Remarks by the First Lady and Mrs. Medvedeva at Duke Ellington School for the Arts
2:52 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all so much. I don’t know if I can top that. I wish I could sing and dance or give you something a little bit more, but all I have is my thanks. What an amazing performance. And we’ve got to just give this school, these students, the alumni, the staff, all a round of applause. You all are just amazing -- amazing. (Applause.)
I want to thank Principal Pullens for his leadership, for his kind introduction. (Applause.) And, again, I want to give a special thanks to every administrator, to all the staff, all the teachers, the choreographers, all of the leadership here at this school that makes it possible -- we have to give all of our leadership a round of applause. (Applause.)
It’s truly no accident that so many students are thriving here at Duke Ellington. It is no accident that just about every student at this school graduates on time and goes on to college and to do so many other amazing things. (Applause.) That is due in a large part to the educators who work here, and it has a lot to do with the families and all the support systems -- yes, you all can sit down. Please, rest yourselves. (Laughter.)
So we are just grateful to everyone who makes this school possible. You are the pride of this city and of this country. And it has just been an honor for me to show you off to our guests.
I’d also like to recognize Diana Vishneva, who is here. Please stand. (Applause.) Diana is a prima ballerina for Kirov Ballet -- (applause) -- and also the American Ballet Theater. And we thank her for joining us here today. It is truly an inspiration for us to have you here and to see these fabulous students who are going to follow in your footsteps. And she has done just some outstanding work to expose so many other young people to the arts. Diana, thank you so much. (Applause.)
And I also want to thank our guest, my dear friend, the First Lady of Russia, Svetlana Medvedev. We have become friends over the course of this year. And she and her husband graciously hosted our family in Russia last summer, and they treated us so well. And one of the many things that we did is we went to a wonderful performance by the world-famous Moiseyev Dance Company in Moscow. And it was truly -- truly a treat. The girls got to come. Grandma was there. (Laughter.) It was wonderful. So I wanted to treat her to something special. (Applause.) So I brought her here to see all of you, here to Duke Ellington today. (Applause.) And you did not disappoint. You did me proud, Duke Ellington. Way to go. (Applause.)
President Obama and the President of Russia, our husbands, have worked hard to strengthen the cooperation between the United States and Russia. They are two amazing men who are building new bonds and changing the world in the course, and so much of that effort is rooted in their mutual respect for the people of the United States and of Russia.
That’s why I’m so pleased to have this opportunity to return the hospitality that my family received, and to showcase the extraordinary young people that are here at this school and in this city. It’s important for the world to see.
As your principal has so eloquently put it, students here -- and this is a quote -- “have the essence of what made this country great inside of them.”
You all -- the students, the staff, the administration here -- embody everything that we hope for in our young people.
We know how hard you all work, putting in long hours in class. It’s just amazing to think about the time it takes to practice and to create those kind of performances, but then you also have to show up in class, right? (Laughter.) There’s still chemistry and math and writing and research and all of that good stuff.
But it’s such a thrill to know that you’ve put the work in not just during the year but to make this performance special. We know how accomplished you all are, producing great works of art, because this school isn’t just about music and dance and song. There are beautiful artists here. And I got to see some of the works in some of the studios. And there are some fabulous artists here, including the performances of the Duke Ellington choir. I think we’ve really worn you guys out because we have you at the White House almost all the time. (Laughter.) I think every time we want some young people there, we’re like, “Call Duke Ellington!” (Applause.) And that includes performing at my husband’s inauguration, where your Show Choir brought down the house yet again. (Applause.)
But we also know how much you give back, with many of you going above and beyond your community service requirements. That’s another thing these young people are doing -- talented, smart, and volunteering in their communities, spending hundreds of hours working with children and seniors, sharing your passion for the arts with folks all across this country.
So you know how the arts can enrich all of us in this nation as individuals. You know how the arts can enrich all of our communities and the country. And you know how the arts can connect us to each other like nothing else can. You know how people who come from completely different cultures and backgrounds, people who might not even speak a single word of the same language, they might still be drawn together when their hearts are lifted by the notes of a song, or a vision on a canvas, or the graceful arc of a dance.
