Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards

July 24, 2009

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you, everyone. (Applause.) Good afternoon and welcome to the White House! (Laughter.) Tonight's house is a little warm in here. (Laughter.) But it is a pleasure to be here with you today to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the National Design Awards and to honor some of the country's most compelling innovators. And I got to meet them all. They are terrific, and we are just thrilled to have you with us today.

Congratulations to all of you -- our honorees and those of you just working hard getting the job done.

How are you, sir? It's good to see you. (Laughter.)

You are scientists and artists. Your work is both practical and poetic, educational and inspirational. You represent diverse fields of disciplines but you share the common thread of superior design.

What I love about design is the artistic and scientific complexity that also becomes useful: a laptop, a bridge, an outfit -- (laughter) -- a garden, all drawn from a thousand wells of inspiration and yet grounded in the basic principles of math or science.

Great designers also pursue a mission. Great designers design with mankind in mind. Building on the innovations of the past, you help to shape a better future. Like your lifetime achievement honoree Bill Moggridge, what would we do without our laptops! (Laughter.) My kids would die. (Laughter.) They'd be -- they wouldn't make it through the summer. I don't know whether to thank you, Bill, for that. (Laughter.)

But that future and our ability to solve the great challenges of our time will depend on how we educate and engage the current generation.

That's why the President has made such a strong commitment to ensuring access to high-quality education for all children, particularly in math and science.

And today the President and Secretary Duncan are announcing the "Race to the Top," which is a competitive grant to spur education reform across the country and encourage educators and leaders to embrace innovative approaches to teaching and to learning.

As part of the Recovery Act, Congress has allotted more than $4 billion for this competition –- funding that'll be used for competitive grants to states, school districts, and non-profit partners that are most successful at raising standards, improving student learning, and turning around struggling schools. That is very exciting.

But when it comes to innovation, you all know full well that an educational foundation is only part of the equation, right; that in order for creativity to flourish and imagination to take hold we also need to expose our children to the arts from a very young age.

Even Albert Einstein knew better, right? He knew that there is only so much that a good education could do. These were his words. He said, "I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination." "Imagination," he said, "is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." That's from Einstein, so I think he knew what he was talking about. (Laughter.)

We need to ensure that our children have both –- knowledge and imagination. I know I want that for my girls. They deserve to have access to a good education and access to ideas and images that will spark their creativity.

And as First Lady, I have spent a lot of time trying to break down barriers that too often exist between major cultural establishments and the people in their immediate communities.

So we've been sending a lot of role models out there in the far reaches of this city and then inviting kids to come back here to the White House. That's been a big part of the messages of every single event that we've done here at the White House. These kids who are living just inches away from power and prestige and fortune and fame, we want those kids to know that they belong here, too. We want them to know that they belong here in the White House and in the museums, and in libraries, and laboratories all over this country.

And I want to thank you all today for helping carry that mission out by going out today into the community and making sure that kids know that they belong on the cutting edge of design just the same; that they belong in the world of discovery and science, reminding them that they belong in the presence of great art and beauty; that it is theirs just as much as anyone's in this nation.

And earlier today you shared your visions, your ideas, your experiences and expertise by leading workshops at Smithsonian locations across Washington D.C. And I am grateful to all of you for taking the time to make that happen. From type fonts to technology, from silks and satins to sustainability –- you brought science to life at these seminars. And I've heard glowing reviews about them, and I hope you found them fun, as well.

And I want to thank you for inspiring the next generation of artists and scientists, architects and engineers, innovators and educators and for your contributions to the advancement of design. Thank you so very, very much.

And as I mentioned, the crossroads of science and art, innovation and inspiration are what I love about design. So I'm honored to introduce a man who represents the combination of both.

Wayne Clough, the man who leads one of our nation's premier cultural institutions as Secretary to the Smithsonian, is a trained civil engineer. His years at Georgia Tech planted him firmly on the science and technology end of the spectrum. But here he is, ably leading, right -- he's doing a good job -- (laughter and applause) -- he is ably leading the organization famous for housing the treasures of both science and art, the wonders of nature and mankind, and the marvels of the heavens and the earth. He is the perfect example of the symbiotic character of science and art. And I am so honored to introduce him to you today, our wonderful guest, our host, someone who make my life easier as we explore the Smithsonians with my kids, Wayne Clough. Thank you all. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320216

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