He spoke from Wakefield High School, Arlington, VA, as students tuned in from all across America, from kindergarten to 12th grade. I was moved as I listened to the speech, not by the inspiring stories nor the encouraging words but, rather, by the freedom his words embodied. He called students to set their own goals and go for them.
I cried when he said to the students that, "no one has written your destiny for you, because here in America you write your own destiny, you make your own future." I cried because I remember being in 6th grade in Cuba and looking around the classroom knowing what each of my classmates was going to be when they grew up not because they were writing their own destinies, but because the teacher had just finished telling them what they were going to do with the rest of their lives. They had no choice. It had been decided for them.
Here's the video and the transcript of the President's speech:
President Obama's words echoed what I believe to be true. There's no limit as to what each of us can do when we set our minds on it. Here are some of the highlights of his speech:
- Every single one of you has something that you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have the responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide.
- No matter what you want to do with your life, I guarantee that you'll need an education to do it.
- You cannot drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You've got to train for it, and work for it, and learn for it...The future of America depends on you.
- If you quit on school, you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country.
- The circumstances of your life, what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you've got going on at home, none of that is an excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude in school.
- There's no excuse for not trying. Where you are right now doesn't have to determine where you'll end up. No one has written your destiny for you, because here in America you write your own destiny, you make your own future.
- Today I'm calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education and do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending some time each day reading a book...But whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
- The truth is, being successful is hard...And you won't necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try it.
- Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who've had the most failures. These people succeeded because they understood that you can't let your failures define you. You have to let your failures teach you...No one is born being good at all things. You become good at things through hard work.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness. It's a sign of strength.
- And even when you struggle, even when you're discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you, don't ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country. The story of America...is about people...who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.
- So today I want to ask all of you, what's your contribution gonna be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make?
- I expect all of you to get serious this year...I expect great things from each of you. So don't let us down. Don't let your family down or your country down and most of all, don't let yourself down. Make us all proud.