Remarks by the First Lady and Levar Burton in Addressing Children on Base as Part of the Fifth Anniversary of Joining Forces
Thayer Elementary School
Fort Leonard Wood Army Base, Missouri
3:38 P.M. CDT
MRS. OBAMA: Well, look at you guys! What’s going on?
MRS. OBAMA: Nothing? Have you been sitting in this gym for a long time? (Laughter.) My goodness. Well, blame the grown-ups. (Laughter.) We are not the grown-ups. Why didn’t you let them out? (Laughter.) Are you guys having fun, though?
MRS. OBAMA: We are so excited to be here, to be able to read to you guys. Reading is -- to kids is one of my favorite things. My kids are grown now -- they’re not grown, but they don’t want me to read to them. So thank you for letting me read to you.
MR. BURTON: So who would like to hear a story? This one is called “The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm.” And I always like to give an author’s name -- in this case, the author is LeVar Burton, one of my favorite authors. (Laughter.) And my co-writer was Susan Schaefer Bernardo. And the illustrations, which I think are beautiful, are by Courtenay Fletcher. Are you ready?
MR. BURTON: Are you ready?
MRS. OBAMA: Here we go:
In the middle of the morning, Mica Mouse trembled under her blanket. A storm boomed outside her window. Rain crashed against the glass. Wind rattled the shutters. More than anything else, Mica was afraid of storms. A year before, a powerful hurricane had destroyed her home. “I’m scared, Papa,” she said.
MR. BURTON: “We are safe, Mica. This storm will pass soon,” said Papa. “Would you like me to read you a story? I know just the one to help you feel better.” Mica loved books, and Papa’s gentle voice soothed in a way that made her forget all about the thunder. Papa opened the book and began.
Long, long ago, before there were words, animals roamed in bountiful herds. Little Rhinoceros live happy and free, exploring mountains and meadows, rivers and trees. His world was delightful and chock full of magic, until, out of the blue, that magic turned tragic.
MRS. OBAMA: A storm swept through the valley turning bright sky to black. A flash flood came raging, no time to react. Lost in the thundering, no time for wondering, chaos and lightning, fury so frightening, earth quaking, him shaking, water rumbling, him tumbling, raggedy, jaggedly, senseless calamity, the storm crashed through his world and tore it apart, and took away everything dear to his heart.
MR. BURTON: Rhino was stunned by the terrible scene. Death and destruction all through the ravine enraged by the pain of such a great loss, Rhino acted without a thought to the cost. Rhino looked at his world, all tattered and torn, stood out on the ledge, and swallowed the storm.
MRS. OBAMA: Inside his belly, he felt the storm growing. Inside his head, he heard howling and blowing. Like a tornado, he spun as the storm raged inside, growing bigger and bigger and wider than wide. When he finally stopped, when he regained control, he was at the very bottom of a very deep hole.
MR. BURTON: “What to do?” Rhino worried, as rain dripped down his face. “I’m lost and I’m lonely, and in such a dark place.” At just the right moment to comfort and guide him, a spider dropped down and dangled beside him. “The world up above is shattered and gray, but it’s where you belong so you must find a way to let that storm out and move through your sorrow. You’ll find many helpers on your road to tomorrow.”
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, but that hole was dreadfully deep. And the walls all around him were slippery steep. Rhino tried to climb out but was losing all hope, when Kangaroo heard him and threw down a rope. Though Rhino was heavy from the weight of the storm, they towed him right up, got him safe, dry and warm.
MR. BURTON: “We’re strong and steady, and always ready. When danger strikes, we hop to it. Fire or flood, snow or mud, when help is needed, we’ll pull you through it.” Well, watching those heroes do what they did best gave Rhino the strength to set off on his quest.
MRS. OBAMA: That storm he was clutching made him buzzy and blurry. It kept his brain foggy and filled him with worry. “Where do I go, what do I do? How will I ever make it through?”
MR. BURTON: “After every dark night, there comes a new day. Be kind, do your best, and you’ll find a way. Up comes the sun. There are steps to complete. There isn’t a map, just follow your feet.”
MRS. OBAMA: Rhino followed his feet to a wallowing spot where he plopped on a rock and had a deep thought. “I’m tired of caging the wind and the rain, exhausted from holding this anger and pain.” “We’re all on this earth to learn and grow,” a wise, old tortoise chimed in from below. “Allowing yourself to start feeling your feelings is the very first step on the journey toward healing.”
MR. BURTON: “It doesn’t much matter if you’re fast or you’re slow, if you want to move forward, just trust and let go.” Well, Rhino shook and he shimmied, and he stomped in the muck, and just as he’d hoped, that storm came unstuck. At first, one little raindrop leaked out of his eye, then Rhino let go and had a good cry.
MRS. OBAMA: His tears formed a river that flowed to the sea, where a pod of whales swam happy and free. “I do feel better,” Rhino thought as he drifted. Then up swam a whale and Rhino was lifted.
MRS. OBAMA: “If you ever feel blue,” the whale said with a spout, “remember to breathe, breathe in and breathe out. Sing your own song, and take it deep, deep, deep. Then rise above, with a joyful leap.”
MRS. OBAMA: As he floated home on a gentle wave, Rhino felt calm and strong and brave. His vision was clear, like the sky above, and he looked at his world through eyes filled with love.
MR. BURTON: He thanked the kind spider and the brave kangaroo, and all of the other who had helped him through. He was glad to know that if he ever lost hope, they’d lend him a hand, or throw him a rope.
MRS. OBAMA: He had journeyed his journey a very long way to find the light in a world turned gray. He’d swallowed a storm with no thought to the cost, he’d felt alone, he’d felt tumbled and tossed.
