Michelle Obama Speeches: Design Awards, Careers in Science, End of Iraq War (2011)


Uploaded by thefilmarchived on 25.09.2012

Transcript:
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you so much. It is such a pleasure and an honor to be here
with all of you today.
I want to start by thanking Graca Machel for that just gracious, kind introduction. It
is overwhelming. And I want to thank her for her lifetime of service as a champion for
women and children. And from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for all of the
kindness and generosity that you have shown my family for our visit here. Thank you so
much. (Applause.)
I am also honored to share the stage with another remarkable leader, Baleka Mbete. (Applause.)
She has played a vital role in advancing equality and promoting development here in South Africa.
Thank you to the both of you for joining us here for sharing this moment with all of us.
I also want to thank the Archbishop of Johannesburg for honoring us today with his presence.
And of course, I want to recognize our guests of honor –- these 76 extraordinary young
women leaders from here in South Africa and across the continent. (Applause.)
These are young women transforming their communities and their countries, and let me tell you I
am so impressed by all of them. I am so proud of everything they have achieved.
And finally, I want to thank the leaders and the congregation of Regina Mundi for hosting
us in this sacred space today. It has been more than three decades, but those bullet
holes in the ceiling, this broken altar still stand as vivid reminders of the history that
unfolded here.
And you all know the story –- how 35 years ago this month, a group of students planned
a peaceful protest to express their outrage over a new law requiring them to take courses
in Afrikaans. Thousands of them took to the streets, intending to march to Orlando Stadium.
But when security forces opened fire, some fled here to this church. The police followed,
first with tear gas, and then with bullets.
And while no one was killed within this sanctuary, hundreds lost their lives that day, including
a boy named Hector Pieterson, who was just 12 years old, and Hastings Ndlovu, who was
just 15.
Many of the students hadn’t even known about the protest when they arrived at school that
morning. But they agreed to take part, knowing full well the dangers involved, because they
were determined to get an education worthy of their potential.
And as the Archbishop noted, that June day wasn’t the first, or the last, time that
this church stood in the crosscurrents of history. It was referred to as “the parliament
of Soweto.” When the congregation sang their hymns, activists would make plans, singing
the locations and times of secret meetings. Church services, and even funerals, often
became anti-Apartheid rallies. And as President Mandela once put it, “Regina Mundi became
a world-wide symbol of the determination of our people to free themselves.”
It is a story that has unfolded across this country and across this continent, and also
in my country -- the story of young people 20 years ago, 50 years ago, who marched until
their feet were raw, who endured beatings and bullets and decades behind bars, who risked,
and sacrificed, everything they had for the freedom they deserved.
And it is because of them that we are able to gather here today. It is because of them
that so many of these young women leaders can now pursue their dreams. It is because
of them that I stand before you as First Lady of the United States of America. (Applause.)
That is the legacy of the independence generation, the freedom generation. And all of you -– the
young people of this continent -– you are the heirs of that blood, sweat, sacrifice,
and love.
So the question today is, what will you make of that inheritance? What legacy will you
leave for your children and your grandchildren? What generation will you be?
Now, I could ask these questions of young people in any country, on any continent. But
there is a reason why I wanted to come here to South Africa to speak with all of you.
As my husband has said, Africa is a fundamental part of our interconnected world. And when
it comes to the defining challenges of our times –- creating jobs in our global economy,
promoting democracy and development, confronting climate change, extremism, poverty and disease
-- for all this, the world is looking to Africa as a vital partner.
That is why my husband’s administration is not simply focused on extending a helping
hand to Africa, but focusing on partnering with Africans who will shape their future
by combating corruption, and building strong democratic institutions, by growing new crops,
caring for the sick. And more than ever before, we will be looking to all of you, our young
people, to lead the way.
And I’m not just saying that to make you all feel good. (Laughter.) The fact is that
in Africa, people under 25 make up 60 percent of the population. And here in South Africa,
nearly two-thirds of citizens are under the age of 30. So over the next 20 years, the
next 50 years, our future will be shaped by your leadership.
And I want to pause for a moment on that word -– leadership -- because I know that so
often, when we think about what that word means, what it means to be a leader, we think
of presidents and prime ministers. We think of people who pass laws or command armies,
run big businesses, people with fancy titles, big salaries.
And most young people don’t fit that image. And I know that often when you try to make
your voices heard, sometimes people don’t always listen. I know there are those who
discount your opinions, who tell you you’re not ready, who say that you should sit back
and wait your turn.
But I am here today because when it comes to the challenges we face, we simply don’t
have time to sit back and wait.
I’m here because I believe that each of you is ready, right here and right now, to
start meeting these challenges.
And I am here because I know that true leadership -– leadership that lifts families, leadership
that sustains communities and transforms nations –- that kind of leadership rarely starts
in palaces or parliaments.
That kind of leadership is not limited only to those of a certain age or status. And that
kind of leadership is not just about dramatic events that change the course of history in
an instant.
Instead, true leadership often happens with the smallest acts, in the most unexpected
places, by the most unlikely individuals.
I mean, think about what happened here in Soweto 35 years ago. Many of the students
who led the uprising were younger than all of you. They carried signs made of cardboard
boxes and canvass sacks. Yet together, they propelled this cause into the consciousness
of the world. And we now celebrate National Youth Day and National Youth Month every year
in their honor.
I mean, think about the giants of the struggle –- people like Albertina Sisulu, whose recent
passing we all mourn. Orphaned as a teenager, she worked as a nurse to support her siblings.
And when her husband, Walter Sisulu, became Secretary-General of the ANC, it was up to
her to provide for their family. When he was imprisoned for 26 years, it was up to her
to continue his work. And that she did. With a mother’s fierce love for this country,
she threw herself into the struggle.
She led boycotts and sit-ins and marches, including the 1956 Women’s March, when thousands
of women from across this country, converged on Pretoria to protest the pass laws. They
were women of every color, many of them not much older than all of you. Some of them carried
their babies on their backs. And for 30 minutes, they stood in complete silence, raising their
voices only to sing freedom songs like Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica. Their motto was simple, but
clear: “If you strike a woman, you strike a rock.” (Applause.)
Ma Sisulu, the students of Soweto, those women in Pretoria, they had little money, even less
status, no fancy titles to speak of. But what they had was their vision for a free South
Africa. What they had was an unshakeable belief that they were worthy of that freedom –- and
they had the courage to act on that belief. Each of them chose to be a rock for justice.
And with countless acts of daring and defiance, together, they transformed this nation.
Together they paved the way for free and fair elections, for a process of healing and reconciliation,
and for the rise of South Africa as a political and economic leader on the world stage.
Now, I know that as your generation looks back on that struggle, and on the many liberation
movements of the past century, you may think that all of the great moral struggles have
already been won.
As you hear the stories of lions like Madiba and Sisulu and Luthuli, you may think that
you can never measure up to such greatness.
But while today’s challenges might not always inspire the lofty rhetoric or the high drama
of struggles past, the injustices at hand are no less glaring, the human suffering no
less acute.
So make no mistake about it: There are still so many causes worth sacrificing for. There
is still so much history yet to be made. You can be the generation that makes the discoveries
and builds the industries that will transform our economies. You can be the generation that
brings opportunity and prosperity to forgotten corners of the world and banishes hunger from
this continent forever. You can be the generation that ends HIV/AIDS in our time -- (applause)
-- the generation that fights not just the disease, but the stigma of the disease, the
generation that teaches the world that HIV is fully preventable, and treatable, and should
never be a source of shame. (Applause.)
You can be the generation that holds your leaders accountable for open, honest government
at every level, government that stamps out corruption and protects the rights of every
citizen to speak freely, to worship openly, to love whomever they choose.
You can be the generation to ensure that women are no longer second-class citizens, that
girls take their rightful places in our schools. (Applause.)
You can be the generation that stands up and says that violence against women in any form,
in any place -- (applause) -- including the home –- especially the home –- that isn’t
just a women’s rights violation. It’s a human rights violation. And it has no place
in any society.
You see, that is the history that your generation can make.
Now, I have to be honest. Your efforts might not always draw the world’s attention, except
for today. (Laughter.) You may not find yourself leading passionate protests that fill stadiums
and shut down city streets. And the change you seek may come slowly, little by little,
measured not by sweeping changes in the law, but by daily improvements in people’s lives.
But I can tell you from my own experience –- and from my husband’s experience -– that
this work is no less meaningful, no less inspiring, and no less urgent than what you read about
in the history books.
