Remarks by the First Lady at a Screening of the Film “Hidden Figures”
South Court Auditorium
2:31 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: My goodness! Hey, everybody. What’s going on? What have you all been doing? You’ve been hanging out a little bit? You guys, sit, sit, sit. Sit down, rest yourselves.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: You look so good!
MRS. OBAMA: You guys look so good, too! My goodness, what a good-looking room.
Well, let me get started, because you all have had a pretty full day I understand -- movie-watching, conversation, hanging out with A-listers in the White House. Doesn’t get much better than that, right? This makes math and science look pretty good, doesn’t it? Just remember that. Remember that feeling as you work on those problem sets and in those labs.
But I am so proud to be a part of showing this remarkable movie, “Hidden Figures,” here at the White House. This is where it belongs, right? Because if you want to talk about hidden figures, this is the room where a lot of that did happen, for sure. And we’re so honored to have so many of the folks who were part of making this movie come to life.
And I want to start by thanking one of those people, my introducer, Margot Lee Shetterly. Thank you so much, Margot -- (applause) -- for telling this extraordinary story and for being such an extraordinary woman in your own right. Thank you for being here, and congratulations.
I also want to thank a few people who you all have been spending a little time with. We’ve got Taraji in the house. (Applause.) Taraji is so shy. (Laughter.) I keep telling her, girl, you’ve got to come out of your shell! (Laughter.) But Taraji has been all over the place just doing her thing, and we are so glad that you are here with us today. Our girl Janelle Monáe. (Applause.) This is like my little child here, my other one. Congratulations. You, too, are all over the place. I’m so proud of you.
We have the great Octavia Spencer, who is here. (Applause.) And she’s just collecting all the stuff. (Laughter.) All the accolades and all that. We are extremely proud of you and honored to have you back here with us. We have the Kevin Costner, who my -- (applause) -- who is still as handsome as ever. I said that after my husband left. (Laughter.) He’s not watching.
Mimi is here, as well, who is responsible for making this film a reality. (Applause.) And our director, Ted -- Ted is in the house, as well. (Applause.) And I know that there were many, many, many more people who played a part in making this film such a tremendous statement.
Now, as you all saw, because you guys got to see the film, “Hidden Figures” is about one of our greatest American stories: How we did what for so long had seemed impossible -- we put a man into space, and then we put a man on the moon. And we did this long before we had any of the advanced technologies that we have today. In fact, the smartphones that many of you have in your pockets right now and are holding up -- because that’s what you do -- (laughter) -- right now, they have more computing power than the technology that NASA used to send astronauts into space back then. Just imagine that. You have more power at your fingertips today than they had to do what they did.
So NASA had to rely on human computers. And they had to rely on geniuses like the women featured in this film. And that’s really why I think this movie is so important –- because it doesn’t just celebrate what we achieved, but, more importantly, how we achieved it.
And this is something that I want you young people to understand. I want you to take this away. Because when you’re faced with the overwhelming challenges in life -- and in this case it was winning the space race, it was a challenge that we were actually losing at first, the United States. We didn’t shrink back from that challenge. I want to say that again -- we did not shrink back from that challenge. And we didn’t point fingers or cast blame. What the United States did, what NASA did, what these amazing women did was that they got to work. They just did the work.
We sought out the very best minds in math and engineering at the time, people with diverse perspectives who could think in ways that no one had ever thought before -- people like many of you in this room, the people like Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan.
Now, these women couldn’t even drink from the same water fountain or use the same bathroom as many of their colleagues -- and you all are too young to even imagine that. You've read that in the history books, but that's how close this history is. These women -- their families are still breathing beings, and this happened in my lifetime and in many of your parents' and grandparents' lifetimes. And folks didn’t always take these women seriously because they were black, and also because they were women.
But they didn’t listen to those doubters. You understand? They did not listen to the haters -- (laughter) -- because they're always out there. (Laughter.) They're out there even today.
