Every child could use a little pep talk at the beginning of the school year, and who better than President Obama to take on that task?
During an address to parents and teachers at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, DC, for his third annual back-to-school speech, the president offered up this challenge: “You’re not just kids. You’re this country’s future,” he said. “Whether we fall behind or race ahead in the coming years is up to you. And I want to talk to you about meeting that responsibility.”
But before he spoke, he was introduced by senior Donae Owens, who echoed the theme of the day when she said: “If it is to be, it’s up to me. We are in charge of our own destinies.”
After thanking her for setting the tone, the president acknowledged the tough economic times the students and their families now face. He said, “You might have picked up an after-school job to help out, or maybe you’re babysitting for a younger sibling because Mom or Dad is working an extra shift. So you’ve got a lot on your plates."
Obama encouraged the kids to be the best they can be, stay determined and persevere in their goals. But while he now stands as the leader of the free world, he struck a chord with the audience when he let them in on a little secret from his own days in school. He recalled, “I wasn’t always the very best student. I didn’t love every class I took. But if you’d have asked me what my favorite subject was in eighth grade, I’d have said ’basketball.’ I don’t think ethics would have made the list.”
He stressed that some of the classes he thought were so boring have been useful to him today as president. “So that’s a big part of your responsibility: Testing things out, taking risks, working hard, engaging with the world around you. Those are the things that will make school more fun. And down the road, those are the traits that will help you succeed.”
In an era when some schools have become little more than drop-out factories, the president encouraged the students to stay in school and further their education. “The fact of the matter is that more than 60 percent of jobs in the next decade will require more than a high school diploma,” he said. “That’s the world you’re walking into.”
As for Owens, her sights are set on a career in architecture. She hopes to attend New York University next fall, equipped with a pre-graduation boost courtesy of the president.
(Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)