You see, it wasn’t that long ago that my husband and I were young, believe it or not
-- (laugher) -- just starting out our careers. After he graduated from university, Barack
got a job as a community organizer in the struggling neighborhoods on the South Side
of Chicago. A lot of people there were out of work and barely getting by. Children had
few opportunities and little hope for their future. And trust me, no one thought that
this skinny kid with the funny name -- (laughter) -- could make much of a difference.
But Barack started talking to people. He urged them to start working on the change they wanted
to see. Soon, slowly, folks started coming together to fight for job training programs
and better schools and safer housing for their families.
Slowly, the neighborhoods started to turn around. Little by little, people started feeling
hopeful again. And that made Barack feel hopeful.
And I had a similar experience in my own career. Like my husband, I came from a modest background.
My parents saved and sacrificed everything they had so that I could get an education.
And when I graduated, got a job at a big, fancy law firm -- nice salary, big office.
My friends were impressed. My family was proud. By all accounts, I was living the dream.
But I knew something was missing. I knew I didn’t want to be way up in some tall building
all alone in an office writing memos. I wanted to be down on the ground working with kids,
helping families put food on the table and a roof over their heads.
So I left that job for a new job training young people like yourselves for careers in
public service. I was making a lot less money. My office wasn’t so nice. (Laughter.) But
every day, I got to watch those young people gain skills and build confidence. And then
I saw them go on to mentor and inspire other young people. And that made me feel inspired.
It still does.
See, my husband and I, we didn’t change any laws, we didn’t win any awards, get
our pictures in the paper. But we were making a difference in people’s lives. We were
part of something greater than ourselves. And we knew that in our own small way, we
were helping to build a better world. And that is precisely what so many young people
are doing every day across this continent.
These 76 young women are outstanding examples. Take Gqibelo Dandala from here in South Africa.
She left a lucrative career in investment banking to found the Future of the African
Daughter Project, an organization that lifts up young women in rural and township areas.
Of her work, she says: “…we are building a legacy which will outlive and outgrow us…”
And then there’s Robyn Kriel. She’s a young reporter from Zimbabwe who has written
about corruption and human rights abuses in her country. She was beaten by police; her
home raided, her mother imprisoned. But she still hasn’t lost her passion for reporting,
because, as she put it, the people of Zimbabwe “want their stories to be told.”
And then there’s Grace Nanyonga, who joins us today from Uganda. Hey, Grace! (Applause.)
You go, girl. (Laughter.) Orphaned at the age of 13, she started cooking and selling
fish during her school vacations to support her six siblings. Determined to get an education,
she founded her own company, and she made enough money to put herself through university.
And she’s now started an organization that trains local women to work at her company
so that they can support their own families. (Applause.) Of her achievements, she says,
simply -- these are her words -- “I made it against all odds” and “I want to be
an example for girls in my country and beyond.”
Now, Grace could have been content to make lots of money, and just provide for her own
family. Gqibelo could have climbed the corporate ladder, and never looked back. Where is she?
Please stand. Grace got to stand. (Laughter.) Come on, where is she? Is she out there? (Applause.)
And no one would’ve blamed Robyn -- where’s Robyn? (Applause.) No one would have blamed
Robyn if after all she’d been through she decided to quit reporting and pursue an easier
career. But these young women -- and these are just examples of stories that go on and
on -- these young women could not be content with their own comfort and success when they
knew that other people were struggling.
You see, that’s how people of conscience view the world. It’s the belief, as my husband
often says, that if any child goes hungry, that matters to me, even if she’s not my
child. (Applause.) If any family is devastated by disease, then I cannot be content with
my own good health. If anyone is persecuted because of how they look, or what they believe,
then that diminishes my freedom and threatens my rights as well.
And in the end, that sense of interconnectedness, that depth of compassion, that determination
to act in the face of impossible odds, those are the qualities of mind and heart that I
hope will define your generation.
I hope that all of you will reject the false comfort that others’ suffering is not your
concern, or if you can’t solve all the world’s problems, then you shouldn’t even try.
Instead, as one of our great American presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, liked to say, I hope that
you will commit yourselves to doing “what you can, with what you’ve got, where you
are,” because in the end, that is what makes you a lion. Not fortune, not fame, not your
pictures in history books, but the refusal to remain a bystander when others are suffering,
and that commitment to serve however you can, where you are.
Now it will not be easy. You women know that already. You will have failures and setbacks
and critics and plenty of moments of frustration and doubt. But if you ever start to lose heart,
I brought you all here today because I want you to think of each other.
Think about Grace, supporting her family all by herself. And think about Robyn, who endured
that beating so she could tell other people’s stories. Think about Ma Sisulu, raising her
kids alone, surviving banishment, exile, and prison. When reflecting on her journey, Ma
Sisulu once said, with her signature humility, she said, “All these years, I never had
a comfortable life.”
So you may not always have a comfortable life. And you will not always be able to solve all
the world’s problems all at once. But don’t ever underestimate the impact you can have,
because history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a
life of its own.
It’s what happens when folks start asking questions -- a father asks, “Why should
my son go to school, but not my daughter?” Or a mother asks, “Why should I pay a bribe
to start a business to support my family?” Or a student stands up and declares, “Yes,
I have HIV, and here’s how I’m treating it, and here’s how we can stop it from spreading.”
See, and then soon, they inspire others to start asking questions. They inspire others
to start stepping forward.
And those are the “ripples of hope” that a young U.S. senator named Robert Kennedy
spoke of when he came here to South Africa 45 years ago this month. In his words, he
said, the “numberless diverse acts of courage and belief which can sweep down the mightiest
walls of oppression and resistance.”
And that is how a church can become a parliament. That is how a hymn can be a call to action.
That is how a group of young people with nothing more than some handmade signs and a belief
in their own God-given potential can galvanize a nation.
And that’s how young people around the world can inspire each other, and draw strength
from each other.
I’m thinking today of the young activists who gathered at the American Library here
in Soweto to read the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King for their inspiration.
And I’m thinking of how Dr. King drew inspiration from Chief Luthuli and the young people here
in South Africa.
And I’m thinking about how young South Africans singing the American civil rights anthem “We
Shall Overcome” in the streets of Cape Town and Durban.
And I’m thinking of how Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica echoed through university campuses in the
U.S., as students -– including my husband –- planned boycotts to support students
here in South Africa.
And I’m thinking of this church and how those stained windows depicting the struggle
were donated by the people of Poland, and how the peace pole in the park outside was
donated by people from Japan, and how every week, visitors from every corner of the globe
come here to bear witness and draw inspiration from your history.
And finally, I’m thinking of the history of my own country. I mean, America won its
independence more than two centuries ago. It has been nearly 50 years since the victories
of our own civil rights movement. Yet we still struggle every day to perfect our union and
live up to our ideals. And every day, it is our young people who are leading the way.
They are the ones enlisting in our military. They’re the ones teaching in struggling
schools, volunteering countless hours in countless ways in communities.
And in this past presidential election, they were engaged in our democracy like never before.
They studied the issues, followed the campaign, knocked on doors in the freezing snow and
the blazing sun, urging people to vote. They waited in line for hours to cast their ballots.
And I have seen that same passion, that same determination to serve in young people I have
met all across the world, from India to El Salvador, from Mexico to the United Kingdom
to here in South Africa.
So today, I want you to know that as you work to lift up your families, your communities,
your countries and your world, know that you are never alone. You are never alone.
As Bobby Kennedy said here in South Africa all those years ago: “…you are joined
with fellow young people in every land, they struggling with their problems and you with
yours, but all joined in a common purpose…determined to build a better future.”
And if anyone of you ever doubts that you can build that future, if anyone ever tells
you that you shouldn’t or you can’t, then I want you to say with one voice –- the
voice of a generation –- you tell them, “Yes, we can.” (Applause.) What do you
say? Yes, we can. (Applause.) What do you say? Yes, we can!
AUDIENCE: Yes, we can!
MRS. OBAMA: What do you say?
AUDIENCE: Yes, we can!
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all so much. God bless you. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Well, good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the White House. Never get
tired of saying that -- right? (Laughter.) I am pleased to be here with all of you as
we recognize this year’s recipients of the National Design Awards.
As the great American designer Milton Glaser has said, “Good design is good citizenship.”
And today we will celebrate both: designers who have reached the tops of their fields
not just by chasing glory for themselves, but instead by making life glorious for the
rest of us.
