Remarks by the First Lady at Summer Learning Day Event
Department of Education
11:43 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: How exciting is it? (Applause.) That’s how excited I am. But let me start by thanking Marielena for that very kind introduction. We are so proud of you and what you’re going to be doing with your life. That’s good stuff. Yes! (Applause.) And I know all of you have a story like that. I wish I could hear about every story, but we can’t. But I’m proud of you guys. I really am.
I also want to thank Sarah Pitcock from the National Summer Learning Association for her leadership and for helping to organize this event today. I also particularly want to recognize everyone at the Department of Education, not only Undersecretary Ted Mitchell and your Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach, Massie Ritsch, but all the staffers here who have joined us today who are working so hard on behalf of kids across the country. I’m so proud of you, and thankful for your work -- especially the guidance and support you’ve given to our development of Reach Higher, the initiative that Marielena spoke about, where we want to inspire young people to complete their education beyond high school.
And I want to especially thank the Department of Education for letting me steal somebody important from you -- your Deputy Chief of Staff Eric Waldo, who’s doing an outstanding job as the Executive Director for Reach Higher. This is his original home, but we stole him. And he’s doing great work for us.
And most importantly, I want to give a big shoutout to all of the young people that we have here with us today -- yay to you guys. (Applause.) You guys are coming from all over the country -- places like Alabama and Kentucky; we’ve got folks from right here in D.C. You guys are coming from everywhere. (Applause.) And I just spent some time talking to some really terrific young people about what you all are up to this summer, and it is really very cool.
You’re learning important things like cooking healthy foods and building Habitat houses. And you’re learning about city planning by building Lego cities -- that was really pretty cool.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Woo hoo!
MRS. OBAMA: Yes. (Laughter.) You’re getting some hands-on biology lessons by dissecting things like frogs, sheep eyes, flowers -- yes. We didn’t have sheep eyes here, but I saw a picture. It was pretty gross. (Laughter.) And you’re gaining new understandings of our history by studying our heroes like Jackie Robinson -- in fact, I saw a game that you guys created that helped you learn -- it was very cool. Great job. I got to play and I lost a patience point. (Laughter.) But I did that on purpose.
So you guys are doing some great stuff. But I imagine that maybe some of you are still wondering why the First Lady came to hear about what you’re doing this summer. After all, it is summer, right? I mean, summer is supposed that time you get to sleep in, go to the pool, finally beat that video game, right? And you can still do that.
But the fact is, is summer is actually one of the most important times of the year for young people like you. And I wish I had known this when I was your age. Because if you’ve got big dreams -- and I know you all do -- if you want to go to college, if you want to get a good job, if you want to make the most of your potential, then summer can’t just be a vacation. It’s really a time to try to get ahead.
Think about all the people that you look up to in the world -- the athletes, the people you see on the basketball court or on the football field; the entertainers you see on TV or on stage; your teachers, who inspire you every day in the classroom. Well, every one of these folks work all the time. They’re working all summer long, they’re working after the season’s over, they’re spending hours in the gym pouring over game film. When the music tour ends, those musicians that you love are back in the practice room perfecting their craft. When school is over, your teachers are spending their summers going to conferences and workshops so that they can learn and develop new strategies to help you guys for the next year.
So no matter what you want to do with your life, no matter what kind of dreams you have for yourselves, you’ve got to use every minute wisely to reach those dreams. And that starts with being strategic about your summers.
So if you want to be an engineer or a doctor, for example, think about signing up for a science camp or asking your science teacher what you can do to get ahead in physics or biology over the summer. If you want to perform on stage, maybe you can join a community theater or sign up for an acting class at your Boys and Girls Clubs in your community. If you fell behind in your classes, well, now is the time to buckle down and work to catch up over the summer.
And no matter what you do, every single one of you should read, read, read. That’s what the President tells our daughters. (Applause.) Libraries all across the country are hosting outstanding summer reading programs every single year. So you all have got to go in and pick up some of those new books, maybe on some subjects you don’t know much about. Because reading might be the most important thing you can do for your future. And you can never do enough of it. I know your parents tell you this, and we struggle in our own household to get our kids to turn off the screens and pick up books. But truly, reading is going to do so much for you. So pick up those books and really get into it.
But here’s the thing: Summer isn’t just about building new skills and gaining new experiences; it’s also about keeping your minds fresh. Research shows that if you just sit around and you don’t work out your brain all summer, you not only miss out on new information and skills, you can actually lose up to three months’ worth of knowledge from the previous year. That’s a lot. So in some instances, you can actually go backwards.
So if you’re not picking up a book, and all you’re doing all summer long is sitting on the couch and catching up on TV shows, then I guarantee that you’re going to lose some ground next year in school. And that won’t just make a difference this fall, it can show up in the years ahead. Because once you begin applying to colleges -- which all of you are going to do, right?
