Remarks by the First Lady at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni's Matthew C. Perry High School in Yamaguchi, Japan
[As prepared for delivery.]
Thank you, Trinity.
Good afternoon everyone and thank you all for being here on a Sunday!
Colonel Rusnok and Katharine, Sergeant Major Gharati and Feride, Mayor Fukuda, Director General Imakyurei, and Rear Admiral Hiragi, I appreciate this warm welcome to your base and this beautiful city.
Ms. Cobb, you, and the DoDEA teachers and staff who "Educate, Engage, and Empower" are such a gift to this community. Thank you for your work.
As a military daughter and mom, as a Nana to military-connected grandkids, and as your First Lady, it is an honor to be with you today and to celebrate the MC Perry class of 2023.
Pump it up, Maroon!
Congratulations, graduates, you did it!
As I prepared for these remarks, I thought back to my own high school experience.
It might seem funny, but even in my own mind, I tend to remember those years like the old black-and-white sitcoms of my childhood, where families lived on tree-lined streets, where problems were just misunderstandings, and where everything worked out by the time the credits rolled.
Clearly, my memory has simplified the past, but in some ways, that was how my life felt—with my friends and me riding our bikes until long after the streetlights came on in the summer, working at ice cream parlors, and cheering at football games. I felt safe, protected by the life my father had built for us. He was a Navy Signalman in the Pacific during World War II. It was our American dream.
It wasn't until I left home for college that I saw how the world was so much more complicated. There were problems that couldn't be solved with a heart-to-heart conversation. There were wrongs that had never been righted. There were hurts and heartaches I had to learn to overcome. Everyone does, it's just a part of growing up.
But there were also beautiful things I would have never known if I hadn't left that safe haven: people and experiences that shaped me for the better.
I saw the world in all of its beautiful and complicated color.
Now, if this were another high school in another town, perhaps I could give you the advice I would give a younger me. But your world has never been a sitcom on a black-and-white TV, has it?
You've faced challenges, setbacks, and disappointments that so many people your age are shielded from. Like walking into a lunch room and not seeing a single familiar face. Leaving behind homes and best friends. Sleepless nights worrying about the safety of someone you love most in the world.
But there have also been great parts of this journey as well, right?
The chance to experience life in a foreign country and meet people from around the world. Friendships that are close enough to span the many miles between you, that may take more work than walking next door, but are worth it. Learning to adapt to any situation and finding you are capable of more than you thought.
Life as a military student isn't simple. Instead, your lives are painted in the deep, dark, blues of your trials, and vivid magentas of your triumphs.
You already know the beauty of the world around you, and as you grow, and share these unique experiences, it will only become richer. You are better prepared to face the future than almost anyone else your age.
So rather than tell you what I wish I had known, I'd like to tell you what military-connected kids, like you, have taught me, again and again.
To do that, I want you to think back to one of the times in your life when someone showed up for you in the exact way you needed. What did they do?
So many students have told me that it's not the grand gestures, but little moments: the joke that makes you feel at ease when you're worried about saying the wrong thing. Someone waving you over to sit at their lunch table when you're the new kid.
When we imagine the people we want to become, we often measure ourselves in milestones and accomplishments. But so much of who we are is made up of these small and unexpected kindnesses we offer to people in our lives.
Military kids get that. You know what it's like to need someone sometimes. And so, you don't hesitate to be that strength for others.
Kindness can cost us so little and gives us so much.
Of course, that doesn't mean the big stuff doesn't matter. How you choose to focus your energy will change your life and the lives of others.
One of the things that sets our military apart is that it's made up entirely of volunteers.
Every one of your families has made a choice to be a part of something bigger than yourselves. And because of that choice, you too are a part of something bigger than yourself.
I know right now some of you are planning to enlist. We are so grateful that you have chosen to continue a legacy of honor and duty.
But whether you choose to join our armed forces or not, I know that you will keep serving in your own way.
It's just what military families do!
Because peace, progress, justice, the things that make our world better for everyone—they don't just happen on their own. We have to make them happen. We have to show up and give our talents to the cause and work to see our goals realized.
So please keep finding ways to serve, in whatever way is meaningful to you.
Of course, I have no doubt that you will because you are an extraordinary group of students.
And let me take a moment to thank the people who helped you along your way.
Parents, I know there have been moments when you've asked yourself if you made the right choice for your child during your service. Maybe it was re-enlisting, knowing that it would mean yet another elementary school, or watching your shy student try to make new friends again and again, or having to explain that lacrosse wouldn't be available at your new base.
And yet, as they graduate, I hope that question is answered for you. I hope you see how the path you've chosen has made them the incredible people they are today—people who are ready for whatever the world has in store for them. Isn't that what all parents want for our children?
So, thank you for what you've done for our country and for what you've done for your children.
I want to end with a part of a poem I studied when I was in high school: "Song of the Open Road" from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. In fact, I'd bet some of you have studied it as well. It's about the very moment you find yourself in now: venturing out into the world, the future ahead—fantastic and frightening—full of promise and the great, wild unknown.
"They go! They go! I know not where they go, but I know that they go…
toward the best— toward something great."
In a time when so many people your age want to be the same as everyone else, your path sets you apart and that's your strength. Hold on to your kindness. Keep serving in your own way.
You have everything you need to make your mark, to paint your own path. So now, it's time to go toward something great.
On behalf of both the President and myself, congratulations MC Perry Class of 2023!
May God bless you and may God bless our troops and their families.
Jill Biden, Remarks by the First Lady at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni's Matthew C. Perry High School in Yamaguchi, Japan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/361870