These men and women have breathed new life into our homes and our workplaces, the clothes
we wear, the products we use every day, and even the most basic ways we process information.
A trip to the park is just a bit more refreshing. A book or a chart more readable. A commute
to work more palatable -- unless you were stuck on the train today. (Laughter.) There
are a few who didn’t make it.
But while we ooh and ahh at their handiwork, we may take for granted all the blood, sweat,
and tears that went into the process of creation. We will never see all of those late nights
spent tinkering and perfecting. We’ll never experience the long hours hunched over a drafting
board or staring blankly at a computer screen. So, honorees, today is about honoring not
just your designs, but also the years of hard work that brought you here today.
And that’s something that I want to emphasize for all of the young people who are here with
us today. I want you young folks, and as you look around the room, understand that you
see some of the sharpest minds alive, some of the most accomplished designers in the
world. But understand that none of these people came here ready-made -- all right? They’re
here today because they hatched an idea or they followed a dream -- and more importantly,
they worked every day, they worked hard every day, to get here.
So to the young people here, I want you to realize that you can share a meal with some
of our nation’s greatest talent, you can walk on the same floors as Presidents and
as heads of state. And if you work hard enough, if you believe in yourself, you can earn an
award just like this in a few decades or -- (laughter) -- I don't know, a few of you, maybe a few
years. (Laughter.) Never know; time marches on. They may be pushing you out sooner than
you think. (Laughter.) I know a few of them already told me about their plans.
And I want you all to know that I really do mean this. This is what I fundamentally believe
about all of you young people. You can be right here. That's why it is important for
us to have you here, right now, so that you know that this place belongs to you, too.
One of my highest priorities as First Lady is to make sure that the doors of this house,
the White House, are open not only to the best and brightest of today, but to our next
generation, as well. And I know that many of our guests here today share that mission
of investing in our young people.
And that’s why Cooper-Hewitt and the Smithsonian hosted a wonderful Teen Design Fair earlier
today, opening doors for 400 D.C. public high school students to learn about career paths,
and to show off their work and get some advice from some of today’s honorees and finalists.
And I want to thank you all -- all of the honorees, the finalists, everyone who took
the time to spend with these young people -- I want you all to know that they're doing
this because they believe in you, too. There are a lot of people out there who think you
guys can do whatever you want to, and they're willing to take the time -- on one of the
days that we're here to honor them -- to give something back to you all.
So part of your challenge is that when you get here, you have to do the same thing for
somebody else. All right? That's my only deal. (Laughter.)
It’s why many of our honorees and finalists not only have given back today but they're
doing it every day in the communities where they come from. And it’s why the man that
I am about to introduce is working so hard with his team at the Smithsonian to make sure
that all Americans, especially our young people, have access to all the museums and artifacts
and scientific specimens and archives -- whether that’s in person or whether it's by smartphone
-- that's how you guys do things, right, on phones nowadays. (Laughter.) You're keeping
up with that. We're going to be able to work with you.
So the Smithsonian is revitalizing their Office of Education. They’re starting educational
programs at schools for math and science, and for history and the arts. They’re on
Facebook. The Smithsonian is twittering. Whoa. (Laughter.) They’re even on YouTube. They
are trying to find you all. They're doing a great job. And they’re doing it because,
as the man I'm about to introduce has said -- and this is his quote -- “Instead of
a set of collections that hardly anybody sees, and a group of curators who are behind the
walls, we can become a huge educational resource for the nation that we haven't been before.”
And it is that type of vision that helps a day like today become reality. And that’s
the same type of leadership that helps a marvelous institution like the Smithsonian adapt to
the new millennium. And that is why I am so pleased to introduce the Secretary of the
Smithsonian Institution -- and a dear friend who has been doing wonderful things with this
White House -- Dr. Wayne Clough. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Everyone, please be seated. Let me welcome
you all to the White House. And again, thank you, Michelle, for that very kind and inspirational
story and introduction. We are all so proud of you. Let's give Michelle -- (applause.)
And I know your family is watching, so congratulations.
I also want to thank Acting Secretary of Commerce Becky Blank, who I know had to leave, but
we want to thank her. And we have Congressman Chaka Fattah, who is joining us today. Congressman,
it's good to have you.
Now, it is Michelle -- and students like her -- they are the reason why we’re here today.
Now, more than ever, we can’t afford to throw barriers in front of someone who had
the hunger to be the first in her family to go to college; someone who worked full-time
to put herself through school while keeping up with her younger brothers and sisters;
someone who is proving the doubters wrong every single day. This country simply can’t
afford to miss out on someone like that. And fortunately, in Michelle's case, we didn’t.
So today is also about helping every little girl in this country believe that she can
be the next Michelle Del Rio. Right? (Laughter.) It’s about showing every child that a scientist
isn’t just something you hear about in biology class, that a doctor isn’t someone you visit
when you’re sick. Instead, young people -- particularly our girls -- need to understand
that doctors and scientists are something that anyone can become, no matter how much
money your family has, no matter where you come from or whether you’re a man or a woman.
And that message is more important than ever in today’s world.
As my husband has said again and again, in order to meet the challenges of the next century,
we have got to strengthen our role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and
technological advancement. We need to educate the scientists who will make the next big
discoveries that will fuel our economy. We need the highly skilled leaders who can teach
in our classrooms, run our laboratories, and power our industries for decades to come.
And if we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, then we have to open
doors to everyone. We can't afford to leave anyone out. We need all hands on deck. And
that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science,
technology, engineering and math.
And it starts with lighting the spark for science and math in elementary school and
grade school. We talk about this all the time. I know for me, I'm a lawyer because I was
bad at these subjects. (Laughter.) All lawyers in the room, you know it's true. We can't
add and subtract, so we argue. (Laughter.)
And so encouraging girls early not to lose heart in those fields, and encouraging them
through high school is important. But it also means making sure that these young women can
keep pursuing their dreams in college and beyond.
And we know that as people are building a career -- as Michelle is -- they’re also
working on building their families. And so, often, it’s working women who struggle to
juggle their careers while caring for young children or an aging parent. That means it’s
tougher for them to rise to positions of leadership. It means that the highest rungs of the career
ladder are sometimes out of reach.
And too often in STEM fields, it means giving up on those careers entirely. But if we take
some practical, common-sense steps, we can keep these women in the STEM pipeline where
we so desperately need them.
And that is why I am so excited about this effort from the National Science Foundation.
The folks at the NSF understand that you shouldn’t be penalized or lose a chance to advance in
your career because you are taking care of a new child or a mom or dad who's gotten sick.
This is another way that my husband's administration is leading by example on issues like these.
We all know that when you take steps to make life easier for working parents, it’s a
win for everyone. Workplace flexibility policies can increase worker productivity. It can decrease
turnover rates. It can reduce absenteeism. It can attract the best workers, and it can
help those workers keep their jobs.
And that’s why we’ve been working so hard to promote things like teleworking in the
government, to support things like family and medical leave at the state level, and
to launch a pilot program that evaluates workers on the quality of the work that they produce,
not when or where they produce it.
And it’s why we’ve been out there working with businesses all around the country, encouraging
them to share best practices around workplace flexibility and promoting the efforts of companies
that are taking this issue on.
And we’re finding that more and more businesses are realizing that this is not only helpful
to their workers but it also helps their bottom line.
And that’s really the final point I will make here this afternoon. Some may think that
during difficult economic times, flexible policies like these are the last thing that
we should be thinking about. But the fact is, is that in this environment, flexible
policies become more important for both workers and employers. When folks are struggling to
make ends meet, when they are taking on extra jobs or they're working longer hours, when
every day is a high-wire act and the checkbook is balanced on the thinnest edge, no one should
be forced to choose between caring for their family and losing their job. No employer should
lose a quality employee just because life happens. And life is happening to so many
people throughout this country these days.
And our country shouldn’t lose out on its most promising talent because the career path
is untenable. So we have got to do everything we can to keep fueling this country’s engine
of innovation and discovery. We’ve got to do everything we can to keep the doors open
for women like Michelle and girls all across our country who want to be standing right
in her shoes and will do whatever it takes to get there, if only we lend a hand.
So I want to say thank you all for being here. I want to thank the NSF for stepping up and
leading the way. This is a tremendous statement and our hope is that other companies who are
watching this will see this as another reason to follow suit.
So with that, I want to turn it back over to Dr. Suresh, who’s going to get the panel
started in just a moment. And before I leave I'll just come down and shake a few hands.
