State Dining Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: What’s going on? I’ve got big old teleprompters right here but I’m not going to be bothered with that. (Laughter.) So whoever is operating the teleprompters, just let’s forget it. (Laughter.)
This is our last workshop, because tonight we are working with BET to host our last, really, music event. And it’s going to be a good one. Because we usually highlight a particular singer or a particular genre of music, but tonight it’s going to be a little of everything — a little gospel, a little soul, a little — who knows who’s going to be on the menu. (Laughter.)
So I am looking forward to it, but it means it’s also the last time we’re going to gather young people like you guys from all over the country to get a chance to see how you go from those seats to these seats up here. And this is really the best part of these days when we have the music here, is working with young people like all of you.
And I want to take the time, again, to acknowledge and thank Bob Santelli from the Grammy Museum, who helps to make these activities possible. Bob, thank you so much. (Applause.)
So look who we have here with us! We have Michelle Williams. (Applause.) I don’t even have to introduce these folks. Michelle Williams! (Applause.) And we have Yolanda Adams. Oh, my gosh! (Applause.)
Now, these are award-winning artists who have done a number of things — and the other thing, these are real — these are “sangers.” (Laughter.) They “sang.” You know, there are people out there — you know — they “sing.” But these women, they “sing.” (Laughter.) You do. (Laughter.)
MS. WILLIAMS: So do you!
MRS. OBAMA: Well, no, I do many things, Michelle, but I do not sing. I don’t sing. (Laughter.)
And I’m so excited that they’re here because you know them as the stars that they are, but they’re just like me, they’re just like you. Michelle grew up in Rockford, Illinois. I never realized you were that close to me. (Laughter.) We are Illinois girls. And through her life, she’s had to deal with some tough stuff. She’s had to deal with bullying in high school. She’s had to overcome challenges.
I don’t know if you know about Yolanda — and hopefully you guys will share these stories in more detail — but Yolanda, before she was a singer, I understand you used to — you held down a job as a teacher –
MS. ADAMS: Yes, I did.
MRS. OBAMA: – and helped your mother take care of your younger siblings before you got into the business.
So, look, the point is that we all have some interesting challenges and obstacles that we face to get where we are today. But the difference between us and them, between you and success is not that you never fail, but it’s how you recover from those failures — is that you keep getting up time and time again. You figure out what you did wrong, and then you make it right. I say that to my kids every day.
And that’s really the point of these things. We want you to touch these stars and hear their stories, and understand that we all make mistakes, we all struggle, but perseverance is the key to anything you want to be in life. Whether you want to go into music, whether you want to be a lawyer, whether you want to be President of the United States, the bottom line for all of you is that you have got to get your education.
At the foundation of everything we have all done, it’s understanding that education is key. That’s the thing in your life that you have complete control over. You can go to school and focus — not just be there, but actually put effort into it. Go to your classes. Study hard. Do your best. Get your homework done. Go to college.
Because if you do that, then you have all that you need, so that when you hit those bumps and those challenges, you have something concrete to fall back on. That is my wish, hope, instruction for all of you: Take your education seriously, okay? Always do that. Because I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my education.
So with that, I’m going to turn it over to our panel. And I want to encourage you all not to be shy in this space. I know it’s the State Room at the White House, it can be a little intimidating — lots of lights and cameras and all that good stuff — but this space is for you. It’s intended for you to ask questions and raise your hand, and to be funny, and to dig deep, and to take advantage of the fact that you are sitting here in this room. And there are millions of other kids who would just die to be where you are. So do not waste this opportunity, okay? Don’t waste it.
And the other thing is, since you were one of the few chosen for this room, then it’s your responsibility to pull somebody else along. When you leave here, who are you going to share this knowledge with? A younger cousin, a sister or brother, a neighbor? All of us are mentors. You’re mentors right here and now. And one of the things I’ve always done throughout my life, I have always found that person, that group of people that I was going to reach my hand out and help bring them along with me. And you guys are in that position right now.
So think about how you’re going to take this experience and carry it into your communities, into your families. Can you do that for me?
MRS. OBAMA: All right. Well, I’m going to leave you to — you all in good hands. And have fun. And thank you for coming to the White House. I love you all. (Applause.)
1:16 P.M. EDT