Remarks by the First Lady at National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards
2:34 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Hello, everyone. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Please. Well, welcome to the White House. (Laughter.) You guys having fun?
MRS. OBAMA: I am, too. Well, we’re back again for the 2014 winners of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards. Yay! (Applause.) It’s good stuff.
I want to start, of course, by thanking everyone from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities for sponsoring these awards and for their just amazing leadership. Let me just take a moment to just say how wonderful it is just to have such a wonderful team of people who are so passionate and so committed and so dedicated to this work. It has just been an honor working with you all. I’m so proud of you. I could go on and on and on, but -- I’m going to actually make you all stand up so that we can see -- come on -- will you guys stand up so that we can see who you are and really thank you, everyone. (Applause.) Thank you all. Thank you all so much. Great work, great work. (Applause.)
But most of all, I want to thank everyone in this room, because we have here with us teachers, we have artists, mentors -- all of you are doing the hard work of creating these wonderful programs for our young people every single day. You’re out there in the trenches doing the really tough, important, wonderful work. And we’re just so grateful.
And in this role as First Lady, I have the opportunity to meet with so many different people from industries throughout the country -- elected officials, entertainers, business leaders, so many others. And I always try to ask them one thing –- I want to know from them, what are they doing for our young people? I always want to know that no matter what I’m doing. I’m trying to figure out, how are we incorporating these young people? How are we creating the next generation of artists and entrepreneurs and leaders who are going to take our place?
And the truth is, you guys are really answering that question in a very profound, wonderful way, because your work is the answer. It really is. Every day, you are lifting up young people across this country, inspiring them to dream bigger and bigger for themselves in ways that just touch my heart and makes this work really worthwhile.
From the Mississippi Delta, to my hometown of Chicago, to Houston, you all are helping young people learn to play the blues -- we’re going to get a little taste of that later on. (Laughter.) You help them put on their own Shakespeare productions. You help them create their own go-karts and fashion designs.
For example, in Aurora, California [Colorado], you’ve got a program called “Job Training in the Arts,” where students not only learn skills like woodworking and design, but they also learn what it’s like to have a J-O-B. (Laughter.) Yes, got to know about that, right -- (laughter) -- how to do things like show up on time -- we talk about that in my household all the time -- (laughter) -- how to meet deadlines, and to present your work as a finished product at a gallery. Great stuff.
In Los Angeles, there’s this wonderful after-school dance program called “Everybody Dance!” And it’s making a difference for more than 600 children from underserved areas each year. And as one former student said -- these are her words -- she said, “I can’t tell you how much this program and everything it stands for means to me.” She said, “I learned to love, I learned to cope, I learned to express myself, and most importantly, I learned to be.” And she says, “I am infinitely grateful.”
And that’s what we see time and again with your programs. You teach kids more than just skills in the arts and the humanities, but you light a fire in them. You help them grow emotionally and socially. You give kids a spring in their step when they get out of bed each morning. You give them something to look forward to after school each day.
And as all of you know, that has an impact on our kids -- not just on their success in the arts and in the humanities, but on their success in school and in life. We talk about this every time we do these events -- you all know the statistics. Research shows that arts education leads to better scores in reading and in math -- we know this. Students who are highly involved in the arts stay in school longer than those who are not.
So through these programs, students are learning critical lessons in grit and creativity, teamwork, attention to detail that’s going to serve them well whether they go on in careers in the arts, or whether they go into science, or business, or anything else.
So to all the young people here -- I always have a message. You kind of aren’t in my line of sight -- but I just want you all to understand that these programs are important to change the trajectory of your lives. I hope you understand that -- that one of the reasons we bring you here is that this stuff is good for you. It is really, really good for you, and you are all so blessed to have these opportunities. Because through it, you’re going to meet the mentor of your dreams. Maybe you’ll meet another student who pushes you to be more than what you could be. You just never know who you’re going to run into and what it’s going to do for your life.
So I want you to embrace these opportunities, and I want you to embrace them for the rest of your lives. I want you to be seeking these kinds of opportunities out everywhere you go. But I want you to also understand that no matter what you want to do in life, the most important thing for you to do is get an education, is really get a good education. You have to. That’s one of the reasons that we -- why we started Reach Higher, because we want to inspire all young people in this country to pursue their education beyond high school. Because it’s through that education that -- it’s going to give you the chance to have control over your future.
And I can’t emphasize that enough to kids around this country. We can’t play with education. And through education, we need to expose them to the arts and to music, and to science and to -- but they’ve got to be in school. So I want you guys to take this message back to all the other young people who don’t have a chance to sit here in the White House, and to experience this wonderful, unique opportunity.
But I want you to remember this one thing if nothing else from this day: that your education is critical. That’s why I’m standing here, that’s why most of the people in this room are here. Don’t play around with it. It’s the best investment that you’ll make, okay? You guys promise me that? Okay. (Applause.)
And I also hope that events like this show our kids that they’ve got a lot of people behind them, right? There are just so many people around the world who have your backs. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but look -- you’ve got all these folks who have your backs. You’ve got a President and First Lady -- (laughter) -- we’ve got your backs. We believe in you. We really do. (Applause.)
So stay focused. Keep believing in yourselves. Keep working hard. Keep reaching higher -- remember that, reach higher, okay? And keep making us proud.
And once again, to all of the folks who support these programs, who make this happen, we’re just grateful, and we just encourage you -- don’t get tired. (Laughter.) Yes, stay in there. We’re really appreciative. And I hope this afternoon, this time here at the White House is just a small way of us expressing our appreciation for the wonderful work you do. So thank you, on behalf of our nation.
And with that, I’m going to turn it over to the co-chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, my dear friend, George Stevens Jr. (Applause.)
* * * * *
Wow! Would you ever expect that sound coming out of those little people? (Laughter.) Wow, you guys are awesome! (Applause.) Wow! Give me some of that. Oh, man! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh, my goodness! (Applause.) We need to have these guys back when we do our music series on the blues, that’s what we need to do.
Well, that was the best way to end, I mean, right there. Because that’s what I always want to remind people -- it’s like, you just never know the power, the talent that is inside these kids.
And just think, if these kids didn’t have an opportunity to express that -- that’s what’s at stake. We miss out on this. And there are millions of kids who are missing out on this. They have the same talent, the same drive, the same ability, the same passion, they just don’t have access to the programs that they need to get the support that they need, which is why these awards are so meaningful and special -- because they highlight to the world what the arts and humanities mean in the lives of so many kids across this country and around the world.
So as usual, well done. Well done. It has been a great afternoon. We’re so proud of all of our awardees, all the young people who are here. Just remember that message and pay it forward. Find the next kids you guys are going to mentor, right? Because you’re never too young to mentor.
And I want to thank all of you for all the work you do. It’s a wonderful way to spend some time in the White House, and I hope you guys had a great time. So there’s a reception to follow, I believe. You guys, enjoy yourselves. Don’t tear anything up. (Laughter.) We’re watching. (Laughter.)
But thank you all again. Have a great afternoon. (Applause.)
3:20 P.M. EST