So, you all, thank you so much. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Hello everyone, and welcome to the White House. (Applause.) I am just thrilled
that you all are here today. It's a beautiful day for a very special group of people. And
we rolled out the red carpet for you all. Does it feel that way? Do you feel a little
red-carpet-like? (Applause.)
Let me start by thanking Alex for that very kind and eloquent introduction. I mean, Alex,
and the kids that we were -- that's the reason we are doing this. Just listening to his story,
understanding that kids, when you teach them how to eat and how to exercise, they implement
this stuff. We all know that. So we are so proud of Alex and the thousands of young people
just like him that are improving their lives. They're changing the way they think about
their health and they're trickling that information down to their families
We're just, Alex, so proud of you. Let’s give him a round of applause. (Applause.)
And of course, thank you to Becke for her remarks today and for the work that she's
doing every day on behalf of our kids. She has the energy -- you can tell by just listening
to her speak -- she could talk you into doing anything, pretty much. (Laughter.) But fortunately,
she's used that power of persuasion and that passion to help improve the lives of the kids
in her community. And for that we are grateful, Becke. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
And of course, I have to recognize our terrific Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary Vilsack.
(Applause.) I love him dearly. He has been a tremendous partner on this effort. Everyone
at the Department of Agriculture has stepped up. They were already doing the work, but
they've just taken this and have run with it. We are proud of everything you have done,
embracing this as you said you would. Secretary Vilsack, thank you. Thank you so much.
And I also have to recognize -- because we had some pretty good entertainment out here
today, didn’t we? (Applause.) So much so that folks throughout the White House were
calling up, asking, well, what country pop bands are out there playing? And I have to
just say that, as usual, they are our very own. We have two wonderful bands -- the Marines'
own Free Country, and the Navy's Country Current. You all fired it up. (Applause.) We love you.
This is the -- one of the President's best perks of living in the White House -- (laughter)
-- the bands that come and play. They can play anything. They've played with Paul McCartney.
They've done tons of stuff. And you all did a fabulous job today, really setting the mood.
And we are grateful.
But most of all, I want to thank all of you. This celebration is for you. We made it -- we
said this before; we said we're going to set the challenge. And what we want to do is reward
those who reached it by inviting them here. So this was something we had planned a long
time ago. And it is just wonderful to see you all here and to celebrate this achievement.
We are just so proud.
Because the fact is, in our movement to end the epidemic of childhood obesity in America,
all of you -- our nation’s educators -- you are the unsung heroes. I get a lot of accolades
and everybody is like, "First Lady, you're doing a great job." But you all are doing
the real work on the ground. So much of what we’ve accomplished these past couple of
years, so many of the victories that we’ve won for our kids have happened because of
you.
They’ve happened because of your passion, because of your vision and, more importantly,
because of your hard work. Because you all mobilized and organized, we passed historic
legislation here in Washington to improve and provide more nutritious school meals to
more of our children. We’re helping install salad bars in more than 800 schools, bringing
fresh fruits and vegetables to hundreds of thousands of kids across this country. We
created Chefs Move to Schools, signing up more than 3,000 chefs to help local schools
improve their menus and to teach kids about healthy eating.
We’ve seen more than one million young people earn the President’s Active Lifestyle Award
-- the PALA awards -- and that means they're exercising one hour a day, five days a week,
for six consecutive weeks.
And now, because of all of you, we have met our goal to double the number of HealthierUS
Schools within a year. Double the number. Excellent, you guys. (Applause.)
So what you all have accomplished here is very impressive, but, quite frankly, it is
not at all surprising. It’s not surprising that folks like you are taking the lead on
this issue. Because as educators, you see firsthand the impact that childhood obesity
has on our children’s lives. You see it every day. Not just on their physical and
emotional health, but on their academic success as well. You see this.
You know better than anyone that kids need time and space to run around before they can
settle down and concentrate in a classroom. You know this. You know they need nutritious
food in their stomachs before they can focus their brains on math and reading and science.
You see it every day. And when many kids spend half of their waking hours and get up to half
their daily calories at school, you know that with the food you serve and, more importantly,
the lessons you teach that you're not just shaping their habits and preferences today,
you’re affecting the choices they’re going to make for the rest of their lives.
That's why we start with kids -- right? We can affect who they will be forever. Alex
is not going to forget what he's learned and he's going to pass that on to his kids. You’re
affecting not just how these kids feed themselves, but how they’re going to feed their own
children. So the beauty is, is that you’re not just making this generation of kids healthier,
but the next generation as well. And that is truly, truly powerful stuff. (Applause.)
Now, I know that what you do isn’t easy. I mean, we're partying now but -- (laughter)
-- it takes a lot of work to do what you do -- especially in these difficult economic
times, when budgets are tight and you’re trying to do so much more with so much less.
You're here without the extra money. You've accomplished these goals without the extra
help. But you've done it because you've gotten pretty creative. And that's why we want to
hold you up. You've done a lot with just a lot of creativity.
Let's take the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School right here in
D.C., right in our own backyard. Their chef and founder wrote, and this is a quote -- “We're
not a rich school. Our funds are limited. So we asked for, and receive, a lot of help.”
They work with a local non-profit and a supermarket chain to acquire donated equipment. They got
money from the Recovery Act for a new refrigerator and some extra staff. They worked with a parent
who owns a local farmer’s market. And today, their students empty out their salad bar every
day at lunch. And that's something that people don't think will happen, right? Kids won't
eat vegetables. Well, you see it. It's happened at this school. They're eating every last
bit of broccoli and spinach and cauliflower in those salad bars.
And then there’s St. Tammany Parish, just outside of New Orleans, Louisiana -- (applause)
-- where I had the privilege of visiting last year. Twenty-five of their elementary and
middle schools have achieved the Gold Award of Distinction -- 25. (Applause.) And they’ve
done it by doing a whole range of things. They set up student advisory councils that
work with the food service staffs to help plan the menus -- so they're getting kids
involved in the process. And students even help run nutrition education programs, teaching
their peers about healthy eating.
And then there’s the Burlington Elementary School in North Dakota. This is happening
all over the country. All over the country. They were the first school in that state to
plant a school garden. And they've opened up their gym on the weekends, making an open
gym for the families in their community. And the teachers eat breakfast and lunch with
students every single day. Now, that's a sacrifice. (Laughter.) You know it. That's love. (Laughter.)
They even send out a monthly newsletter called, “Nutrition Notes,” to provide healthy
eating tips and recipes for the families.
And other schools have started running clubs and fitness competitions. You’ve engaged
students in taste tests and recipe contests. You’ve incorporated nutrition education
into subjects ranging from math and science and art. You’ve done it all.
So you’ve shown us that there is no one way to win this award. There's just no one
silver bullet. You come from urban, suburban, rural communities. You come from schools that
are big and small. Every school and every community is different. That we know. There
is no one-size-fits-all solution here.
But there is one thing that all of you do have in common. And I think that Billy Reid,
who is the director of Nutrition Services for the Salida Union School District in California
-- he put it best. This is what he said. He said, “I find myself honored to wake up
every morning…and go out and feed children.” It's as simple as that -- honored. The honor
of feeding our children. (Applause.) And it's that commitment, it's that kind of commitment
to our children’s promise -- right? This is our future. Our promise -- the determination
to help them all succeed -- that’s something you all share. It's that passion.
And I've been out there visiting you, and it is real. You all are willing to do whatever
it takes to help our kids. We love our kids -- all of them, every single one of them.
And we want nothing but the very best. And this is the way we do it. And you all are
doing it like nothing else.
So today, I just want to urge you to keep being the leaders that you are -- because
you are truly leaders. That is why you're here. As Secretary Vilsack said, we want you
to spread that love and that knowledge. We want you to share what you've learned. There
are other schools who are just trying to figure out how they can be a part of this extraordinary
club, and you all can do that. You can share your wealth. You can reach out, you can find
the schools in your communities, in your states, and share what you've learned. Reach out and
help other schools compete.
And I hope that you’ll also encourage one another. That's one of the reasons why bringing
you all together here from all over the country -- pass out your cards, get some emails and
some numbers. Because I know you get tired, right? I know sometimes it's frustrating.
I know there's some things that can be better. You all can support one another.
And hopefully, today is the beginning of many, many excellent relationships that will continue
to build. So get to know each other. Because this is a competition that every school in
America can win. This isn't an exclusive club -- right? We want everyone involved. We want
to double the double. We want every school in this country to be aiming for this kind
of distinction. Because we know that when our schools win, our kids win. And when our
kids win, our country wins. That's why we make this investment.
