Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady During a Student Workshop as Part of "Broadway at the White House"

November 16, 2015

MRS. OBAMA: Look at you guys! (Applause.) You guys, thank you. Rest yourselves. Well, good morning.

AUDIENCE: Good morning.

MRS. OBAMA: And one of my favorite lines is: Welcome to the White House. Today, it's: Welcome to "Broadway at the White House." Pretty exciting, huh?

But before I begin, I just want to take a moment to talk a bit about what happened in Paris. Our thoughts and prayers of course are very much with the victims, their families, and all of the people of France. And we will continue to keep them in our hearts in the days ahead.

As my husband said on Friday, this was an attack not just on France, our dear friend and ally, but on all of humanity and our shared values. And as we mourn, we know that we must continue to show the strength of those values and hopes that the President spoke about when he talked. And the beauty is that all of you here, our young people that are here, you all reflect that passion, that creativity. You all are a part of those values that the President talked about. That's what we're protecting. We're protecting what you all represent.

So as we mourn, as we align with our ally, we continue to celebrate you all. It is still a gift to have you all here. And we want to continue to lift you all up and make sure that you're getting all the support and love you need, because you're the future. So I hope you're having a good day -- are you?

AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)

Well, this group of young people, you guys are some of the most talented young people in this country. Did you know that? (Laughter.) Just say, yes. Own it. (Laughter.) Say, yes, of course. You're representing some wonderful programs all over the country. We've got students here from Los Angeles -- can I hear our L.A. people? (Applause.) New Jersey in the house. (Applause.) New Jersey is a little livelier than L.A. (Laughter.) West Virginia. (Applause.) Well, there you go. Maryland. (Applause.) And right here in our own backyard, Washington, D.C. (Applause.) All right. Have you all been enjoying your morning here so far? That's good.

And what an exciting day this has already been for many of you, right? You know it's going to be a good day when you start off by hanging out at the White House with Harvey -- this guy, Harvey Weinstein, and Whoopi Goldberg, and Matthew Morrison -- (laughter) -- and Gloria Estefan, and Gabriella Pizzolo, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Diane Paulus. I mean, come on. You already won. Let's just drop the mic and leave, right? (Laughter.)

And earlier this morning, you all participated in small group workshops where you did some real hands-on work. And in fact, I just saw a small group of you all, a few of you. I did the conga with you all as you performed only moments ago. You all were amazing. I thought you had been practicing for days, but you had only been down there for an hour or so, so that's pretty good.

But in addition to actually performing, this morning you learned about directing –- what it takes to lead dozens of actors while keeping track of hundreds of music and lighting cues. You learned about acting –- how to really move an audience; to make people laugh and cry and think all at the same time. You learned about singing -- something I know nothing about –- how it comes both from the lungs but also from the heart. And you learned about makeup and costuming -- something that I like -- how to transform an actor into a character like the Wicked Witch of the West.

So it sounds pretty good. And we're just getting started, because this afternoon, you're going to top it off by learning about music composition from Stephen Schwartz, a Broadway icon who wrote classics like "Godspell" and "Pippin" and "Wicked." So you've got a day, right? Pretty good. And I also want to make sure that we thank folks like Steven and all the other extraordinary artists for taking the time to share their wisdom and genius and passion with all of us today. So let's show our amazing, talented moderators, panelists and workshop leaders our love. Thank you all. (Applause.)

If you just look up on this stage, these are some pretty busy people. And the fact that they've taken a huge chunk of their time out to be here with you today is pretty special. But there's a reason why they've taken the time to be here with you today. It's -- their reason is the same thing -- the reason why President Obama and I have been hosting workshops like this one here at the White House since we first came to Washington. And that's because, while our family may live upstairs -- which we do, right up there -- so we hear you when you're singing and laughing and dancing -- the White House, for us, is truly the People's House. We're just here for a couple of years. We're renting. (Laughter.) But it belongs to all of you. And we want to open it up to as many people as possible, particularly our young people -- young people like you.

