This is historical material “frozen in time”. The website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.

Search form

The White House
Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release

Remarks by Mrs. Obama and Madam Kim of the Republic of Korea at a Cultural Event at Annandale High School

Annandale High School
Annandale, Virginia

11:52 A.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA: Now, let me just start by saying, wow! Good morning, everyone, and --

AUDIENCE: Good morning!

MRS. OBAMA: What a wonderful program. Thank you, Principal Randazzo, for that very kind introduction and for hosting us here today.

I also want to thank all of the performers -- Jennifer Koh, the World Children’s Choir, our performers right here at Annandale High School. And, of course, I want to recognize our guest of honor, Madam Kim Yoon-ok of the Republic of Korea. (Applause.)

Madam Kim and her husband, President Lee, are here for a state visit, which gives us all an opportunity to celebrate the special bond between our nations. We may be on separate sides of the globe, but our two countries have so much in common -- from our commitment to freedom and democracy to the value we place on education. And -- please. (Applause.)

And education is what brings us here to Annandale. Now, a good education is about so much more than just learning geometry or memorizing dates in history. All of that is important, but an education is also about exploring new things -- discovering what makes you come alive, and then being your best at whatever you choose.

Now, Jennifer is a perfect example of just that. As a child, her parents signed her up for just about everything you could imagine: ice skating, swimming, ballet, rhythmic gymnastics. And some of these things she liked; others, not so much. But Jennifer kept exploring, and she soon found that her favorite of all was the violin. She practiced for hours, worked closely with her instructors, and now she is one of the best violinists in the world.

And that is what I want for every single student in this room. I want you to discover something that you love to do, and then become the best that you can be. Do not be afraid to work hard, to make a real investment in it -- because that’s how real learning, real fulfillment and real joy happens.

Now, along the way, you might need a little nudge in the right direction every now and then from a teacher or a parent. And sometimes that nudge can feel a little intense. But understand that they’re doing it because they want the best for you, too. They want you to be exposed to new things and to live happy and productive lives. And I know because I am a mom myself.

The President and I have not hesitated to expose our girls to new opportunities -– playing sports, taking up an instrument. Madam Kim has done the same thing -– and two of her daughters ended up studying music at one of the finest schools in the world. So your parents push you because we’ve seen how finding and investing in a passion can really pay off.

Those lessons hold true no matter how much money your parents have, no matter what you look like, no matter whether you were born in the United States, South Korea, or anywhere else in the world.

Just look at the stories of the Presidents of our two nations. My husband didn't start out at the top, but he worked hard and followed his passions to get where he is today. Madam Kim’s husband, President Lee, grew up in very difficult economic circumstances. All through high school he worked during the day and studied at night. He borrowed used books from a shopkeeper, and took a job as a garbage collector to pay his college tuition. He kept up that work ethic, and now he is South Korea’s President.

So whether it’s President Lee or President Obama, whether it’s Jennifer Koh, or anyone else who’s achieved any level of success, you will see the same qualities: passion, perseverance, and, most importantly, hard work.

My greatest wish for each of you is to take your education seriously, and challenge yourselves. Explore new classes. Audition for the school play. Write for the school paper. Take some risks. Try something new. And when you find something you like, then invest in it. Push yourself and commit to your own success.

You’re given so many incredible opportunities here at this school. There is so much diversity here, such breadth of experience in your student body. So this is the perfect place for you to find out who you are and what you want to become. And that’s really what education is all about.

So, good luck to all of you. Work hard. Stay out of trouble. (Laughter.) And thank you for hosting this wonderful event today, and for giving such a warm welcome to my friend and our nation’s guest, Madam Kim. (Applause.)

And now, it is my honor to introduce our guest of honor, my friend, Madam Kim. (Applause.)

MADAM KIM: (As interpreted.) Mrs. Michelle Obama; Mr. Vincent Randazzo, principal of Annandale High School; and dear students and parents; it’s my great pleasure to meet with you today. I would sincerely like to thank you all for the lovely and excellent performance and kindly inviting me to Annandale High School, which has a long history and tradition. The performance was indeed outstanding, but I was all the more impressed by it for I could feel the genuine passion of the students.

I understand that the students are of different races and have various backgrounds. I was also informed that students of Annandale High School come from as many as 90 countries around the world. And the World Children’s Choir also consists of members who come from different backgrounds and thus have different experiences. Nevertheless, you were able to generate a beautiful harmony and find melody with one chord.

I believe this is precisely the power of solidarity and integration that has made the United States to what it is today. (Applause.) The United States and Korea may have differences in history but is now moving forward together toward our common future with one mind sharing the same dream.

Dear students, you have reached an age when you will soon need to confront the world and make your way into the world by yourselves. This may make you feel afraid and anxious. The mother of Jennifer Koh, who performed the violin beautifully today, had escaped North Korea and now is a professor here in the United States. She has also successfully raised her daughter to become an outstanding musician. The Presidents of the United States and the Republic of Korea have also overcome the hardships and adversities during their school years and now have become the great leaders of our two countries.

Hope is still there, even when you can only see despair. You will be able to create hope at a time when you see no hope. Positive mind and courage will be the greatest asset that will guide and lead you throughout your life. I hope that all of the students here and the students in Korea will be able to live a life that is full of dreams and passion.

I would like to once again thank Mrs. Obama and Mr. Randazzo for organizing this meaningful event. The time I had here with you will be cherished in my fondest memories for a long time. I hope for your good health and happiness.

Thank you. (Applause.)

12:10 P.M. EDT