Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards

November 17, 2015

MRS. OBAMA: Well, good afternoon, everyone. And welcome to the White House for the 2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program awards.

Let me begin by thanking everyone from the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities for their extraordinary leadership. The President and I are, as always, grateful for everything that you do not just for this administration, but for the country and for young people like the ones we're honoring today.

I also want to acknowledge our other sponsors and guests: The NEA, the NEH, the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences [Services], and the Ambassador of Honduras, Ambassador Milla, who is here with us. Thank you all for joining us today.

I also want to, of course, recognize all of the teachers and mentors and administrators who make these programs possible. I know that you all put in a lot of long hours and late nights, and you deal with endless phone calls, and paperwork, and budget meetings, and kids and parents complaining, and all kinds of stuff. But I also know that the payoff makes it all worth it, because you know better than anyone how the arts and humanities can transform young people's lives.

And thanks to your efforts -- amazing efforts, we have the pleasure of welcoming young people from every corner of our country to the White House today. We have students from all parts of the country receiving awards on behalf of programs from Savannah, Sioux Falls, Pasadena, Indianapolis, Brooklyn, and right here in Washington, D.C -- and the list goes on and on and on, right? (Laughter.)

Now, I was told that at least one of our guests –- 19 year old Ibrahim Shkara of Portland, Maine –- where's Ibrahim? I read somewhere that you were a little nervous to meet me and shake my hand at the White House today. (Laughter.) Are you really nervous now? (Laughter.) Because, of course, we found you. We took your quote and we thought we'd really make you nervous. (Laughter.) But you told your local paper that -- these are his words -- "It's a big thing." (Laughter.) Good quotes. Poetic.

Well, let me tell you, Ibrahim, I think it's even a bigger thing for me to have you all here. It really is -- and all the other amazing young people that are here today. This is a big deal for us, and we're proud of all of you.

I always say this, but it is true: You all inspire me, and so many of us here. You inspire us with your passion, your dedication, your commitment, your beautiful smiles -- because you all are gorgeous, like right out of Hollywood casting or something. (Laughter.) All of your breathtaking achievements -- you guys keep us going.

And through the programs that we're honoring today, you guys have done so much. You've become published authors, award-winning photographers. You've engaged in rigorous scientific research. You've even shown off your dance moves during the halftime -- game of the Wizards. (Laughter.) I've been known to bust a move every now and then. (Laughter and applause.) And thousands of kids all across America are dreaming just a little bigger and they're reaching a little higher thanks to after-school programs that you all represent.

And we know that these programs don't just expose kids to the arts and humanities; they teach skills like problem solving and discipline and teamwork. And these skills aren't just important in the photo lab or on the stage; they're also critical in the classroom. They will be critical in the boardroom. And, frankly, they're skills that you'll use when you wind up here one day at the White House -- because I know some of you are headed here. Yes. (Laughter.)

The evidence is crystal clear. We know what arts means to kids. Kids who get involved in the arts and humanities, they have higher grades. They have higher graduation rates. They have higher college-enrollment rates. We all know that. We quote these statistics every time we get together, but we don't need stats to understand the power of the arts and humanities. We don't need to read the research. All we have to do is ask the students who are with us today.

Take our student speaker, who will be sharing his story with us later today, André Massey. André, where are you? Yeah, I got a hug form André earlier today. It was very nice. (Laughter.) André is from the Young Author Project at Deep Center in Savannah. André says -- and this is -- these are his words -- he said, "I thought I was just going to write a few poems and maybe get a chance to read them in public. But Deep did more than that." He said, "It changed my life" and "showed me how to express myself."

Or let's take Chofian Abokbar. Where's Chofian? Hi, honey, how are you? Welcome. (Laughter.) I feel like I know you because I've read so much about you guys. It's good to see your faces. When Chofian arrived in South Dakota from Turkey four years ago, she didn't speak a word of English. She couldn't even spell her name. But when she attended the Washington Pavilion program, she got involved with the arts, and now she's chatting up a storm, we understand -- (laughter) -- as a star volunteer with the program.

And finally, I think about young people like Dalon Poole. Dalon, where are you? Hey! How you doing? It's good. Dalon is from Pasadena. Not so long ago, he didn't have big dreams or big plans for his future. But then he enrolled in a photography class and everything changed. Now, he says, because of the program, he said "Before I started, I didn't know I was going to college. But now there's a chance I could go." There's more than a chance, right, Dalon? Keep going, right? (Laughter.) It's not a chance. It's going to happen, right? Okay, that's good. (Laughter.) We've got you on camera. (Laughter and applause.) And remember the young person I said had become a prize-winning photographer early in the speech? Well, that's Dalon. That's you. That's you. And I can report that he used the prize money to buy his first real camera. Is that true? I hope so. (Laughter.)

So I'm proud of all of you -- these amazing young people and all the outstanding young people here today who can tell -- who have similar stories that I could tell. And that's why we're going to keep working to promote these programs. Because, as I've said many times before, arts education is not a luxury, it's a necessity. It's really the air many of these kids breathe. It's how we get kids excited about getting up and going to school in the morning. It's how we get them to take ownership of their future. And, most importantly, it's how we get kids like Dalon to go to college.

So this is real. And it's critical. And it should be something that every kid has access to. So I want to end today by, once again, thanking all of the adults here today for making these programs possible. And I want to thank all the young people here for working so hard and taking your education so seriously. I am proud of all of you. I'm happy you all are here. I'm excited to see everything that you'll achieve in the future -- what you'll contribute to your schools, your communities, and more, importantly, to our country.

So thank you all again. Thank you for joining us today. And with that, it is my honor to introduce someone who is such a passionate champion for arts education, such a visionary leader on behalf of our young people -- my friend, the Executive Director of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Rachel Goslins. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/321793

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