So thank you from the bottom of my heart. I'm so proud of you all, so excited. Just
keep doing what you're doing, and we'll be right there with you every step of the way.
Thank you all. God bless you all. And God bless America. (Applause.) I'm going to come
down and shake some hands.
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you all, so much.
Hello and welcome to the White House. (Laughter.) I am, as always, so thrilled to have all of
you join us here today -- one of our favorite events, just all around. We are so excited.
I want to start by thanking the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities for sponsoring
these awards. And I'd like to ask all of the committee members here today to stand up so
that we can honor them for their service. Please stand. (Applause.) Thank you, so much.
I also want to take a moment to acknowledge Representative Jim McDermott. I’m not sure
if he’s here today because there are votes happening, but if he is I want to thank him
for his service and for all the work that he’s done.
And, finally, I want to recognize all of the artists, the educators, and administrators
who are on the ground everyday running the programs that we’re honoring today. Every
day you all are providing unparalleled opportunities for our young people to explore every facet
of the arts -- from dance and theater, to writing and music, to history and the visual
arts.
In so doing, you’re not just teaching these young people about painting or acting or singing,
you’re teaching them about hard work and discipline and teamwork. You’re teaching
them how to manage their time -- something that we all need to learn -- (laughter) -- how
to set goals, and, more importantly, how to achieve those goals.
And you all have seen firsthand how these skills translate to every part of their lives.
You’ve seen them realize that if they can compose a song or a poem, then maybe they
can write that term paper -- (laughter) -- or finish that math homework, too. We were just
having this conversation at home last night at dinner. (Laughter.) If they can deliver
a monologue up on stage with all the grandeur that goes along with what you do, then maybe
they can make a presentation in front of the classroom on something not so dramatic.
If they can conduct a quartet or direct a play, then maybe they can lead a student group.
Maybe they can, one day, run a business or a city or a state or maybe even the United
States of America, right? That’s right. (Applause.)
And all of you working so hard with these young people are not just helping them use
the arts to lift themselves; you’re showing them how they can lift their communities,
as well, and that’s so important.
Because of your programs, because of the work that you’re doing, there are students all
over this country who are doing great things -- students in Denver, Colorado, who wrote
a play about teenage homelessness. There are students in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who designed
a mural to brighten a struggling neighborhood.
And through this year’s international honoree program, Youth Community Media Project, students
in Indonesia created their own videos to raise awareness around issues like poverty, women’s
rights, and the effects of natural disasters.
Every day, with every lesson you teach, you remind our young people that their story is
part of the broader American story, and you show them how they, as artists, can challenge
our assumptions and help us view our world in new and very unexpected ways. That is precisely
what we are trying to do here at the White House, as well.
Over the past few years we’ve worked to make this place a showcase for our country’s
rich cultural life, and to throw open our doors to as many young people as possible.
We’ve hosted students at concerts and workshops on everything from jazz to spoken-word poetry
to modern dance. We’ve done it because we want them to know that they can be part of
our arts community; that this community is for them. We say that every year. You own
the space; it is yours. And we want to support your efforts to show them that if they work
hard, and if they believed in themselves, then anything is possible. Anything.
Now, I know that what many of you do in these programs and projects -- it’s not easy,
particularly in these difficult economic times. I know that in this era of belt-tightening
and budget cuts, all of you are working harder than ever before just to hold things together.
But month after month, and year after year, in spite of all the challenges, you all keep
going, because you know that, for so many of our young people, the arts are not an extra.
You know that the arts are not a luxury; rather, it’s a lifeline. It is a lifeline for so
many of these kids.
And you know that for every young life you transform, there is a tremendous ripple effect.
It happens when that child goes on to mentor and inspire other young people, which many
of them do. It happens when a community is lifted by their service. It happens when our
economy benefits from their skills and hard work. It happens when our nation and our world
are graced by the works of art they go on to create.
So make no mistake about it. All of you working on these programs, you are impact multipliers.
You are inspiration multipliers. And that is the power that you have, that you hold.
And it is a truly precious power. And, today, I want to honor you all. I want to congratulate
you. I want to thank you for everything you do for our kids and for our country. You all
are amazing. And you should give yourselves a round of applause. (Applause.) Thank you.
And with that, it is my pleasure to introduce Margo Lion, Co-Chair of the President’s
Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, who will now say a few words.
Thank you all, and God bless. Congratulations. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: It’s good to see you guys! Well, hello, and welcome. Pretty cool, huh?
AUDIENCE: Yes!
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, pretty cool. Well, I can’t stay, because I have to go out to the garden
and do a bunch of other stuff. But this is one of my favorite parts of the day, when
we have Music Series and inviting you guys all here, so you get a little taste of it.
And today, in the latest edition of the White House Music Series, we are celebrating the
great American art of country music. And this is our second time doing country music, and
it’s one of our favorite art forms.
And I want to start by just thanking a few people before I turn it over. We have a trio
of amazing stars, men who are gorgeous and talented and awesome and giving -- yes, yes.
Lyle Lovett, Darius Rucker, and of course Kris Kristofferson, who are here with us,
and Bob Santelli, who has been just a huge support for these events that we have. He’s
from the GRAMMY Museum, and he helps to put all this stuff together, and oftentimes works
to get young people here for these series. So I want to thank them for being here.
So in a little bit, you’re going to have an opportunity to hear from them. They’re
going to tell you some stories, answer some questions, and sing. (Laughter.) They’re
prepared, they’re all ready. But first, I want you guys to get a better sense of why
we put on these workshops, because I want you to know why these are important to us
and why we’re so excited to have students from Anacostia. Right? We got some Anacostia
students! (Applause.) We’ve got teachers firing it up -- firing it up. Woodrow Wilson
High School is here! (Applause.) Fired up, fired up. And Newport Middle School! (Applause.)
So you’re excited. You’re excited.
Well, we are excited to have you all here. We’ve invited you here because I want to
make sure that the White House lives up to the name “The People’s House.” That’s
what everybody calls it, what we call it. And I want to be sure that it’s not just
a place for senators and diplomats and CEOs who have a chance to come here, but it’s
a place for all Americans, especially young people.
And so I want you to all have a chance to come into the State Dining Room and sit in
these chairs, just like every head of state comes into this room when we have a State
Dinner; this is where they sit, this is where they eat. I want you guys to walk around these
halls and look at the artwork, and to imagine the history that has been made here. I want
you to see up close just how talented folks like Darius, Lyle and Kris are, and to hear
their music, but more importantly, to understand their stories.
But here’s the important part: I don’t want you to come here and simply just sit
back in awe. And you guys seem like not a shy bunch, so that’s good, that’s a good
start. So don’t be shy. I want you all to realize, as you sit here, that you belong
here. That’s one of the reasons we do this. You have to see yourself here in these seats,
sitting up here on this stage one day, because Kris, Darius and Lyle might be country music
stars today, but they were once just young people like you with their own dreams. Kris
grew up in Texas, the son of a military officer. Lyle grew up outside of Houston, and joined
a band when he was in the 9th grade, and because he liked playing the guitar so much, he’d
ride around and -- you’d take lessons an hour away from where you lived? Is that true?
Do I have my facts right?
MR. LOVETT: That’s exactly right.
MRS. OBAMA: So you’d drive for an hour for lessons. And Darius once lived in a house
with his mom, two aunts, his grandmother, and 14 kids. (Laughter.) That’s some character
building right there. He always wanted to be a singer, so he’d walk around singing
songs, using a broomstick as a guitar. So that was your first instrument, the broomstick.
(Laughter.)
But as each of them got older, they kept chasing their passion for music, but none of them
took a straight road to the top. It wasn’t automatic. It took a little bit. For a while,
Lyle tried to be a journalist -- that’s something I didn’t know. Really?
MR. LOVETT: I took it in -- I took journalism in school. But nobody ever hired me. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: That’s probably okay. (Laughter.) But as he put it, “Making up songs,” he
thought, “wasn’t a real job.” And I know a lot of people think that -- that the
things they really like to do, if you really like it, then obviously you can’t get paid
for it. But they always came back to music, each of them, no matter how they diverted
their careers. They started playing in small clubs, then the clubs got bigger, and they
kept working and working. And now, years later, they’re able to do what they love every
single day.