MRS. OBAMA: You’re going to be competing against kids who are already making the most of their summers. Let me just share this with you -- there are kids who are really serious about getting into college, and they work on this with the help of parents and tutors, and they’re prepping for their SATs already. They’re completing phenomenal internships. They’re doing everything they can to improve their chances of getting into college. And so you don’t want to fall behind just because you took the summer off.
That’s why programs that you’re participating in this summer are so important -– because they help make sure that you’re putting your best foot forward when you get ready to apply to college. And they’re going to also help you start building your own academic and professional networks, which you can’t underestimate. Networking is really important. Whether you’re doing an internship or serving the community or participating in summer learning programs, you’re -- through this kind of stuff, you’re going to start meeting new mentors and coaches and supervisors who actually can help you out later in life. Maybe they can write a letter of recommendation for you when it’s time to go to college. You never know. Years later, when you’re looking for a job, these will be the people that know you, and they’ll be inclined to say, come on, come do a paid job with me. So you want to network.
And here’s another reason why summer is important: It’s the perfect time for you to work on the skills you’ll actually need when you get to college. I’m talking about things like time management -- do people talk to you about that? Your parents? Dealing with your finances, which I learned about. There are some of you who are doing summer programs focusing on financial literacy, handling your own schedule. I’m talking about that in my home now. It’s like -- getting places on time, and figuring out where you have to be.
Because I know all of you are dying to be independent, right? Yes, yes, you guys are way ready to be independent. But as I always tell my daughters, before you can strike out on your own, you’ve got to learn how to take care of your own business.
So this summer, start practicing some of that independence. Think about it. You don’t have to wait on your teacher or your school counselor to help you start getting prepared for your SATs. Start making your own plan, your own study calendar. Go on the website. Figure out what you can do to start preparing yourself. You don’t have to wait for Mom or Dad to pick you up from practice all the time and programs over the summer. Maybe you can ride your bike. Maybe you can organize with your friends a carpool.
You don’t have to wait until you fill out your financial aid form to start thinking about how you’re going to pay for college. Maybe you can start thinking about finding a summer job to help pay for tuition and start saving up for the additional expenses that you might not get from scholarships and loans.
And while you all are doing that, I want you to know that if you need it, you’ve got plenty of support and resources out there that can help you along the way. You don’t have to do this on your own, because part of being independent is knowing when to ask for help. And you’ve got your parents and teachers and coaches and school counselors -- all these people want you to succeed. You’ve got folks here at the Department of Ed who have created the toolkits and resources that can help you. You can go to studentaid.gov and look at those resources, and they’ll help you prepare to apply to college and get through college.
And you’ve got folks from organizations all across the country, many of whom are represented here today -- organizations like Trio and GEAR Up and Upward Bound -- yay. (Applause.) And all of these programs are giving young people like you such wonderful opportunities this summer. It’s really just amazing to see all that you all are doing. For instance, at the Sadie Nash Leadership Project in New York -- yay -- you guys are bringing in activists and artists and politicians and doctors to help give students advice about developing their leadership skills -- very cool.
At the New Jersey Law Education Empowerment Program -- (applause) -- they’re right there. (Laughter.) I hear you guys are connecting students with internships and mentors from local law firms. I was a lawyer -- you do know that. And that was one thing I wish I had done, I never worked in a law firm before. This is such great experience, because you’ll have some idea what you’re doing when you go to law school. So good stuff. And of course, the Upward Bound program at Prince George’s Community College -- (applause) -- there you guys go, they’re helping students learn to stick up for themselves and support their classmates by creating an anti-bullying campaign. Excellent work.
And while all of you here today are already making the most of your summer, one of the reasons why we have all these cameras here is that we know that a lot of kids aren’t. They don’t have access to these opportunities. Maybe they don’t, because there aren’t any programs in their neighborhoods. And that’s what today is all about. Today is National Summer Learning Day, and there are events and celebrations all across the country to help more young people sign up for summer programs like this one here today.
So we want everybody out there listening to go to SummerLearningDayMap.org to find activities right in their communities. And if there aren’t any in your community, I want you to know that this is what we’re going to be working on over the next many, many years. We’re going to work to make sure that every young person in America can have a great summer learning experience, no matter where they come from or how much money their parents have. And that’s one of the goals of our Reach Higher initiative. And that’s why we’ll be shining a spotlight on not just today, but in the months and years ahead.
So that’s our job. We’ve got to make sure you have the resources you need to reach your goals. And as young people, your job is to make the most of your summer so that you can reach your potential and achieve every last one of your dreams. You can do this. You can. If I can do it, you can do it. But that starts right now, okay? So I want you to stay focused over these next few months and in the summers ahead.
Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun. You all should be getting outside, hanging out with your friends, getting some exercise -- don’t forget about that. (Laughter.) But you also have to keep your eyes on the prize. You’ve got to keep that college degree as your north star. So you can’t let this summer go to waste, all right. So I want you guys to have fun. I wish you all the luck in the world. I can’t wait to see everything you will accomplish. And I’m going to come down there and shake some hands. (Applause.)
Keep up the great work. We’re proud of you all. (Applause.)
12:02 P.M. EDT