hard. You won't love every subject
that you study. You won't click with every teacher that you have. Not
every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life
right at this minute. And you won't necessarily succeed at everything
the first time you try.
That's okay. Some of the most successful people in the world are the
ones who've had the most failures. J.K. Rowling's — who wrote Harry
Potter — her first Harry Potter book was rejected 12 times before it
was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school
basketball team. 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's why I succeed."
These people succeeded because they understood that you can't let
your failures define you — you have to let your failures teach you.
You have to let them show you what to do differently the next time. So
if you get into trouble, that doesn't mean you're a troublemaker, it
means you need to try harder to act right. If you get a bad grade, that
doesn't mean you're stupid, it just means you need to spend more time
No one's born being good at all 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. The same principle applies to your schoolwork.
You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it
right. You might have to read something a few times before you
understand it. You definitely have to 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 because it shows you have the courage
to admit when you don't know something, and that then allows you to
learn something new. So find an adult that you trust — a parent, a
grandparent or teacher, a coach or a 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
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 they founded this nation. Young
people. 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 and Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we
communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask all of 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 20 or 50 or 100 years say
about what all of you did for this country?
Now, 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 and
the equipment and the computers you need to learn. But you've got to do
your part, too. So I expect all of 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 down or your country down. Most of all, don't let yourself down.
Make us all proud.
Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. Thank you. (Applause.)