Obama to students: Dream big and make us proud

In a much-anticipated speech, President Barack Obama delivered a back-to-school address to nearly 56 million students, K-12th grade, nationwide Sep. 8th, live from Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va. Most of the country's 15,000 school districts were prepared to show the speech, which was made available Monday from the White House.

Many conservatives and Republicans claimed the president's remarks were designed to "indoctrinate" students with a "liberal agenda" and instill "socialist ideology." Yet once the speech was made public many of them reversed their charge.

The pre-released text hardly indicated any of the outrageous claims. Most saw the barrage of controversy led by Republicans and conservative talk show hosts as an outlet for them to continue attacking anything Obama proposes these days.

However others including former first lady Laura Bush expressed their support for the speech saying "it's really important for everyone to respect the president of the United States." Bush, who used to be a school-teacher made her position clear in an interview with CNN's Zain Verjee. "I think there is a place for the president of the United States to talk to school children and encourage school children, and I think there are a lot of people that do the same," she said. "And that is encourage their own children to stay in school and to study hard and to try to achieve the dream that they have."

After reading the text, even Jim Greer, the Florida Republican Party chairman who led accusations last week about the president's intent, said he could find nothing to criticize.

Many critics of the uproar surrounding Obama's speech saw the misguided hype as a political diversion to further divide any consensus regarding the current health care debate.

In his speech Obama urges every student to work hard, stay in school, respect their teachers, learn from their failures, dream big and take responsibility.

Obama talked about how when he was young his mother used to wake him up at 4:30 in the morning to teach him extra lessons. At the time Obama lived in Indonesia and his mother, who raised him alone, could not afford to send him where all the American kids went to school.

"Now I wasn't to happy about getting up that early," said Obama. "A lot of times, I'd fall asleep right there on the kitchen table. But whenever I'd complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, ‘This is no picnic for me either, buster.'"

Obama highlighted the responsibility and the role of parents, teachers, school administrations and the government when it comes to a child's education.

"But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world - and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities," said Obama.

The president encouraged young people to set big goals in life and that by staying focused and working hard they can become writers, inventors, doctors, teachers, architects, public servants, a Supreme Court Justice and much more.

"And no matter what you do with your life - I guarantee that you'll need an education to do it," he said. "You can't drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You've got to work for it and train for it and learn for it."

Obama said the future of the country depends on the outcome of young people's education and opportunities in life.

"What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you're learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation meet our greatest challenges in the future," he said.

Being raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills, Obama said there were times when he missed not having a father in his life, where he felt lonely and felt as though he didn't fit in. He recalled not always staying focused, did things he's not proud of and got into trouble some times.

However, because of second chances Obama said he had the opportunity to go to college, attend law school and pursue his dreams.

"The circumstances of your life - what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you've got going on at home - that's no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude," said Obama. "That's no excuse for not trying."

Getting in trouble does not mean you're a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave, said Obama. Getting a bad grade does not mean your stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying, he added.

Being successful is not easy and the truth is it's hard, said Obama. The most important thing is to ask questions and ask for help when you need it and never give up on your self.

The story of America is about students 250 years ago who led a revolution and founded this nation, said Obama. It's about students who 75 years ago overcame a Depression and won a world war against Fascism, he said. It's about young people who stood up against injustice and fought for civil rights. And it's about young people who 20 years ago founded Google and changed the way we communicate with each other through Twitter and Facebook today.

Obama's speech is part of a full-day effort to promote education. The president will also be part of a 30-minute documentary featuring singer Kelly Clarkson and basketball star LeBron James, called "Get Schooled: You Have The Right," that airs tonight.

plozano@pww.org

 

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