And that is really my biggest hope for all of you, is that as you sit here and you listen
to these fine gentlemen, that you figure out how you can turn something that you love into
one of those real jobs, right? I mean, think about the things that really drive you and
give you passion. And it might not be music. It might be business, it might be technology,
it might be teaching or medicine, or anything else. For me it was working with young people
that gave me passion. But no matter what sparks your imagination, I want you to take that
energy and then follow it. Follow it with every little piece of energy that you have,
because whatever you do, it does take work. And that’s the one thing you have to get
in your mind, that even when you love something, if you’re going to be good at it and get
good enough at it, you have to invest in it.
And I also want you all to imagine yourselves coming back to the White House maybe years
from now, sitting up on this stage and hearing from some future First Lady or future President.
And I want you to be thinking about telling your story to the next generation of young
people. And you have to be able to see yourselves in these places to begin to imagine and to
dream and to work towards those dreams.
You can tell your story; you’ll be telling them how you grew up in Washington or maybe
in Rockville, how you worked hard, how you kept chasing your dreams, how you got invited
to the White House one day and sat and listened to some of the finest artists in the country
and that made you go back and work a little harder and focus a little more.
I want you, every single one of you, to believe that something like that is possible for you,
because if I’m standing here as the First Lady of the United States, having grown up
on the South Side of Chicago, with a father who was a stationary fireman and a mother
who stayed at home, parents who didn’t go to college -- if I’m here, then you can
be here, right? You can be here. But it’s only if you believe in that. You’ve got
to start out, first of all, believing in that for yourselves. And it only happens if you’re
willing to work for it.
So today, I want you to use this as an opportunity. So don’t feel shy or bashful. Use these
gentlemen as resources. Poke them, prod them, ask questions; get all the information that
you can. Ignore the media, pretend like you’re here all by yourselves, and make the most
of this opportunity.
Will you promise me that? You I don’t worry about. (Laughter.) You. Yes, yes, I think
you’re going to be plenty ready to talk. (Laughter.)
So you all enjoy yourselves, right? Keep working hard. Keep staying positive. Listen to your
teachers, listen to your parents. Eat your vegetables. (Laughter.) Have to say it.
And with that, I will turn it over to you guys. Thank you all. Have fun. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: How is everyone doing?
AUDIENCE: Good.
MRS. OBAMA: You excited?
AUDIENCE: Yes!
MRS. OBAMA: You ready for Christmas?
AUDIENCE: Yes. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Oh! Where are Malia and Sasha? (Laughter.) Well it’s great to have you
all here, and your families as well.
Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the White House as we kick off the holiday season.
This is -- oh, yes, here’s a little one, you come on up! (Laughter.) Come on up!
This is one of my favorite times of year, and I’m so glad to share it with all of
you.
I want to start by thanking Jennifer for that lovely introduction, but more importantly,
for all that you and your family have done for our country. Military families like yours,
Jennifer, and all the ones who are here today truly represent what is best about America.
And that’s something that I’ve seen again and again as I’ve traveled across the country
over the past few years.
I have spoken with so many military spouses who are raising their kids alone while their
loved one is stationed overseas for months at a time. I have heard from so many wonderful
military children who pick up extra chores, and just step up and keep their grades going
while mom or dad is away. And I’ve been inspired by the survivors of our fallen who
keep giving back to the community day after day.
But I also know that not every American hears these stories. Not every American knows what
a Blue Star family is, or a Gold Star family is. We don’t all understand what it’s
like to be in a military family. And that’s one of the reasons why Jill and I started
our Joining Forces initiative, because we wanted to rally all Americans to honor, recognize,
and support our military families. We wanted to make sure that never again would someone
have to ask the question, what is a Gold Star family, and what does that sacrifice mean?
We all should know.
And it’s also why we’re using the holiday season here at the White House to highlight
our troops and our veterans, and all of their families through this year’s theme, which
is “Share, Give, Shine.” That’s the theme. “Share, Give, Shine.” It’s been
a big secret, even to our volunteers. (Laughter.) “Share, Give, Shine.” You got it?
So throughout the house, we’ve found creative ways to pay tribute to folks like all of you.
The first is in the East Landing, when you first come in as a visitor. As visitors enter,
they’ll have the opportunity to send handwritten notes to our troops stationed all around the
world. They’ll also see the Gold Star tree, which Jennifer and several other families
helped to create, which honors our nation’s Gold Star families whose loved ones have made
the greatest of sacrifices for our country. The tree is decorated with beautiful, special
ornaments, each of which has a space for Gold Star families who visit here to write their
loved one’s name and to hang it on the tree.
We’ve also surrounded the tree with photos, you’ll see, and stories from more than 800
Gold Star families. Each one showcases the strength and resilience that characterizes
our Gold Star families. They are heartfelt notes, like this one from a wife in East Peoria,
Illinois. She wrote about her husband, saying, and this is -- these are her words -- “He
never thought of himself as a hero, but he always was to me. It is still hard to know
he’s gone. He was my soul mate.” Or they’re simple messages, like this one from a mom
in Anchorage, Alaska, and she wrote, “I love and miss you, son. Thank you for all
of the great memories we shared.”
And we’re also honoring military families like all of you in the Blue Room -- the big
tree -- where we decorated the official White House Christmas tree with cards we collected
from some of our country’s military kids. So the tree is decorated by kids. That’s
very cool. The notes are a lot of fun, as well, and you can ready them as you go through.
Some are inspiring, like the five children in Medical Lake, Washington, who wrote, “No
matter how many Christmases our dad misses, he makes every Christmas special and we love
him.”
You guys -- that’s why Santa comes. You guys are great!
And then there are some more matter-of-fact ones, like the one from the boy from El Paso,
Texas, who wrote, “Hey Dad, it’s cool you’re in Italy. So when are you coming
back because I already know what I want for Christmas.” (Laughter.) Just keep it straightforward.
Of course, we also have many of the traditional holiday favorites alongside these tributes
to our military families. We have 37 Christmas trees here at the White House -- 37! That’s
a lot, right?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes!
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, that’s a lot of trees. We also have a 400-pound White House gingerbread
house. Ooh -- 400 pounds. And also, in several of the rooms -- and this is something you
all have to look for -- we’ve stationed the most famous member of the Obama family.
Who is that?
AUDIENCE: Bo!
MRS. OBAMA: Bo. (Laughter.) All right, so it’s sort of a "where’s Bo?" You’ve
got to find the Bo in every room, because he’s hidden everywhere. So in one room,
he’s 4-and-a-half feet tall and he’s made of felt -- you know, that soft material. And
in another room, he's nine and a half inches tall, and he's made of buttons. Yeah, yeah,
so you've got to look for him. So, trust me, our dog has been a little confused walking
around the house for the last couple of weeks, seeing himself in gigantic form.
Those are just a few of this year's highlights, and I am so excited -- this is why it's fun
-- that you all are the first of roughly 85,000 people who will visit the White House this
holiday season. You're the first to see it! Yay! Yes! Score! (Applause.)
This will be such a wonderful memory for so many people, and that's why it's so special
for us. And none of it could have happened without the nearly 100 volunteers we've had
helping out over the past few days. They're 100 people who come from all over the country
just to help decorate the White House. People like Jennifer and a few of the family members
here.
So I want to finish -- end with another round of thank-yous. I want to thank all of the
volunteers who helped make this house so beautiful; to all of the artists who put their creativity
into use in decorating the trees and figuring out what colors we were going to use; to all
the organizers, and everyone else who has made this house so beautiful and turned our
simple ideas into reality. I want to thank all of the Gold Star families for your enduring
strength and commitment to this country. And I want to thank all of the troops, all of
our veterans, all of our military families, whose service and sacrifice inspires us all.
So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. We can't say it enough. Thank you. I know for some
of you, this holiday season will be tough. But hopefully, it's times like this that make
you know that you live in a grateful nation, and that we are just so inspired by your sacrifice.
And hopefully, this is a memory that will stay with you every holiday season.
So, with that, it's time for us -- are you guys ready to do some work? Yeah? All right.
So I've got a little surprise for you. So, the parents, you guys stay seated. You guys
want to come with me? We're going into another room, where we have some more surprises and
-- could be cookies! I don't know. (Laughter.) I don't know. But we'll see.
So, you guys come with -- it could be -- I don't know what it is. Are you ready to come?
CHILDREN: Yes.
MRS. OBAMA: All right. So, you guys, grownups, you guys stay seated. We'll give you something
to occupy your time. (Laughter.)
All right, you guys ready? All right, everybody follow me. And, little ones, if you want your
mommies, your mommies can come, too -- for the little ones.