And I think that should give us all cause for hope, all around the world, because we know that ultimately, relationships between nations aren’t just about relationships between presidents and prime ministers, or first ladies, for that matter. The real foundation of these relationships are about the connections between ordinary citizens, particularly between young people. You all are leading the way in this movement.
That’s why engaging young people across the globe is such a priority for me, and I know it is for Mrs. Medvedev as well, because her country, like ours, is a place that cares deeply about culture and about the young people who carry it forward. I know her family is a lover of music and jazz, and she’s a pianist, and her son plays the guitar, and they have music all throughout their home. And as I travel around the world, I want young people everywhere to know that the United States believes in them and cares about their future. It is so important for us to continue to lift up the next generation, not just here in this country but your peers around the world.
And as I travel across this country, I want young people here to understand how important it is for them to learn about other countries and cultures. That’s so important for you. I know there are seniors moving on to college, but one of the things that I’ve talked about at every commencement speech that I’ve given this year is that, take the opportunity to explore the world. Get out of this country. (Laughter and applause.) Because there’s just a wonderful opportunity for personal growth and for community growth if you come back and bring back the knowledge that you gain when you’re educated in the world. So take advantage of opportunities to study abroad, to visit friends who live abroad, make friends from other countries. Just never be intimidated by the world. It is yours as well.
And hosting my friend, my fellow First Lady, and sharing your gifts with her is just one small example of how you all right here just in this auditorium have already made a difference. Just in this performance, you have strengthened the bond between two great nations. Imagine that. (Applause.)
So I am so very proud of you, all of you, so grateful to you. And I want to keep having you all at the White House. I want to see you traveling and singing and dancing all over the country, all over the world. You are our hope. You are our future. So you got to work hard. (Laughter.)
So with that, it is my pleasure now to ask the First Lady, Svetlana Medvedeva, to say a few words. She wanted so desperately to express her thanks and her passion directly. And she’s going to have an interpreter as well, although her English is better than my Russian. (Laughter.) But I’d like us to give her a warm welcome. Thank you all. (Applause.)
MRS. MEDVEDEVA: (As translated.) Dear Michelle Obama, dear friends, it is with great interest and with great pleasure that I accepted the invitation to come and visit your school, a school that’s named after a great American musician, Duke Ellington. Duke Ellington is very well known in Russia and he is very popular, his music is very popular in Russia. (Applause.)
I know that your school is not a regular school. I know the kids who go to this school are a very talented and versatile people. I know that in addition to regular subjects, you guys also specialize in different arts such as music and dance, literature and design.
I know that your school is very young. But I also know that you are interested in different arts. You’ve demonstrated love for classical music, and also for folk music and your own kind of music.
I would like to tell you that in Russia we also are very much interested in supporting talented and gifted children. There are lots of schools for gifted children in Russia. There are a lot of ballet schools, one of them in St. Petersburg named after a very famous ballerina, Vaganova. There are also arts schools in Russia as well.
I’d like to tell you about one school, a school in Moscow, which is very similar to this school, the school that you all go to. This school is named after a very famous Russian composer and educator, composer (inaudible). This school keeps the (inaudible) of the Russian culture and the Russian cultural traditions. And it was for -- the school is open to everyone who is interested in classical and modern music and art.
The doors of this school is open to everyone who is interested in arts, design, choreography, dance and theater. There are about 2,000 children who are students of that school. This school has its own orchestra, it has its own theater, and those who are interested in organ music can take organ classes. And children are composers themselves.
What I would like to see -- I would like to see the children of our schools -- yours and ours -- to become friends. (Applause.) And I don’t think that there’s going to be a language barrier. English is very popular in Russia. It’s taught in our schools. Plus, arts do not -- and culture do not need any translators. (Applause.)
And the friendship that you will establish probably will be the best friendship that you will carry all your lives. (Applause.) And after establishing this friendship, it will be easier for children of Russia and children of the United States to develop their own worldview. (Applause.)
Because it’s up to you, up to the young people of both countries, to build the world that will be a world of friendship and cooperation between our states and between our governments. (Applause.)
Dear friends, I wish you the best. I wish you successes. And I wish for all of you to have (inaudible). And, moreover, I would like to thank you for this wonderful concert.
Thank you very much.
3:12 P.M. EDT