We also invited you all here today because we believe in you. And we always think that there's a good reason to invite a bunch of talented young people to the White House to make sure they know how special they are. The President and I and everyone on this stage, we know how extraordinary you guys are. And these folks are here today to honor you and to hopefully inspire you. They're also here with an important message for you about what it takes to succeed, not just on Broadway, but in life.

It took a lot more than their just pure, raw talent for these folks to be where they are. They weren't born knowing how to act or direct or sing. Their achievements took years of honing -– thousands of hours memorizing lines, rehearsing for that big scene; endless late nights spent getting over stage fright, calming their nerves, figuring out how to step on that stage and get it right; countless auditions and interviews, and plenty of heartbreaks and failures -- before they finally found success. And that's something we want to remind all young people. It looks easy up here; you think that the path is always straight, but it rarely is.

For example, you think about how Gabriella got here where she is today. She might be the youngest person up here today, but she's been training and performing since she was, oh, six years old. (Laughter.) Long time ago. (Laughter.) She was the understudy for all three young characters in the musical "Fun Home." She had to spend hours memorizing all of their lines -- she practically had to memorize the whole play. But her hard work paid off, because when one of the actors got sick last year, Gabriella was ready. And with just 15 minutes' notice, she hopped right on stage and she stole the show. Is that true?

MS. PIZZOLO: It was very fun, and everybody was helping me through it. So it was a team effort.

MRS. OBAMA: And she's modest. She's very modest. (Laughter.) But she stole the show. (Laughter.)

Then there's my dear friend, Gloria Estefan. After Gloria's family fled Cuba when she was two years old, Gloria's dad served in Vietnam, and ultimately, he fell ill. So while her mom supported their family, it was up to Gloria to do the chores and look after her sister and take care of her dad. And of course, that couldn't have been easy. So Gloria would spend hours practicing her guitar in her room and pouring her emotions into her poetry, and performing for her mother to keep their spirits up.

And because she put the time in to develop that talent, when she met this guy named Emilio -- we know him. You guys are babies, but he's pretty phenomenal -- he heard her music, and he asked her to join his band. And that's why Gloria -- not just a singing -- mom anymore. Instead, she's sold over 100 million records. She has won seven Grammys. And she now has her own Broadway musical. (Applause.) And when talking about how Gloria was able to achieve so much -- this is a quote, this is what she said -- she says, "If you put in the work and persevere, success is what you're going to get back."

And that's true not just on stage, but in every aspect of your lives, and it's something we really try to drive home with the young people that we work with. No matter what you want to do in life -- whether you want to be an actor or a doctor or a scientist or a teacher, or even a good parent, quite frankly -- it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance. You're going to need to learn all kinds of skills. You've got to have that foundation of an education in the end. Going to school and getting that foundation is only going to prepare you to do the kinds of things you want -- whether it's singing or producing or songwriting. You've got to be in school, and you've got to show up, and you've got to do the homework, and you've got to put in 120 percent.

You can't be late. You can't just not show up. Because part of showing up in school is practicing being able to show up when it's time to do your part. You've got to be there if you're going to replace the lead as an understudy. You have to be on time. You have to be consistent. And all this you learn and you practice in school.

So never, never think that school is just sort of that side thing you do to get where you want to be. School and education lays the foundation so that you can ultimately be great at what you do. It's all relevant, okay?

So I want you guys to kick back today and enjoy yourselves. If you haven't already loosened up, please do. Because you have a wealth of experience here. They're ready to talk to you. So I want you guys to be bold and ask questions and take notes and listen and remember this day for the rest of your lives. And hopefully every message that you hear will ring somewhere in you, and one day along the line, you will pull out and draw upon these messages, and it will get you through. That's what we want you to do here. And have fun, okay?

All right. With that, I'm going to turn it over to the panel. Whoopi, you're in charge, as always. (Laughter.) I feel for you all. (Laughter.) You guys, have fun. Love you. Take care. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady During a Student Workshop as Part of "Broadway at the White House" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/321781

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