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The White House
Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release

Remarks by the First Lady at Cooper-Hewitt Design Awards Luncheon

East Room

1:07 P.M. EDT

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.)

1:14 P.M. EDT