Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady to Employees at the United States Mission to the United Nations in New York City

May 05, 2009

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you so much. I am thrilled to be here. Thank you, Susan, for that kind introduction. I'm thrilled to be here, but I was just at Sesame Street, I'm sorry. (Laughter.) And I never thought I'd be on Sesame Street with Elmo and Big Bird, and I was thrilled. I'm still thrilled. I'm on a high. (Laughter.) I think it's probably the best thing I've done so far in the White House. But we were there talking about nutrition and healthy eating, and it's just been a thrill. So I'm glad I could take the time to be here with you all.

You know, I just want to tell you that Susan Rice -- I could take her introduction of me and turn it around and do the same thing for her. She is a trusted adviser and friend to the President and to me. And I know how appreciative Barack was when Susan agreed to serve as Ambassador to the United Nations, because of the importance that he places on the work that you all do. And having someone that he trusts and expects -- and respects and admires and who is also wicked smart -- I like that one -- (laughter) -- just is a sign of how valued this work is to the White House.

It is a pleasure to be here in New York. This is my first trip back to the city since I've become First Lady. It seems like I was just here, but it's been a hundred and seven, eight, nine days or something like that.

But in addition to doing some traveling around the country and around the world a little bit, I've been doing, as Susan mentioned, a lot of traveling around Washington, and trying to meet our new neighbors. That's something that we were taught; that when you move into a new place, that you learn about your community, that you introduce yourself, and you not just talk but you listen.

And I've been going around to as many federal agencies as I can. The goal is to hit all of them, and I've been to about 10 agencies, and really trying to shine a bright light on all of the hard work done by our nation's employees.

You know, my task when I go is simple: is to say thank you. And many people don't hear that. Many people don't feel that the years that they've put in -- sometimes are not appreciated. And my visits are just a simple way of saying yes, in fact, we see you, we know who you are, we value what you do, and we couldn't be here, wouldn't be here without you.

I've had the chance to meet so many people who've dedicated their lives, their entire careers to strengthening our nation. And in fact, here today I want to acknowledge 40 of those people who are sitting in the front rows here -- oh, this is the 40. (Laughter.) I was trying to figure out while I was standing there, which is the 40? (Laughter.) It's you!

It's my understanding that everyone over here has worked for the U.S. government for more than 20 years, and that includes Ivan Ferber. (Laughter.) Where's Ivan? (Applause.) He has worked here a remarkable 47 years -- longer than I've been alive. (Laughter.) So let's give Ivan and all of them a round of applause. (Applause.)

I have also been going around to do one of my favorite things, and that's meeting with kids in the schools and community centers and encouraging them to study hard -- my whole model is, being smart is really cool, so get it together -- telling them that we're going to need them to be prepared, basically, to take on the reins and become the future leaders, the future public servants, really trying to let them know that developing careers in public service and thinking about that now is a really good thing -- because we're going to need them, we're going to have a lot of work to do.

And I've learned that I don't need to work too hard sending that message to your kids, because the President was sent a letter the other day from the son of Scott Turner. (Laughter.) Where's Scott? All right, so Scott's son, Jack, a first grader -- okay, I know I'm going to embarrass you, but this is a good one -- (laughter) -- he wrote the following letter to the President:

Dear Mr. Obama, can you move to New York? (Laughter.) Because people like you so much in New York. I will help you come to New York. (Laughter.) And people are doing bad stuff in New York. (Laughter.) I will help you get the bad people. And when I catch the bad people, I will put them in jail. (Laughter.) That's why I want you to move to New York. From, Jack. (Laughter and applause.)

So ladies and gentlemen, I think we have identified the new future New York Police Commissioner! (Laughter.) Jack, on the case. (Laughter.)

Now, I know that part of Ambassador Rice's mission is to strengthen the U.N., but I also didn't think that nepotism was a part of it, but it's sometimes a good thing, and I've got an embarrassing story for her, as well.

A couple of weeks ago Susan's 11-year-old son, Jake, was here for Take Your Child to Work Day, a day that I know all drove us crazy, but the kids liked it. We had -- we enjoyed it at the White House, as well. But he was apparently embarrassed to be caught eating ice cream when the South African Ambassador was approaching his mother's office. And not wanting to, and this is a quote from Jake, to "make a bad first impression," Jake dumped his ice cream -- (laughter) -- just so he could introduce himself. Now, see, that's diplomacy -- (laughter) -- right there for an 11-year-old to sacrifice ice cream to shake the hand appropriately of a fellow ambassador.

AMBASSADOR RICE: If only he was so -- (inaudible.)

MRS. OBAMA: Well, you know -- (laughter) -- they never -- they never do that with us. (Laughter.) But good home training -- he was able to do it outside. So I want to thank Jake for taking so seriously his role in creating the best impression of American diplomacy.

But I think our future is in good hands, from what I've been seeing, traveling around. And I know that each and every one of you has a child in your life that you are desperately pushing ahead, and you know they can do it. So I believe we're going to be okay.

And I believe we're presently in good hands because of all of you. From what I'm seeing in my agency visits, people are ready and willing to sacrifice and roll up their sleeves.

As the President has said, the United States is pursuing a new era of engagement when it comes to advancing America's interests around the world. This new policy recognizes the fact that America's future is intricately linked to the rest of the world; that the threats facing the global community know no borders, and no single country can tackle them alone.

And we've learned this again with the recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus. We know now that we can not wall ourselves off from issues that are challenging our neighbors. It is moments like this when having relationships based on mutual trust and respect will be most beneficial. And as the world becomes even smaller and our future more inter-connected and the stakes ever higher, your work is more important. It has never been more important. Your work links the world to America and American ideals that are beacons of hope for millions of people.

As I told the young women at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in London during our recent trip, I told them there was nothing in my life that would suggest that I would become First Lady. Rather, it is the premise of America and the promise kept that brings me here today.

There are millions of girls and boys in countries near and far who are looking for a way to make the most of their lives. There are parents struggling to raise those kids, there are teachers working hard to teach them, community leaders struggling to give them safe, nurturing communities where they can grow and thrive. And they're doing this against some pretty incredible odds, especially in developing countries.

And that's why the work that you do here to advance America's interests and to make the U.N. a more effective and efficient organization is so important.

There are people around the world counting on the success of your efforts. The young boy who is forced to carry a rifle and become a child soldier, he's counting on you. The girl locked out of the school house or attacked because she had the audacity to want to learn to read or write, she's counting on you. The mother walking hours each day to find clean water for her children, she's counting on you. And the father who leaves his family for months or years on end in search of work, he's counting on you, as well.

Social and economic development programs give millions of people hope and a chance at a brighter future, paving the way for a more peaceful and prosperous world for us all.

And in my role as First Lady, what I hope to do is to work with you in some way, shape or form to help build that mission. And I am looking forward to joining you in this endeavor.

So I want to thank you all for what you've done, what you will continue to do. We are rooting for you, and we need you. So thank you so much. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady to Employees at the United States Mission to the United Nations in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320241

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