What they listened to was other voices -- teachers who said that they had something special to offer. See, because in all the noise that you hear, there's always a voice of power and beauty and positivity. Each and every one of you, if you think about it, no matter what negativity you hear, there is always some ray of positive hope out there that you can choose to take in. These women did that.
They listened to their families and their friends who said, “you are worthy," and they told them, "don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are less-than." So you have to choose to let those voices into your life, and block out those that don't reflect your reality. And each of these women decided to believe in herself and step up when her country needed her.
And more than anything else, that is the great American story that is told in this film. That's why this film is so important.
It’s the story of how, time and again, when we have tapped the talent and energy of all of our people -- all of it -- I say this to my staff -- as we move forward in life and we get access to these seats of power, these tables of power, I want you to look around and make sure there's diversity at the table. (Applause.) Because you don't come up with the right answer if everyone at the table looks the same and thinks the same and has the same experience -- you never come up with the best answer.
So when you get these seats at these tables of power, your obligation is to make sure the conversation is diverse. Because what we saw in this film is that when we pull together men and women, people of every background and color and faith, immigrants who've come here from across the globe to make America their home -- when we bring all of that brainpower to the table, anything is possible, even going to the moon, right? (Applause.)
That is how America won the space race in the 1960s and, as I said, that approach is just as important today. Because make no mistake about it, that’s how we’re going to fight all the challenges that we face on this planet. Whether it's climate change or cancer or ending hunger, by seeking out the most talented, passionate, skilled people we can find and putting them to work, regardless of what they look like or where they come from or how they pray or who they love,that's how we become the best America that we can be.
And that is the lesson that I want you all to take from this movie. And if you take anything from this eight years of us being in this White House, I want you to take that message with you, particularly all the young people here today, all the young women here today. I want you to see that it does not matter what you look like, it doesn't matter how much money your parents have -- none of that matters. Skin color, gender is the most ridiculous defining trait that we cling to. It doesn't matter.
What matters is that you believe in your own potential, and that's for sure. You have to believe in you first. Because people will try to tear you down, I guarantee you that. There will never be a point at which people will 100 percent be cheering you on. So when you hit those barriers in life, all you have is your belief in yourself. That's all you have to fall back on.
What also matters is how hard you're willing to work. Because none of this is easy -- and it's not supposed to be. Because then everybody could do it, right? (Laughter.) How much work you want to put into the things you care about -- President Obama works very hard. He is a serious man who takes his job seriously. And we are counting on you to be that in whatever you choose to be, whether it's science or math or dance or teaching -- you name it. None of these men and women here achieved what they achieved without working hard at it and making some sacrifices and overcoming a lot of failure. So we want you to take that away.
As Katherine Johnson has said -- and these are her words -- she said, “Stick with it. No matter the problem, it can be solved.” And that's really good advice. Look at this eight years. We were supposed to be hidden. (Laughter.) People didn't even want to believe we were real. But here we are, eight years later. (Applause.)
But it's up to all of you, our young people, to continue that legacy. It's your turn now. All right? So you have to be prepared. You have to get a great education. You have to go to college. It is particularly important in this day and age. You have got to be educated. So take care of your business in high school. High school, middle school -- these are stepping stones. It may feel like these times are important, but this is a dot on the map of your life. So don't take anything too seriously; don't take anything to heart that happens now -- this is nothing. The only problem is, is if you waste this time, if you squander this time and then you shut the door on all the possibilities. Life gets great when you're my age if you've gone to college.
Today, I'm free. (Laughter.) I'm really free because I have an education -- not because I'm First Lady, because I have an education. So if you want to be like me, I want you all to focus in school. I want you to put down your phones -- (laughter and applause) -- a little bit more. (Applause.) And I want you to keep in mind the amazing women that were portrayed in this movie. This is a true gift. They didn't have movies like this when I was growing up. (Laughter.) And I am so grateful to all of you for bringing this film to life and bringing these women out of the shadows, because it's not just important for the girls in this room to see it, but people all over the world to be reminded of how we got here as a country. We got here on the backs of those hidden figures and we can never forget.
So thank you all. Congratulations. We love you. (Applause.)
2:47 P.M. EST