Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the #BetterMakeRoom Launch

October 19, 2015

MRS. OBAMA: Thanks, guys. (Applause.) Thank you all. (Applause.) Good morning. Rest yourselves.

Welcome to the White House! (Applause.) It's okay to be excited about that. Welcome to the White House! (Laughter and applause.) Don't act like you all are proper people, all right? (Laughter.) Just loosen up a little bit.

Look, I am thrilled to be here today as we launch Better Make Room. This is an amazing new campaign to empower young people to own their education and fulfill their dreams.

And I want to start by thanking Chris for sharing his story, offering some good advice -- which I hope my kids are listening to -- and for giving us more than six seconds of your time today. (Laughter.) We really appreciate it, Chris. Who would have thought that you had so much to say? (Laughter.) Chris, we're really impressed by everything that you've achieved, so thank you. Thanks for being here.

And thank you also to Andra Day for her magnificent performance. (Applause.) Yes, Andra and her entire crew. Yes! (Applause.) Andra, you impressed everybody. My staff is buzzing off the chain about whatever you have just done. (Laughter.) So I don't think this will be the last time we'll see you here at the White House -- if you'll have us. (Laughter and applause.)

I also want to recognize someone who has been a passionate leader and visionary on behalf of kids, our Secretary of Education and dear friend, Arne Duncan. Arne -- is Arne here or did he go?

STAFF MEMBER: He had to leave.

MRS. OBAMA: He had to leave. (Laughter.) But, Arne, we love you. We're going to miss you. And thank you for working so hard on behalf of all of us. (Applause.)

And of course, most of all, I want to thank all of you. You all are the very first members of our Better Make Room campaign team. You're on our team! (Applause.) Whether you're a Viner, a YouTuber, an educator, or a business or foundation leader, you all will be the ones driving this campaign forward long after the President and I have left the White House. And we are so incredibly grateful for your passion and your commitment to this cause.

Now, the idea behind Better Make Room is pretty simple. We want to create a space where young people can engage with each other; where they can inspire each other to complete their education beyond high school. We want to make room for their stories, for their dreams, their achievements. Because the truth is that right now, that space really doesn't exist in our popular culture.

Instead, these days so much of our national conversation is focused on celebrities and their stories -– their breakups and hairstyles; the tweets they send; the points they score. So there's no room for the story of that young woman whose parents don't speak a word of English but who's determined to be a first-generation college graduate.

There's no room for the story of that young man who's been told that he's not college material, but he decides to ignore the doubters and just work a little harder. There's no room for those kids who don't fit in at their school, but who know that things will get better if they just hang on and get to college.

And that's what Better Make Room is about. It's about valuing success in the classroom instead of just on the big screen or on the basketball court. And it's about turning the culture of celebrity upside down so that we don't just have kids worshipping celebrities, but we also have celebrities honoring kids who are working hard and achieving their goals. (Applause.) That's where we're going to shine the spotlight -– on those kids and their stories.

So the question is, how are we going to do this? Because the truth is, Generation Z -– that's what they're called; these are the kids who are right now in high school and middle school –- they interact with the world in fundamentally different ways than generations before them. And I'm someone who lives with two Generation Z-ers, and I'm experiencing this firsthand, as I'm sure many of you are, too. Hands raised. (Laughter.)

For example, you may have noticed that instead of watching TV, your kids are on YouTube. And they don't just want to watch a screen, they want to swipe it, and poke it, create their own content on it. And don't waste your time trying to connect with your kids via email. (Laughter.) That antiquated method is as useless as Morse code. (Laughter.) Instead, they're into texting, and Snapchat and Vine -- all that stuff. And don't make the mistake of responding to a text using full sentences with proper grammar and punctuation. (Laughter.) Look, whenever I do that my kids always think I'm mad at them. (Laughter.) It's like, what did I do mom? Why are you using sentences? (Laughter.)

They prefer very -- and I mean very -- short responses; one word -- better yet, a few letters. And if you really want to get their attention, use symbols, little symbols. (Laughter.) There's the smiley face, the angry face, and all the other faces that can show any emotion that you may be feeling. So it's no wonder why Generation Z-ers have short attention spans. They usually stop listening to us after about 6 seconds. (Laughter.) Their eyes just glaze over as we blather on and on. We think we're getting into them, but they've shut us off minutes ago.

