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Hello, everybody! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, everybody. All right,
everybody go ahead and have a seat. How is everybody doing today?
(Applause.) How about Tim Spicer? (Applause.) I am here with students at
Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students
tuning in from all across America, from kindergarten through 12th grade.
And I am just so glad that all could join us today. And I want to thank
Wakefield for being such an outstanding host. Give yourselves a big
round of applause. (Applause.)
I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for
those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s
your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a
little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are
feeling pretty good right now — (applause) — with just one more year
to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably
wishing it were still summer and you could’ve stayed in bed just a
little bit longer this morning.
An image of a homeless boy who used light from a McDonald’s restaurant
in the Philippines to do his homework has gone viral on social media
with many saying he had inspired
I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived overseas. I lived
in Indonesia for a few years. And my mother, she didn’t have the money
to send me where all the American kids went to school, but she thought
it was important for me to keep up with an American education. So she
decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday. But
because she had to go to work, the only time she could do it was at 4:30
in the morning.
Daniel Cabrera was spotted by Joyce Torrefranca, a medical student, as
he worked away on the pavement in
Now, as you might imagine, I wasn’t too happy about getting up that
early. And a lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen
table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of
those looks and she’d say, ‘This is no picnic for me either, buster.’
She posted the image to Facebook, saying Daniel had inspired her to work
So I know that some of you are still adjusting to being back at school.
But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with
you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and
what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.
I got inspired by a kid ❤我被一个小孩激励到了。❤
Now, I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked about
responsibility a lot.
The picture was soon being shared thousands of times, with people
reflecting how often even basic living standards are taken for
I’ve talked about teachers’ responsibility for inspiring students and
pushing you to learn.
Daniel’s home was burnt down and his father died. He is often seen
begging with his mother in the same area, but shows a determination to
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay
on track, and you get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking
hour in front of the TV or with the Xbox.
No chair, no table, no problem–Daniel Cabrera is determined to
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting
high standards, and supporting teachers and principals, and turning
around schools that aren’t working, where students aren’t getting the
opportunities that they deserve.
“As a student, it gave me an inspiration to work harder. I’m fortunate
my parents were able to send me to school. I seldom go to coffee shops
to study, but this kid just hit me,” Torrefranca told
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the
most supportive parents, the best schools in the world — and none of it
will make a difference, none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill
your responsibilities, unless you show up to those schools, unless you
pay attention to those teachers, unless you listen to your parents and
grandparents and other adults and put in the hard work it takes to
succeed. That’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each
of you has for your education.
I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself. Every
single one of you has something that you’re good at. Every single one of
you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to
discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.
Maybe you could be a great writer — maybe even good enough to write a
book or articles in a newspaper — but you might not know it until you
write that English paper — that English class paper that’s assigned to
you. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor — maybe even good
enough to come up with the next iPhone or the new medicine or vaccine —
but you might not know it until you do your project for your science
class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a senator or a Supreme Court
justice — but you might not know that until you join student government
or the debate team.
And no matter what you want to do with your life, I guarantee that
you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a
teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a
lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good
education for every single one of those careers. You cannot drop out of
school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to train for it and
work for it and learn for it.
And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future.
What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future
of this country. The future of America depends on you. What you’re
learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet
our greatest challenges in the future.
You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in
science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop
new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the
insights and critical-thinking skills you gain in history and social
studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and
make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and
ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that
will create new jobs and boost our economy.
We need every single one of you to develop your talents and your skills
and your intellect so you can help us old folks solve our most difficult
problems. If you don’t do that — if you quit on school — you’re not
just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.
Now, I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of
you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to
focus on your schoolwork.
I get it. I know what it’s like. My father left my family when I was two
years old, and I was raised by a single mom who had to work and who
struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us
the things that other kids had. There were times when I missed having a
father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and I felt like I
didn’t fit in.
So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been on school, and I did
some things I’m not proud of, and I got in more trouble than I should
have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.
But I was — I was lucky. I got a lot of second chances, and I had the
opportunity to go to college and law school and follow my dreams. My
wife,our First Lady Michelle Obama, she has a similar story. Neither of
her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have a lot of money.
But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the
best schools in this country.
Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults
in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in
your family has lost their job and there’s not enough money to go
around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or
have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life — what you
look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got
going on at home — none of that is an excuse for neglecting your
homework or having a bad attitude in school. That’s no excuse for
talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of
school. There is no excuse for not trying.
Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up.
No one’s written your destiny for you, because here in America, you
write your own destiny. You make your own future.
That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across
Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak
English when she first started school. Neither of her parents had gone
to college. But she worked hard, earned good grades, and got a
scholarship to Brown University — is now in graduate school, studying
public health, on her way to becoming Dr. Jazmin Perez.
I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s
fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s had to endure all sorts of
treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took
him much longer — hundreds of extra hours — to do his schoolwork. But
he never fell behind. He’s headed to college this fall.
And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois.
Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest
neighborhoods in the city, she managed to get a job at a local health
care center, start a program to keep young people out of gangs, and
she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
And Jazmin, Andoni, and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you.
They face challenges in their lives just like you do. In some cases
they’ve got it a lot worse off than many of you. But they refused to
give up. They chose to take responsibility for their lives, for their
education, and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do
That’s why today I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for
your education — and do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can
be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in
class, or spending some time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll
decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in
your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being
teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you
believe, like I do, that all young people deserve a safe environment to
study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so
you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, by the way, I
hope all of you are washing your hands a lot, and that you stay home
from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting
the flu this fall and winter.
But whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you
to really work at it. I know that sometimes you get that sense from TV
that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your
ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV
star. Chances are you’re not going to be any of those things.
The truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject
that you study. You won’t click with every teacher that you have. Not
every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life
right at this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything
the first time you try.
That’s okay. Some of the most successful people in the world are the
ones who’ve had the most failures. J.K. Rowling’s — who wrote Harry
Potter — her first Harry Potter book was rejected 12 times before it
was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school
basketball team. He lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots
during his career. But he once said, ‘I have failed over and over and
over again in my life. And that’s why I succeed.’
These people succeeded because they understood that you can’t let your
failures define you — you have to let your failures teach you. You have
to let them show you what to do differently the next time. So if you get
into trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need
to try harder to act right. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean
you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one’s born being good at all things. You become good at things
through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play
a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song.
You’ve got to practice. The same principle applies to your schoolwork.
You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right.
You might have to read something a few times before you understand it.
You definitely have to do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good
enough to hand in.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when
you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of
weakness, it’s a sign of strength because it shows you have the courage
to admit when you don’t know something, and that then allows you to
learn something new. So find an adult that you trust — a parent, a
grandparent or teacher, a coach or a counselor — and ask them to help
you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you
feel like other people have given up on you, don’t ever give up on
yourself, because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough.
It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their
country too much to do anything less than their best.
It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went
on to wage a revolution and they founded this nation. Young people.
Students who sat where you sit 75 years agowho overcame a Depression and
won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon.
Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google and
Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask all of you, what’s your contribution going to
be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you
make? What will a President who comes here in 20 or 50 or 100 years say
about what all of you did for this country?
Now, your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to
make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m
working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books and the
equipment and the computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your
part, too. So I expect all of you to get serious this year. I expect you
to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things
from each of you. So don’t let us down. Don’t let your family down or
your country down. Most of all, don’t let yourself down. Make us all
Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. Thank