Remarks by the First Lady at the UNESCO Flag-Raising Ceremony in Paris, France
[As prepared for delivery.]
Bonjour! Good afternoon.
Director General. Madame Macron, Minister Attal, Minister Abdul Malak, your excellencies, distinguished guests:
I am honored to join you today as we raise the flag of the United States—a symbol of our commitment to global collaboration and peace.
The United States is proud to join as a member state of UNESCO.
Madame Director General, you've worked long and hard to help us realize this goal. Thank you.
To Forest Whitaker and all of our UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors: we are all grateful for your tireless efforts on behalf of this organization.
Over the years, my husband and I have had the opportunity to get to know President and Madame Macron. We were honored to host them for our first State Visit at the White House last December. Brigitte, that will always be one of our best memories.
Your friendship always reminds us that what we have in common can transcend language and culture—and that's what I'd like to talk to you about today: connections and the education that makes them possible.
When my husband, President Biden, took office two and a half years ago, he made a promise to the American people: That he would rebuild the systems that were broken and fortify our institutions, that he would work to bring divided communities back together, that he would put us on a path to a better, brighter future while restoring our leadership on the world stage.
And he did.
He made sure all Americans could get the vaccines they needed. He safely reopened our schools and put people back to work with more than 13 million jobs created. He invested in green technology that will help build the sustainable economy we need—and made sure students could get trained for those jobs.
For some, that would be enough—to take care of our own. But not for my husband.
President Biden understands that sickness can travel across oceans.
That a war in Europe can empty grocery shelves across the world.
That the smoke from wildfires can cloud a whole continent.
And so, he ensured that we became partners in global vaccine initiatives. He built a coalition of more than 140 countries to stand against Putin's unjust war. He rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office and continues to bring nations together to address the climate crisis.
He's harnessed the power of institutions across the United Nations to collectively address global food insecurity, violence, and human rights violations.
Injustice and corruption; poverty and hunger; climate disasters and disease—these things aren't contained by borders.
Some of the biggest challenges of our time cannot be solved in isolation.
Of course we need to take care of our own citizens. But we're also a part of a global community.
When we take our seat in that coalition, we can fight for our values—like democracy, equality, and human rights.
President Biden understands that if we hope to create a better world, the United States can't go it alone—but we must help lead the way.
That's why we're so proud to rejoin UNESCO.
Because, in my opinion—and sure, as a teacher, I'm a little biased—education is one of our greatest shared tools in shaping our future for those who will come after us.
Every generation inherits the world in its own time. Today, almost half of the world's population is under the age of 25. And they are feeling the pain of the challenges we face.
It's young men and women who fight in our wars—who grapple with the aftermath. Young parents who are asked to sacrifice their education to care for families. It's young people who carry the heaviest weight of unemployment and poverty—who will face more of the deadly consequences of climate change.
But with their passion and potential, with their hope and heart, youth can lead us all to a better future.
I saw that in Kenya more than ten years ago, when I met a woman named Aliyah. At just 25, she was raising a son in a one-room, tin-roof home in Kibera, the largest urban slum in Africa. There was no electricity—no running water.
But she spent her day teaching girls about teen pregnancy—about sexual abuse and rape. The topic was taboo—but the conversations were powerful.
I asked her if she wanted to leave Kibera. But she said, "No, this is my home. I want to make a difference here."
I saw it when I talked to displaced teenagers in Ecuador last year. Their families had fled brutal violence in Venezuela—but they dreamed of returning home to rebuild their country.
And I've seen it in my own classroom, again and again.
As a writing teacher at a community college, I teach refugees and veterans and single parents trying to juggle school and jobs and caring for their families.
At the start of the semester, they're strangers, often nervous about speaking up in class or sharing their writing. But soon, we get to know each other. We share stories and laugh.
I make them write poetry—and there's usually a student who tells me: No, no way, he's not writing poetry. But he always does. And it's always incredible.
We become a community.
They offer to babysit for one another and give rides to class. They find their voice and realize a confidence that they never knew was inside of them. They teach me so much. And they go out to share those big ideas with others—to build good lives and give back when they can.
Young people are our future. But they are also our present.
And when we give them what they need to thrive—clean water and air, good schools and job opportunities, safety and mental health support—they'll show us the world through new eyes.
They'll raise strong families and give back to their neighborhoods.
They'll use their voices and fight for the future we all want and need.
Education is a powerful key to that future. It changes us—so we can go on to change our world together.
Everyone deserves that opportunity.
It was in that spirit that UNESCO was created. To spread ideas and open minds. To give people the tools to thrive—whether it's protecting freedom of expression or trying to better understand our oceans or shaping standards on artificial intelligence. To preserve our treasures, so we can remember the history that makes us who we are. To show us that our differences are precious and our similarities infinite.
Yes, we've seen that the perils of our present cannot be contained by borders. But goodness and hope can spread, too.
The beauty of art that speaks to our hearts.
The reverence we feel when we step into a temple and learn how ancient people worshipped and lived.
The scientific discoveries that reveal the reaches of the universe or the microscopic systems of our own cells.
The new ideas that pass from person to person like a flame—growing brighter without diminishing its source.
Seven years ago, as Second Lady, I joined this organization here in Paris to help launch UNESCO's TeachHer program. It aimed to educate girls who have too often been left out of classrooms, and get them excited about STEAM.
Later that month, I traveled to Costa Rica, where one of the first TeachHer programs was going to be launched.
And I met two teen girls—Stefhanie and Erika—who showed me their science fair projects, their smiles lighting up with so much pride. Stefhanie told me that some people thought science was just for men—but at her school, just as many girls loved it as boys.
I never forgot their passion. So, when I returned to Costa Rica last year, I invited them to meet with me again.
Stefhanie told me she was studying Food Engineering and had been selected as a finalist in a contest by the Institute for Food Technology.
Erika was working in a microbiological analysis lab—and looking towards earning her master's degree in that field.
Having the opportunity to study science and explore their interests changed the course of their lives. And UNESCO makes that possible for so many young women. Now, just imagine the number of people that they will teach and inspire. It's a ripple of promise that has no end.
Together, let's empower the next generation of thinkers and dreamers and doers, helping them unleash their possibility.
The challenges of our times—from authoritarianism to climate change—create an uncertain future. But what is certain is the possibility still inside of us to innovate, to cooperate, to discover new solutions.
It's up to us to realize that future together.
Jill Biden, Remarks by the First Lady at the UNESCO Flag-Raising Ceremony in Paris, France Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/363721