Barack Obama photo

Remarks at the Reach Higher Initiative "Beating the Odds" Summit

July 23, 2015

The President. Hello! How's everybody doing? So, first of all, I want everybody to understand, I am not Wale. [Laughter] Although, I do have Wale's mike, and I've got to give it back to him after I say hi to you guys.

Has everybody had a good session here today?

Audience members. Yes!

The President. Right? Now, I understand that you spent time with the true star of the Obama household—[laughter]—the First Lady of the United States. But I was not going to let her have all the fun because I wanted to just come by; I've got a lot of stuff going on—I'm working this, and I'm working that—but I did want to come by just to explain why I think this conference that got organized is so important.

America succeeds only when every young person in America is able to dream big and has the tools to chase their dreams. And if there is one thing that's always set America apart, it's been the idea that no matter what you look like, where you come from, how you started out, what your first name was, last name, what religion you were, what ethnicity, that if you worked hard, you could make it. And we have not always met that ideal, but that's always been the goal, that's what's unified us as a nation.

And the intention here at "Beating the Odds" Summit is just to remind all of us that even when times look tough and even though there are very real frustrations out there in terms of inequality and racism and there are barriers that are put in place that need to be torn down, but haven't gotten torn down yet and sexism and folks who are bullying our LGBT brothers and sisters. Even though those are real problems, this is still a nation of opportunity.

And when we see young people like you, we want to make sure that you are mindful of these problems, that hopefully, you will work together in a unified fashion to make even more progress, that you don't ignore these issues, but that you also have confidence that if you're willing to work hard and if you're willing to dig deep and if you're willing to make sacrifices, and if you're willing to embrace the values that are best in us, there's nothing that's going to stop you. And you've got to set your bar high.

So if you're already doing well in school, you can do better. If you're already working in the community to make a difference, you can be an even greater leader. There's never been a time in human history where there's more possibility. And you're a generation that, because of that camera that you've got and the phone and—[laughter]—because of all that, you've got the world at your fingertips in a way that two generations ago, three generations ago, people could not even imagine. You've got more information in that little thing—[laughter]—than the—than what used to be the world's greatest libraries. You have access to more, and more people have access to you. But you've got to use it. And so, hopefully, the entire concept here has been to show how people did beat the odds and to remind you that there's nothing holding you back except you. And you've got to be aggressive.

And look, if a kid born in Hawaii named Barack Obama—[laughter]—can end up being President of the United States and a young girl born on the South Side—[laughter]—of Chicago can end up being the First Lady, there's nothing you can't do. And hopefully, this summit has given you some sense of the possibilities, and also hopefully, it's given you some relationships and some networks that you can now tap because not only do I expect out of you individual success, but I also expect you to work together to bring about some collective success. Don't buy into the notion that your life's purpose is just about you, because there are a lot of folks who had even less advantages than you did, and you've got to be willing to reach back and bring them along.

All right? A'ight. Thank you, everybody. Let's—I've got to go give the mike back so the main attraction can come back out here. My rapping skills are terrible. [Laughter] I—that's one thing I can't do is rap. I like rap, but I cannot rap. [Laughter] Although, I've got—I have enough of a rap that I got Michelle to marry me, though. [Laughter] I'm just saying.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:57 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to musician Olubowale V. "Wale" Akintimehin.

Barack Obama, Remarks at the Reach Higher Initiative "Beating the Odds" Summit Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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