All right, you all, thank you so much. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Hello, everyone! I get to start you all off. I want to begin by thanking General
Anderson for that introduction, but more importantly for his leadership here at Fort Bragg. I can’t
tell you what a pleasure and an honor it is to be back here. I have so many wonderful
memories of this place.
A couple of years ago, I came here on my very first official trip as First Lady. And I spent
some -- a great time with some of the amazing military spouses, and I visited again this
summer to help to put on the finishing touches on an amazing new home for a veteran and her
family. So when I heard that I had the opportunity to come back and to be a part of welcoming
you all home, to say I was excited was an understatement.
And I have to tell you that when I look out at this crowd, I am simply overwhelmed. I
am overwhelmed and proud, because I know the level of strength and commitment that you
all display every single day. Whenever this country calls, you all are the ones who answer,
no matter the circumstance, no matter the danger, no matter the sacrifice.
And I know that you do this not just as soldiers, not just as patriots, but as fathers and mothers,
as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters. And I know that while your children and your
spouses and your parents and siblings might not wear uniforms, they serve right alongside
you.
AUDIENCE: Hooah! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: I know that your sacrifice is their sacrifice, too. So when I think of all
that you do and all that your families do, I am so proud and so grateful. But more importantly,
I’m inspired. But like so many Americans, I never feel like I can fully convey just
how thankful I am, because words just don’t seem to be enough.
And that’s why I have been working so hard, along with Jill Biden, on a campaign that
we call Joining Forces. It’s a campaign that we hope goes beyond words. It’s a campaign
that is about action. It’s about rallying all Americans to give you the honor, the appreciation
and the support that you have all earned. And I don’t have to tell you that this hasn’t
been a difficult campaign. We haven’t had to do much convincing because American have
been lining up to show their appreciation for you and your families in very concrete
and meaningful ways.
Businesses are hiring tens of thousands of veterans and military spouses. Schools all
across the country and PTAs are reaching out to our military children. And individuals
are serving their neighbors and their communities all over this country in your honor.
So I want you to know that this nation’s support doesn’t end as this war ends. Not
by a long shot. We’re going to keep on doing this. We have so much more work to do. We’re
going to keep finding new ways to serve all of you as well as you have served us. And
the man leading the way is standing right here. (Applause.) He is fighting for you and
your families every single day. He’s helped more than half a million veterans and military
family members go to college through the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. (Applause.)
He’s taken unprecedented steps to improve mental health care. He’s cut taxes for businesses
that hire a veteran or a wounded warrior. And he has kept his promise to responsibly
bring you home from Iraq.
So please join me in welcoming someone who’s your strongest advocate, someone who shows
his support for our military not only in words, but in deeds, my husband, our President, and
your Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody! (Applause.) Hello, Fort Bragg! All the way!
AUDIENCE: Airborne!
THE PRESIDENT: Now, I’m sure you realize why I don’t like following Michelle Obama.
(Laughter.) She’s pretty good. And it is true, I am a little biased, but let me just
say it: Michelle, you are a remarkable First Lady. You are a great advocate for military
families. (Applause.) And you’re cute. (Applause.) I’m just saying -- gentlemen, that’s your
goal: to marry up. (Laughter.) Punch above your weight.
Fort Bragg, we’re here to mark a historic moment in the life of our country and our
military. For nearly nine years, our nation has been at war in Iraq. And you -- the incredible
men and women of Fort Bragg -- have been there every step of the way, serving with honor,
sacrificing greatly, from the first waves of the invasion to some of the last troops
to come home. So, as your Commander-in-Chief, and on behalf of a grateful nation, I’m
proud to finally say these two words, and I know your families agree: Welcome home!
(Applause.) Welcome home. Welcome home. (Applause.) Welcome home.
It is great to be here at Fort Bragg -- home of the Airborne and Special Operations Forces.
I want to thank General Anderson and all your outstanding leaders for welcoming us here
today, including General Dave Rodriguez, General John Mulholland. And I want to give a shout-out
to your outstanding senior enlisted leaders, including Command Sergeant Major Roger Howard,
Darrin Bohn, Parry Baer. And give a big round of applause to the Ground Forces Band. (Applause.)
We’ve got a lot of folks in the house today. We’ve got the 18th Airborne Corps -- the
Sky Dragons. (Applause.) We’ve got the legendary, All-American 82nd Airborne Division. (Applause.)
We’ve got America’s quiet professionals -- our Special Operations Forces. (Applause.)
From Pope Field, we’ve got Air Force. (Applause.) And I do believe we’ve got some Navy and
Marine Corps here, too.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes! (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: And though they’re not here with us today, we send our thoughts and prayers
to General Helmick, Sergeant Major Rice and all the folks from the 18th Airborne and Bragg
who are bringing our troops back from Iraq. (Applause.) We honor everyone from the 82nd
Airborne and Bragg serving and succeeding in Afghanistan, and General Votel and those
serving around the world.
And let me just say, one of the most humbling moments I’ve had as President was when I
presented our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, to the parents
of one of those patriots from Fort Bragg who gave his life in Afghanistan -- Staff Sergeant
Robert Miller.
I want to salute Ginny Rodriguez, Miriam Mulholland, Linda Anderson, Melissa Helmick, Michelle
Votel and all the inspiring military families here today. We honor your service as well.
(Applause.)
And finally, I want to acknowledge your neighbors and friends who help keep your -- this outstanding
operation going, all who help to keep you Army Strong, and that includes Representatives
Mike McIntyre, and Dave Price, and Heath Shuler, and Governor Bev Perdue. I know Bev is so
proud to have done so much for our military families. So give them a big round of applause.
(Applause.)
Today, I’ve come to speak to you about the end of the war in Iraq. Over the last few
months, the final work of leaving Iraq has been done. Dozens of bases with American names
that housed thousands of American troops have been closed down or turned over to the Iraqis.
Thousands of tons of equipment have been packed up and shipped out. Tomorrow, the colors of
United States Forces-Iraq -- the colors you fought under -- will be formally cased in
a ceremony in Baghdad. Then they’ll begin their journey across an ocean, back home.
Over the last three years, nearly 150,000 U.S. troops have left Iraq. And over the next
few days, a small group of American soldiers will begin the final march out of that country.
Some of them are on their way back to Fort Bragg. As General Helmick said, “They know
that the last tactical road march out of Iraq will be a symbol, and they’re going to be
a part of history.”
As your Commander-in-Chief, I can tell you that it will indeed be a part of history.
Those last American troops will move south on desert sands, and then they will cross
the border out of Iraq with their heads held high. One of the most extraordinary chapters
in the history of the American military will come to an end. Iraq’s future will be in
the hands of its people. America’s war in Iraq will be over.
AUDIENCE: Hooah!
THE PRESIDENT: Now, we knew this day would come. We’ve known it for some time. But
still, there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long.
Now, nine years ago, American troops were preparing to deploy to the Persian Gulf and
the possibility that they would be sent to war. Many of you were in grade school. I was
a state senator. Many of the leaders now governing Iraq -- including the Prime Minister -- were
living in exile. And since then, our efforts in Iraq have taken many twists and turns.
It was a source of great controversy here at home, with patriots on both sides of the
debate. But there was one constant -- there was one constant: your patriotism, your commitment
to fulfill your mission, your abiding commitment to one another. That was constant. That did
not change. That did not waiver.
It’s harder to end a war than begin one. Indeed, everything that American troops have
done in Iraq -– all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building,
and the training and the partnering -– all of it has led to this moment of success. Now,
Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we’re leaving behind a sovereign,
stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.
We’re building a new partnership between our nations. And we are ending a war not with
a final battle, but with a final march toward home.
This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making. And today, we remember
everything that you did to make it possible.
We remember the early days -– the American units that streaked across the sands and skies
of Iraq; the battles from Karbala to Baghdad, American troops breaking the back of a brutal
dictator in less than a month.
We remember the grind of the insurgency -– the roadside bombs, the sniper fire, the suicide
attacks. From the “triangle of death” to the fight for Ramadi; from Mosul in the
north to Basra in the south -– your will proved stronger than the terror of those who
tried to break it.
We remember the specter of sectarian violence -– al Qaeda’s attacks on mosques and pilgrims,
militias that carried out campaigns of intimidation and campaigns of assassination. And in the
face of ancient divisions, you stood firm to help those Iraqis who put their faith in
the future.
