President Barack Obama’s always the very best student. I didn’t love every class I to...
for college. Or you might not know what you want to do with your life. That’s And last year, I met a young woman nam...
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Presidential Back-to-School Speech 2011

Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Published in: Education      

Transcripts - Presidential Back-to-School Speech 2011

  • 1. President Barack Obama’s always the very best student. I didn’t love every class I took. I remember Back-to-School Speech when I was in eighth grade, I had to take a class called ―ethics‖. Ethics is Benjamin Banneker Academic High School about right and wrong, but if you’d have asked me what my favorite subject Washington, D.C. was in eighth grade, I’d have said ―basketball.‖ I don’t think ethics would September 28, 2011 have made the list.Hello, everybody! It’s great to be here at Benjamin Banneker High School, But you know what? I still remember that ethics class. I remember the way itone of the best high schools in Washington, D.C. Thank you, Donae, for that made me think. I remember being asked questions like ―What matters inintroduction. I also want to thank Arne Duncan, our excellent Secretary of life?‖ ―What does it mean to treat people with respect and dignity?‖ ―WhatEducation, for being here with me today. does it mean to live in a diverse nation?‖ Each question led to a new one, and I didn’t always know the answer right away. But those discussions and thatWe’ve got students tuning in from all across America, and so I want to process of discovery are still with me today. Every day, I’m thinking aboutwelcome all of you to this new school year. I know that here at Banneker, what those issues mean for us as a nation. I’m asking all sorts of questionsyou’ve been back at school for a few weeks now. So everything’s starting to just like those. And I’ll let you in on another secret: I still don’t always knowsettle in for you, just like for your peers all across the country. The fall sports the answers. But if I’d have just tuned out because the class sounded boring, Iseasons are underway. Musicals and marching band routines are shaping up. might have missed out on something that I enjoyed and something that’s stillAnd your first big tests and projects are probably just around the corner. useful to me today.I know that you’ve got a lot to deal with outside of school, too. Your circle of So that’s a big part of your responsibility: Testing things out. Taking risks.friends might be changing. Issues that used to stay confined to hallways or Working hard. Engaging with the world around you. Those are the thingslocker rooms now find their way into your Facebook feeds and Twitter that will make school more fun. And down the road, those are the traits thataccounts. And some of your families might be feeling the strain of this will help you succeed – the traits that will lead you to invent a device thateconomy. You might have picked up an after-school job to help out, or maybe makes the iPad look like a stone tablet. Or figure out a way to use the sun andyou’re babysitting for a younger sibling because Mom or Dad is working an wind to power a city. Or write the next great American novel.extra shift. Now, to do almost any of those things, you have to not only graduate fromSo you’ve got a lot on your plates. You guys are growing up faster and high school, but continue your education after you leave. That might mean ainteracting with the wider world in a way that old folks like me didn’t have to. four-year university, a community college, or a professional credential orSo today, I don’t want to be another adult who stands up to lecture you like training, but the fact of the matter is that more than 60 percent of jobs in theyou’re just kids. Because you’re not just kids. You’re this country’s future. next decade will require more than a high school diploma. That’s the worldWhether we fall behind or race ahead in the coming years is up to you. And I you’re walking into.want to talk to you about meeting that responsibility. So I want all of you to set a goal to continue your education after high school.It starts with being the best student you can be. Now, that doesn’t always And if that means college for you, just getting in isn’t enough. You’ve got tomean you have to get a perfect score on every assignment. It doesn’t have to finish. Our country used to have the world’s highest proportion of youngmean straight A’s all the time—although that’s a good goal to strive for. It people with a college degree. Now we’re 16th. That’s not good enough. And someans you have to keep at it. It means you have to work as hard as you know we need your generation to bring us back to the And it means that you take some risks once in a while. You wonder. Youquestion. You explore. You color outside the lines every now and then. If we do that, you guys will have a brighter future. And so will America. We’ll be able to make sure the newest inventions and latest breakthroughs happenThat’s what school’s for: discovering new passions and acquiring the skills to right here in the United States. It means better jobs, more fulfilling lives, andpursue those passions in the future. That’s why one hour you can be an artist; greater opportunities for your kids. So I don’t want anyone listening today tothe next, an author; the next, a scientist. Or a historian. Or a carpenter. This think that once you’re done with high school, you’re done learning. Or thatis the time when you can try out new interests and test new ideas. And the college isn’t for you. You have to start expecting big things for yourself rightmore you do, the sooner you’ll figure out what makes you come alive. now.If you promise not to tell anyone, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I wasn’t I know all this can be intimidating. You might be wondering how you’ll pay
  • 2. for college. Or you might not know what you want to do with your life. That’s And last year, I met a young woman named Amy Chyao from Richardson,OK. Nobody expects you to predict the future. And we shouldn’t expect you to Texas. At just 16 years old, she discovered a breakthrough process that usesmake it on your own. light to kill cancer cells. It’s incredible – and she’s been approached by some doctors and researchers who want to work with her to develop her discovery.You’ve got your parents. They love you to death and want you to have evenmore opportunities than they had. So don’t give them a hard time when they So, just like Will, Jake, and Amy, you don’t have to wait to make your mark. Aask you to turn off the video games and the television, and sit down to help lot of the time, you’ve got better ideas than the rest of us anyway. We justyou with your homework. need those ideas out in the open, in and out of the classroom.You’ve also got people all across this country – including me – working on I have no doubt that America’s best days are ahead of us because I know theyour behalf. We’re taking every step we can to ensure that you’re getting an potential that lies inside each one of you. Soon enough, you’ll be the oneseducational system that’s worthy of your potential. We’re working to make leading our businesses and our government; you’ll be the ones charting thesure that you have the most up-to-date schools with the latest tools for course of our unwritten history. All of that starts this year. Right now. So Ilearning. We’re making sure that our country’s colleges and universities are want you all to make the most of this year ahead of you. Your country isaffordable and accessible. And we’re working to get the best teachers into depending on you. So set your sights high. Have a great school year. And let’syour classrooms, so they can prepare you for college and a future career. get to work.Now, teachers are the men and women who might be working harder thananybody. Whether you go to a big school or a small one, whether you attend apublic, private, or charter school – your teachers are giving up theirweekends and waking up at dawn. They’re cramming their days full of classesand extra-curriculars. Then they’re going home, eating some dinner, andstaying up past midnight to grade your papers.And they don’t do it for a fancy office or a big salary. They do it for you. Theylive for those moments when something clicks, when you amaze them withyour intellect and they see the kind of person you can become. They knowthat you’ll be the citizens and leaders who take us into tomorrow. They knowthat you’re the future.But I also want to emphasize this: with all of the challenges that our countryfaces today, we don’t just need you for the future – we need you now.America needs your passion, your ideas, and your energy right at thismoment. I know you’re up to it because I’ve seen it. Nothing inspires memore than knowing that young people all across the country are alreadymaking their marks. They’re not waiting for anybody.They’re students like Will Kim from Fremont, California, who launched anonprofit that gives loans to students from low-income schools who want tostart their own businesses. And he’s raising the money doing what he loves:through dodgeball tournaments and capture-the-flag games.Jake Bernstein, a 17-year-old from a military family in St. Louis, worked withhis sister to launch a website devoted to community service for young people.They’ve held volunteer fairs, put up an online database, and helpedthousands of families find volunteer opportunities that range frommaintaining nature trails to serving at local hospitals.