Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the Reach Higher Champions of Change Event

June 30, 2015

MRS. OBAMA: Hello, everyone! How are you all doing? Please rest yourselves.

Let me start by thanking Jacob for that wonderful introduction and for sharing your story. It is amazing. It's inspiring. It is the reason why we do what we do. Just hearing how you persevered and now you've on to great life lessons like hollandaise sauce and bearnaise sauce. (Laughter.) And I thought I was happy to have Malia make some scrambled eggs. (Laughter.) But we're so proud of you and we're so glad that you're the leader that you are. So let's give Jacob another round of applause. (Applause.)

I also want to thank the educators, the philanthropists, the public and private sector leaders that are here today. Hello to all of you. Welcome.

But most of all, I want to thank all the students that are here. Let me see our students -- where are you? I can sort of tell. (Applause.) And the young man who stood up, I like that in you. (Laughter.) It's like, here I am.

Q: Can we get a picture later?

MRS. OBAMA: A picture later. (Laughter.) Now, that's leadership. (Laughter.)

But not just the students in this room, but there are thousands of young people who are joining us remotely from national conferences for the Technology Students Association as well as the Future Business Leaders of America. So hi out there to all of you as well. (Applause.)

And really it's the students across the country who are studying and learning and dreaming big -- you all are really the reason why we're here today.

We're here because we believe in you. We do. Absolutely we believe in you. We're here because we want to make sure that you get all the skills and the tools that you need to reach your dreams. And those dreams are amazing and they're big and they're huge, so you need all the support you can get. We're here because we know that one of the best ways to do that is through career and technical education -- CTE.

And I don't know how many people know about CTE, but more people should, because in today's world, a high school diploma just isn't enough. I can't say that enough. A high school diploma is not enough to be able to compete in today's globalizing economy.

If you want to learn cutting-edge skills, if you want to prepare yourself for college and a good career, if you want to go into the culinary arts like Jacob, or start your own business, or work in a hospital, or go into 3D printing -- whatever it is, it's important for students to realize that a four-year university is not your only option. It is not your only option. We talk about four-year universities all the time, but when we talk about Reach Higher, we talk about completing high school and going beyond in whatever way, shape or form, and it's not always a four-year university.

In fact, for many young people and their families, CTE can be the best option because you can get all the professional skills you need for a good job in a high-demand field and you can do it at a fraction of the time and, more importantly, a fraction of the cost as compared to a four-year university.

More importantly, these are high-quality programs that push students academically and challenge students to sharpen their critical thinking, their problem-solving, their communication skills -- as we can see with Jacob, who had all that going on all at once. And increasingly -- and this is very important -- there's often a job at the end of it, a paycheck waiting for you right there when you graduate. And not a lot of college graduates can often say that.

So Career and Tech programs make a whole lot of sense. And that's why across the country, schools and businesses are working together to develop curricula, which is exciting, so that students can get tailor-made courses for the positions that companies actually need to fill. This is why high schools are partnering up with community colleges so that young people can earn college credit and sometimes even leave high school with professional credentials in hand. And I speak at high school graduations all around the country, and I'm always impressed when students come up and say that they're already ready to launch into their field. It's quite impressive.

And every day, students are getting hands-on experience through these opportunities at hospitals and businesses, schools and just about everywhere else. My staff tells me that somebody is getting experience on a 65-foot research vessel out in the ocean -- that's happening somewhere. You guys know about this? It's pretty cool, pretty cool.

And these kinds of opportunities are leading to a wave of innovation from our young people. Here at the Innovation Fair today, I understand that we're going to see a four-inch cube satellite that will be launched into orbit to help us study and analyze our atmosphere and soil. Pretty cool. Yes, wow. I agree. (Laughter.)

There's a system of laser sensors that detect a baseball strike zone -- for all you baseball fans, I'm sure that's very exciting. (Laughter.) And a 3D printer that creates chocolate sculptures -- yes, everybody likes that one. (Laughter.) Everybody can connect with that.