We remember the surge and we remember the Awakening -– when the abyss of chaos turned
toward the promise of reconciliation. By battling and building block by block in Baghdad, by
bringing tribes into the fold and partnering with the Iraqi army and police, you helped
turn the tide toward peace.
And we remember the end of our combat mission and the emergence of a new dawn -– the precision
of our efforts against al Qaeda in Iraq, the professionalism of the training of Iraqi security
forces, and the steady drawdown of our forces. In handing over responsibility to the Iraqis,
you preserved the gains of the last four years and made this day possible.
Just last month, some of you -- members of the Falcon Brigade --
AUDIENCE: Hooah!
THE PRESIDENT: -- turned over the Anbar Operations Center to the Iraqis in the type of ceremony
that has become commonplace over these last several months. In an area that was once the
heart of the insurgency, a combination of fighting and training, politics and partnership
brought the promise of peace. And here’s what the local Iraqi deputy governor said:
“This is all because of the U.S. forces’ hard work and sacrifice.”
That’s in the words of an Iraqi. Hard work and sacrifice. Those words only begin to describe
the costs of this war and the courage of the men and women who fought it.
We know too well the heavy cost of this war. More than 1.5 million Americans have served
in Iraq -- 1.5 million. Over 30,000 Americans have been wounded, and those are only the
wounds that show. Nearly 4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice -- including 202 fallen
heroes from here at Fort Bragg -- 202. So today, we pause to say a prayer for all those
families who have lost their loved ones, for they are part of our broader American family.
We grieve with them.
We also know that these numbers don’t tell the full story of the Iraq war -– not even
close. Our civilians have represented our country with skill and bravery. Our troops
have served tour after tour of duty, with precious little dwell time in between. Our
Guard and Reserve units stepped up with unprecedented service. You’ve endured dangerous foot patrols
and you’ve endured the pain of seeing your friends and comrades fall. You’ve had to
be more than soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen –- you’ve also had
to be diplomats and development workers and trainers and peacemakers. Through all this,
you have shown why the United States military is the finest fighting force in the history
of the world.
AUDIENCE: Hooah! (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: As Michelle mentioned, we also know that the burden of war is borne by your
families. In countless base communities like Bragg, folks have come together in the absence
of a loved one. As the Mayor of Fayetteville put it, “War is not a political word here.
War is where our friends and neighbors go.” So there have been missed birthday parties
and graduations. There are bills to pay and jobs that have to be juggled while picking
up the kids. For every soldier that goes on patrol, there are the husbands and the wives,
the mothers, the fathers, the sons, the daughters praying that they come back.
So today, as we mark the end of the war, let us acknowledge, let us give a heartfelt round
of applause for every military family that has carried that load over the last nine years.
You too have the thanks of a grateful nation. (Applause.)
Part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who fought it. It’s not enough
to honor you with words. Words are cheap. We must do it with deeds. You stood up for
America; America needs to stand up for you.
AUDIENCE: Hooah!
THE PRESIDENT: That’s why, as your Commander-in Chief, I am committed to making sure that
you get the care and the benefits and the opportunities that you’ve earned. For those
of you who remain in uniform, we will do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our force
–- including your families. We will keep faith with you.
We will help our wounded warriors heal, and we will stand by those who’ve suffered the
unseen wounds of war. And make no mistake -- as we go forward as a nation, we are going
to keep America’s armed forces the strongest fighting force the world has ever seen. That
will not stop.
AUDIENCE: Hooah! (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: That will not stop. But our commitment doesn’t end when you take off
the uniform. You’re the finest that our nation has to offer. And after years of rebuilding
Iraq, we want to enlist our veterans in the work of rebuilding America. That’s why we’re
committed to doing everything we can to extend more opportunities to those who have served.
That includes the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, so that you and your families can get the education
that allows you to live out your dreams. That includes a national effort to put our veterans
to work. We’ve worked with Congress to pass a tax credit so that companies have the incentive
to hire vets. And Michelle has worked with the private sector to get commitments to create
100,000 jobs for those who’ve served.
AUDIENCE: Hooah!
THE PRESIDENT: And by the way, we’re doing this not just because it’s the right thing
to do by you –- we’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do for America.
Folks like my grandfather came back from World War II to form the backbone of this country’s
middle class. For our post-9/11 veterans -– with your skill, with your discipline, with your
leadership, I am confident that the story of your service to America is just beginning.
But there’s something else that we owe you. As Americans, we have a responsibility to
learn from your service. I’m thinking of an example -- Lieutenant Alvin Shell, who
was based here at Fort Bragg. A few years ago, on a supply route outside Baghdad, he
and his team were engulfed by flames from an RPG attack. Covered with gasoline, he ran
into the fire to help his fellow soldiers, and then led them two miles back to Camp Victory
where he finally collapsed, covered with burns. When they told him he was a hero, Alvin disagreed.
“I’m not a hero,” he said. “A hero is a sandwich. “ (Laughter.) “I’m a
paratrooper.”
AUDIENCE: Hooah!
THE PRESIDENT: We could do well to learn from Alvin. This country needs to learn from you.
Folks in Washington need to learn from you.
AUDIENCE: Hooah!
THE PRESIDENT: Policymakers and historians will continue to analyze the strategic lessons
of Iraq -- that’s important to do. Our commanders will incorporate the hard-won lessons into
future military campaigns -- that’s important to do. But the most important lesson that
we can take from you is not about military strategy –- it’s a lesson about our national
character.
For all of the challenges that our nation faces, you remind us that there’s nothing
we Americans can’t do when we stick together.
AUDIENCE: Hooah!
THE PRESIDENT: For all the disagreements that we face, you remind us there’s something
bigger than our differences, something that makes us one nation and one people regardless
of color, regardless of creed, regardless of what part of the country we come from,
regardless of what backgrounds we come out of. You remind us we’re one nation.
And that’s why the United States military is the most respected institution in our land
because you never forget that. You can’t afford to forget it. If you forget it, somebody
dies. If you forget it, a mission fails. So you don’t forget it. You have each other’s
backs. That’s why you, the 9/11 Generation, has earned your place in history.
Because of you -- because you sacrificed so much for a people that you had never met,
Iraqis have a chance to forge their own destiny. That’s part of what makes us special as
Americans. Unlike the old empires, we don’t make these sacrifices for territory or for
resources. We do it because it’s right. There can be no fuller expression of America’s
support for self-determination than our leaving Iraq to its people. That says something about
who we are.
Because of you, in Afghanistan we’ve broken the momentum of the Taliban. Because of you,
we’ve begun a transition to the Afghans that will allow us to bring our troops home
from there. And around the globe, as we draw down in Iraq, we have gone after al Qaeda
so that terrorists who threaten America will have no safe haven, and Osama bin Laden will
never again walk the face of this Earth.
AUDIENCE: Hooah! (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: So here’s what I want you to know, and here’s what I want all our
men and women in uniform to know: Because of you, we are ending these wars in a way
that will make America stronger and the world more secure. Because of you.
That success was never guaranteed. And let us never forget the source of American leadership:
our commitment to the values that are written into our founding documents, and a unique
willingness among nations to pay a great price for the progress of human freedom and dignity.
This is who we are. That’s what we do as Americans, together.
The war in Iraq will soon belong to history. Your service belongs to the ages. Never forget
that you are part of an unbroken line of heroes spanning two centuries –- from the colonists
who overthrew an empire, to your grandparents and parents who faced down fascism and communism,
to you –- men and women who fought for the same principles in Fallujah and Kandahar,
and delivered justice to those who attacked us on 9/11.
Looking back on the war that saved our union, a great American, Oliver Wendell Holmes, once
paid tribute to those who served. “In our youth,” he said, “our hearts were touched
with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate
thing.”
All of you here today have lived through the fires of war. You will be remembered for it.
You will be honored for it -- always. You have done something profound with your lives.
When this nation went to war, you signed up to serve. When times were tough, you kept
fighting. When there was no end in sight, you found light in the darkness.
And years from now, your legacy will endure in the names of your fallen comrades etched
on headstones at Arlington, and the quiet memorials across our country; in the whispered
words of admiration as you march in parades, and in the freedom of our children and our
grandchildren. And in the quiet of night, you will recall that your heart was once touched
by fire. You will know that you answered when your country called; you served a cause greater
than yourselves; you helped forge a just and lasting peace with Iraq, and among all nations.
I could not be prouder of you, and America could not be prouder of you.
God bless you all, God bless your families, and God bless the United States of America.
(Applause.)