MR. BURTON: Life would bring changes, beginnings and ends, but he had faith in himself and faith in his friends. And as they curled up together he felt loved and protected. And he dreamed of a world that was safe and contented. He understood now. It was love that mattered. Love could never be lost. Love could never be shattered.
MRS. OBAMA: Papa closed the book and gave Mica a hug. “I know it was scary when our home was destroyed last winter,” said Papa, “but bad things happen sometimes and we can’t always control that.” “But we had lots of helpers,” said Mica, “just like Rhino did.” “That’s right, little one,” Papa said in his gentle way. “You’re never really alone when bad things happen. There are family and friends, even people we don’t know, who are always there to help us through tough times.
MR. BURTON: And, like every story with a storm, this one ends in a rainbow.
MRS. OBAMA: In a rainbow. (Applause.) That’s a beautiful book. (Applause.) Do you guys have questions for Mr. Burton, who wrote this amazing book?
MR. BURTON: Or the First Lady, who is amazing -- itself. Yes, sir, you in the front row in the lovely vest and tie.
MRS. OBAMA: And glasses. What did you say?
CHILD: I said I’m the only one with glasses.
MRS. OBAMA: You are.
MR. BURTON: You are the only one with glasses in the first row.
MRS. OBAMA: So it’s clearly your turn.
MR. BURTON: What is your question, sir?
MR. BURTON: Do rhinos really eat storms. In real life, no. But here’s the thing -- Rhino as the hero of this book -- I chose a rhino because in life, if -- a rhino is one of the strongest animals on the planet. And if a rhino can be taken down by the storm of his emotions inside, then all of us can use a little help sometimes, do you know what I’m saying? Now you get it. Now you get it.
MRS. OBAMA: Now it all makes sense. It’s a good thing he’s here. (Laughter.) All right, let’s see, we’ve got -- let’s do a little girl. In the back, you have an orange-pinkish -- yes, you. Yeah, you, way in the -- you, yes. Right here.
MRS. OBAMA: Say that again.
CHILD: Where do mice live?
MRS. OBAMA: Where do mice live? Oh, mice live many, many places.
MR. BURTON: I think this is a throw-back to Mousetronaut.
MRS. OBAMA: We’re going back to -- you want to -- well, we can take a stab at it. You know, mice are small, so they live anywhere where it’s dark and cozy and where no one will find them. So it could be anywhere, right?
MR. BURTON: I think they’re most happy in fields, but sometimes they like to come inside and live in houses.
MRS. OBAMA: And live in homes and in schools, and they’ve got to be where there’s some food. So if you don’t want mice in your house, you want to pick up the food -- unless you do want mice. Okay, that’s good. Well, make sure you throw out the food.
MR. BURTON: Shall we do one last question?
MRS. OBAMA: Let’s do one last question. You pick, LeVar.
MR. BURTON: One last question. Yes, you, young lady with the black sweater and the white blouse. Yes, you have a -- yes, you. What is your name?
MR. BURTON: I’m sorry?
MR. BURTON: Grace. What is your question, Grace?
CHILD: Mrs. Obama, how is it -- like to be in the White House?
MRS. OBAMA: What’s it like living in the White House? The White House is a lot of fun, but it’s sort of like living in a museum, if you can imagine that. There’s a part of the house that’s a museum -- it’s called the State Floor -- and that’s where you see most of the activity. If you see the White House on TV from the inside, that’s the State Floor. There are beautiful rooms -- there’s the Blue Room and the Red Room and the State Room. That’s where we host important guests. That’s where visitors come to tour.
But then you go up a floor, and it’s our home. And that’s like a regular home. It’s like living in an apartment building. Because the President and I, if -- you weren’t alive to remember this, but when we first came to the White House, our two little girls, who are now 17 and 14, were very young. They were just in second and fifth grade. So we wanted to make sure that the White House felt like a real home and not like a museum, right? So they have their own rooms and they have a place to play and have friends over. And we have a kitchen and a dining room.
So no matter what’s going on downstairs, all the hectic-ness and all the visitors, we just come up the elevator and we open the door to our home. And it’s a home just like yours, where there’s a lot of love and there’s a lot of -- there’s discipline. There are rules. People have to make their beds and brush their teeth, do their homework and read a lot. And listen to their parents -- just like at your house, okay? So the White House, in the end, isn’t all that exciting. (Laughter.)
All right, guys, you were amazing. Let me just say this -- you know why we decided to come here?
MRS. OBAMA: Because we are so proud of you and your families. You know, a lot of people don’t realize what military families go through. They just see big, burly soldiers going off to fight, but they don’t know that behind every one of those servicemembers there are husbands and wives and brave kids who miss their parents if they’re deployed; who feel kind of bad when they have to move schools every couple of times; who get lonely; who deal with things that make you guys heroes to us. And we want the world to know about you all -- how brave you are, how courageous, how much you sacrifice.
And the President and the Vice President and the First Lady and the Second Lady, we are so proud of you all. We’re proud of every inch of you. And we want to come and celebrate with you. So we picked this place with all of you here.
So I want you guys to work hard in school and be proud of who you are and what you’re doing, even when it’s hard. Because we’re proud of you, okay? We couldn’t do what we do without you in this country, do you know that? No, you don’t even know how important you are, do you? You just think you’re kids!
CHILD: I did.
MRS. OBAMA: You did. He did. (Laughter.) And we’re proud of your teachers, too, okay? So make sure you thank them, okay? All right. We love you guys.
MR. BURTON: Thayer Elementary, give yourselves a big hand. (Applause.)
3:53 P.M. CDT