Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the Annual Cooper Hewitt Luncheon

September 30, 2014

MRS. OBAMA: Well, good afternoon everyone, and welcome to the White House. Yay! (Applause.) See, I always have to loosen you guys up. You're in the White House, you're a little stiff. (Laughter.) But let me just take a moment to notice these nice chairs -- pretty nice. This is a new addition to the luncheon, those of you who have been here. (Laughter.) This is -- round of applause. (Applause.)

Well, it is truly a pleasure to be here with all of you today as we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the National Design Awards. And I have been fortunate enough to be here for -- this is my 6th year that we've had the pleasure of hosting this event here in the East Room. And every year, I truly look forward to learning more about the honorees. I mean, I get to read everything, but then, every now and then, I get to sit down and talk to you guys and actually learn a little bit about how you do what you do.

And what I discover is that these men and women are some of the most daring and creative minds in the world. From a designer at Google who's using data and crowd-sourcing to create art that will take your breath away, to the former Hollywood set designers who are now creating some of the most unique buildings and interiors that you'll ever see -- and they like each other, I think. (Laughter.) And then there's this fashion designer whose parents tried to convince him to be a lawyer, or a doctor, or a dentist, or something like that. And I'm sure that I speak for all women -- (laughter) -- when I say that I'm grateful that Narciso chose another path. (Laughter and applause.) Well done.

And it's that idea of a path -- a life's journey -- that I'd like to spend just a moment reflecting on. Because every year at this event, I love asking our honorees how they ended up in these cool careers in the first place. And more often than not, they tell me some crazy, quirky, interesting story about a string of coincidences that led them here today -– a chance meeting that turned into a partnership or business; a passion that no one ever dreamed they could actually make a living from; a mentor, a teacher, a family member who sort of led them into the career.

And as we reflect on the obstacles, and all the zig-zags and false starts that the folks we honor in this room have faced, I also want us to ask ourselves a few questions: What can we do to help smooth the path for those who come after? How do we make sure that our young people know about these careers? I think about that all the time. Who knows that you can do the stuff you do? They don't teach it in school, and we don't want to leave it to luck or coincidence or chance to allow the next generation to make their dreams come true.

And more importantly, what are we doing to prepare the next generation for the opportunities that we do create for them? How are we reaching our young people where they are in a way that really moves them and inspires them to commit to their education and fulfill their boundless promise? Because in this age, as you know -- and I've got teenagers -- (laughter) -- when our kids are always buried in some screen or device, what I've learned is that we can't just lecture them anymore. They tune us out. (Laughter.) It happens every night at dinner, it's so sad. We've got to really engage them and find ways for them to interact with us in new ways and with the world around them.

And that's why I am so excited about the new Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, which will reopen in December, because you all are embracing the technology of the next generation in some really exciting ways. I haven't got a chance to see it; I'm going to come visit when it's open, but I understand that you're giving everyone who enters this new museum an interactive pen they can use to download information from ultra-high-definition exhibition tables -- which means that essentially a visitor can record their visit, and then share and view it online long after they leave the museum, which is really kind of cool. You're also creating something called an "immersion room," where a visitor can choose from hundreds of different wallpapers and patterns, or they can create something of their own and then instantly project them onto the walls around them.

And then of course there's all the wonderful work that you're doing outside of the museum that I am so proud of. You're sponsoring Teen Design Fairs and allowing kids to meet with experts, where they get feedback and they learn from some of the best in the world. And you're supporting budding designers with your DesignPrep Scholars program that's in D.C. and New York. And as usual, I got a chance to meet that group before I came into the room, and I want us to just take a moment -- I want all those young scholars to please stand so that we can acknowledge you. (Applause.) Yay for you guys. You can sit down now. (Laughter.)

We're very proud of you guys, and I've heard some really exciting things about the workshops earlier today and hopefully you all learned something too. But here's what I want you to think about -- your mind, your creativity got you into the White House. Remember that. (Laughter.) So you can do anything, all right? This is pretty cool, right? We're very proud of you, and we're proud of everything that Cooper Hewitt is doing. Because the truth is, you all get it. You really do. You know that it's not enough to simply celebrate the best design in America today, you know that we've got to really cultivate the best designers of tomorrow as well.

And it is an honor that during this special anniversary that we're here at the White House that I'm able to thank you all once again for everything you do to make this world a better, more fun and interesting place, and what you're doing to pass on that passion and imagination and commitment to our next generation. It is truly a treat and an honor for me. So thank you all, and congratulations. (Applause.)

And now, it is my pleasure to introduce someone else who knows a thing or two about reaching out to our young people. Under his leadership, the Smithsonian has used technology and educational programming to open up the museums, exhibitions and artifacts to more people than ever before -- and my daughters are among those young people. And while we are sad to see his time as Secretary of the Smithsonian end in just a few months, we're pleased to have him here for this event one last time.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome my dear friend, Dr. Wayne Clough. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the Annual Cooper Hewitt Luncheon Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/321906

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