So CTE programs like these are good for students because they can learn new skills and find their passion. They're good for businesses because they can tap into a pipeline of skilled talent. And they're good for our country because these programs help us grow our economy, compete with other countries, and unleash the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators.

And that's why, earlier this year, my husband expanded the United States Presidential Scholars program to honor some of our best and brightest students in Career and Technical Education. And later this summer, we're going to be launching the Reach Higher Career App Challenge because we want to make it easier for students across the country to find a CTE program that fits with their passions and with their goals.

So I know we've got some folks here today from our biggest tech companies, and I want to challenge all of you and people across the country -- educators, career counselors, our business leaders, everyone out there, I want you to put your heads together and think about ways to design a new app so that we'll help students connect with the programs and the jobs they need to realize their dreams.

I want you to help our students see which jobs are in high demand in their communities. I want you to help them see which programs give them the skills that they need. And I also want you to help them figure out how much all of this costs and what their future earning power might be in that given field. I mean, you can imagine for a kid who may not be motivated, if they see a job title and a salary, they can understand the purpose of it all -- which we're always trying to do with our young people. So imagine if all that could happen through an app. There are so many things an app might do for our young people and we want to see what all of you will come up with.

This challenge officially launches in a couple of weeks, but right now you can go to edprizes.com to sign up for updates and to get more information. So I hope you all take up the challenge and see what we can come up with.

But to all of the young people here, I want you all to know that we're doing everything that we can to help you fill your potential, whether that's making it easier for you to find career pathways just by using your smartphone; whether it's everything my husband is doing to bring down the cost of higher education and ultimately make two-year community colleges free for responsible students. That's a hope that we -- (applause.)

We're also, in addition to all that we're doing, we're depending on you as the students to do your part as well. And that means for all of you here, I know you're already doing it, but I can't say it enough -- we need you all to just get it together. To study as hard as you can. To put everything into your studies that you can do. Reach higher for yourselves every single day. There has to be a hunger that you all have that no one can fund for you. There can be no policy written to make you find your -- to prioritize your education. It's on you guys.

And every day you have to come in with that hunger. You got to be ready. You got to be studying. You got to be in class. If you're online, you got to be there. You got to do those assignments, make it all happen. So you've got to finish the job. No one can do that for you. Not the President, not the First Lady. I don't care how much money is out there, if you don't have it here and here (pointing to her heart and head) -- it's not going to happen.

So we want you to complete your education. That is a must. There is no alternative. Finish your education. Whether you do it through one of these fantastic CTE programs, or whether you go on to a community college, four-year college -- whatever you do, you've got to finish your education. But you've got to get something. You've got to get a degree, a certificate -- something you've got to have. And if you do that, you'll have the tools that you'll need to fulfill your dreams.

And as you work to get your education -- I want to close with what I said at the outset -- just know that we believe in you. We do all of this because we know you have the raw material that it takes to do whatever is in your heart to do. Barack and I know this because we stand where we are today because we had a lot of support and we had something in our hearts and minds that told us that we could do it.

So we believe in you -- all right? If you don't walk away from this with any other message, is that you've got a whole lot of folks who think you can be great, and you've got a country who actually needs you to be great. We're counting on you to be that next generation to take over all that we're doing. So you got to be trained, you got to be ready, you got to be hungry, and you got to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.

So keep up the great work. I hope you have a phenomenal time here at the White House. Ask a lot of questions. Be impressive. Don't be shy. (Laughter.) I don't have to tell that to you. (Laughter.) And just know that we are going to keep working as hard as we can -- not just here in the White House, but beyond. Mentoring you and raising the next generation up to be great is something -- it's a personal goal for me and my husband. So we're only getting started. So we're hoping that you'll be ready to partner with us when we get out of here. Okay? (Laughter.)

So I look forward to everything you all will do in the years ahead. Enjoy the conference. You all, thank you so much for being here on behalf of our young people. Put your heads together; let's figure out what more we can do to keep these kids moving in the right direction.

Thank you all. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the Reach Higher Champions of Change Event Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/321828

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