But this generation is a fascinating bunch. They are more independent, yet more connected to each other than ever before. They are constantly texting with each other, sharing photos, engaging with each other on issues large and small. And many are using technology to organize around causes they care about, whether that's saving the environment or stopping gun violence.

So Generation Z is really a do-it-yourself kind of generation. These kids are working hard, and they are entrepreneurial, and they want content that's authentic and raw -- nothing polished, nothing packaged. So for those young people, traditional campaigns don't always work. We can't just tape a public service announcement telling them that school is cool. If we truly want to engage this generation in a conversation about higher education, we need to give them a space where they can drive that conversation themselves. And that's exactly what we're doing through Better Make Room.

Through this new campaign, young people can go to BetterMakeRoom.org, or they can go to Vine, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #BetterMakeRoom -- I'm getting used to that hashtag. (Laughter.) Just throw that in there and impress my kids. (Laughter.) And they can share their goals for college and for life with kids all across this country. This is exactly what this technology was meant to do, the good stuff -- to use it to share and inspire. Then we're going to lift up their stories and give these young people the attention they have long deserved. So they might see their words on a billboard or on a subway ad. They might even receive an invitation to an event here at the White House.

Or they might see their story in an Instagram or tweet from a celebrity they admire. In fact, on Wednesday, I'm going to be joining LeBron James for a Better Make Room event with 1,000 kids in Akron, Ohio. And I wouldn't be surprised if some young people saw their stories in LeBron's Twitter or Instagram feed sometime soon.

And then once young people have shared their stories and declared their education and career ambitions, then we're going to give them the tools they need to achieve those ambitions. Because more than anything else, the goal of Better Make Room is to get young people to, and through, higher education -– whether that's a community college, a four-year college, or a professional training program.

So through Better Make Room, we're going to be sending young people reminders and guidance about all kinds of stuff -- studying for the SATs and ACTs, filling out college applications and FAFSA forms, visiting college campuses. We're going to be walking them through every step in this process.

So that's how this campaign is going to work. And I'm sure it is now obvious that Better Make Room will not be a traditional kind of campaign; it will truly be unlike anything the White House has ever done before. In fact, earlier this morning, we let some young people make a huge chalk drawing of the Better Make Room logo on the South Grounds right in front of the Dip Room, under the Truman Balcony. Yeah. (Laughter.) I wonder what our curators are saying about that. (Laughter.) That would be a first here at the White House.

And the truth is, I probably won't understand everything that we're doing with this campaign -- and neither will many of you. But that's okay. We're old. (Laughter.) This campaign isn't for us, and it is not about us. It is for, and about, our next generation. And every single one of you here today is critical to its success.

Whether you're a Viner, a YouTube Star, a business leader or a celebrity, you're here today because you know how to reach our young people. The Viners in this room alone reach 41 million people. Let's just stop right there -- 41 million people. (Applause.) That's crazy! And the rest of you reach millions more. Your brands, your messages, your voices just resonate with this generation, and we need all of you to help our young people own their education so that they can fulfill every last one of their dreams, like Chris talked about.

This is a critically important mission. And the stakes couldn't be higher. Because we all know that if we want to keep moving this country forward, if we want to keep growing our economy and widening that circle of opportunity, then we need to ensure that our kids have every chance to be who and what they are meant to be. And the only way to do that is through education. We know that. That is the absolute best path forward for our kids.

So I want to end today by once again thanking all of you for your commitment and your passion for this effort. I am excited to see everything that we're going to create together through Better Make Room –- even if I have to ask my daughters to explain it to me. This is going to be really cool. It's going to be fun. And hopefully we change the paradigm about how our kids think and use this technology, and how they engage with each other and get prepared for the life that we know is facing them.

I look forward to working with all of you in the years ahead to inspire our young people to reach higher for themselves and for our country. You guys are great. Thank you so much. Let's get started. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the #BetterMakeRoom Launch Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320955

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