First Lady Michelle Obama Visits ED
February 2, 2009

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Arne Duncan: Good afternoon. I somehow think all these cameras aren't for me.

I'm thrilled to be back here, we had a great great conversation last week, and want to continue to do that. I think everyone here knows we have this extraordinary opportunity over the next eight years to make things better for children in this country.

And I think we're all here because we feel that sense of moral obligation, that we know our children deserve the best, sometimes they receive it, sometimes they don't. And I think collectively we can do something to dramatically change the life chances of our children. And so I look forward so much to our work together going forward, and I'm so so hopeful about what we can accomplish.

If we do the right thing, if we give every child a chance to be successful, if we want to fix the economy, if we want to do those big picture things, guess what: The most important thing we can do is educate our children, and everyone here knows that.

So, I want to thank you for your hard work, I want to thank you for your passion, for the people on the stage here, we checked, I think collectively they represent about six hundred years of work on behalf of children; please give them a round of applause.

And again, I can't—I always feel so lucky to work in this profession, because I can't think of a better way to spend a life, than on making things better for children. And so thank you so much for that remarkable lifetime of commitment.

So together we have a chance to do something very very special. And we have to work harder than we've ever worked, we have to work smarter than we've ever worked, we're going to have a lot of fun together, but we are not in this battle alone. It is not just the Department of Education. Our goal is to unite the entire country behind this effort: Business leaders, community leaders, the philanthropic community.

And all of us working together, all of us working together have a chance to do something extraordinary.

But leadership starts at the top. And, I've talked a lot about what we have to do to work better and smarter and harder, but I've also talked about the Obama effect, and....

In both our President and our First Lady, we have two people who came from pretty humble beginnings. Great values, great families, not a, not a lot of silver spoons. But they had a huge commitment to education. They went on to do extraordinarily well because they had a great quality education.

And if we can get all of our students to understand that, and we have people today saying, not just, "I want to be like the President," "I want to be like the First Lady," but "I want to be smart like the President," "I want to be smart like the First Lady," and we have to capitalize on that opportunity. And that Obama effect I think is going to be unbelievably powerful in catapulting all of us and being just a huge wave behind us in helping our students transform their life opportunities, their life chances.

It's my honor to introduce someone who's a good friend, who's a proud public school graduate from elementary school, public school graduate from high school, someone who's extraordinarily smart, someone who's worked in the community all her life, someone who thinks of nothing more than about children. And it is no coincidence that the first agency she's visiting is the Department of Education. No coincidence.

But before I bring her on I'll tell you one quick story, and she probably won't remember this, she went, obviously, all over the country. But I took one trip with, with them to Iowa, in Des Moines, with the primaries, and we visited a couple schools, and one of the high schools, I talked for a while, and the First Lady talked for a while, and at the end of it, students in the middle of Des Moines, Iowa, who are often the most disenchanted—the punk rock kids, the kids with different colored hair and earrings, the kids that are hard to connect to and feel alienated—that group stayed longer than anybody.

They stayed, they talked to the First Lady, they engaged, and I went home and told my wife, "This is going to be something extraordinary." That here you have this lady from the south side of Chicago who's connecting in remarkable ways to youth in Des Moines, Iowa, cutting through race, class, everything else.

An extraordinarily special person, extraordinarily committed, smart, has worked hard all her life, the mother of two great daughters—please give a huge warm welcome to our First Lady, Michelle Obama.

Mrs. Obama: Well, this is a good thing, to see this department fired up and ready to go, right?

I am honored to be here this afternoon.

You know, first let me tell you that you couldn't be luckier than to have as your leader this guy by the name of Arne Duncan.

Barack and I, my brother, my family, we've known Arne for a very long time, and we've seen his growth, his leadership develop over the years, and he is someone who is committed, hard-working, passionate. But he's someone who is fair, who is honest, who is decent, and who knows that getting to any goal means you have to build a team from within, from the bottom up.

And I know he's already beginning to do this.

This kind of turnout and enthusiasm, you know, is sort of for me, but, you know, you're behind—but I know you're also excited about your new Secretary.

So I'm honored to be here, to share the stage with Arne as well as all of these public servants who have dedicated a lifetime to education and to public service.

Arne wanted me to talk a little bit about myself, but I always sort of feel like after two years of a campaign, you know everything.

But I think the most important thing to tell you or to remind you is that I am a product of your work.

I'm a product of people who were investing every day in the education of regular kids who have grown up on the south side of Chicago, kids on the north side, folks in the south, in the west, young people who often times come into these systems not knowing their own power and their own potential, believing that there's some magic out there to great things.

But because of the work that you've put in, you've taught us and helped many of us understand that it is our own hard work and our own belief in self, your commitment to pushing ourselves along, building great communities and families and reinvesting that energy once we have some successes.

I am a product of your work. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for the public schools that nurtured me and helped me along.

And I am committed, as well as my husband, to ensuring that more kids like us and kids around this country, regardless of their race, their income, their status, the property values in their neighborhoods, get access to an outstanding education.

So as Arne said, this is the first stop in many. I am going to be visiting agencies throughout this administration, to do just something simple, and that's to say thank you.

Thank you before we even begin the work, because so many of you have been here struggling and pushing for decades, and Barack and I want to say thank you for what you've done, and thank you for what you will continue to do.

But we also know that there are new faces coming into this work, and we want to welcome you and thank you for the hard work that you're going to put in.

And I'm going to spend the next several weeks or months, however long it takes, going from agency to agency just to say hello, to learn, to listen, to take information back, where possible.

But truthfully, my task here is to say thank you and roll up your sleeves, because we have a lot of work to do.

But the issues that we're collectively working on affect all of us, all of these communities, and they affect you, and your children, and your grandchildren and those children of your friends and your family.

We're all in this together. So we have a stake in educating every single child, regardless, as I've said, of background and income.

So, the Department of Education is going to be at the forefront of many of the things that we have to do in this administration, and we're going to need that energy in these times of economic challenge.

We're going to be making investments. And I shouldn't say "we," but the administration "we."

With these investments, we're going to create good jobs as we renovate and modernize more than 10,000 schools and improve the learning environment for about 5 million children across this country.

We'll be able to increase Pell grants and make college more affordable—for 7 million students and give nearly 4 million students tax credits for tuition. Imagine that.

And with these investments that we hope to make through this stimulus package, we'll be able to prevent teacher layoffs—and education cuts in hard-hit states.

You know, we need to keep teachers in the classrooms throughout this time. We'll be able to preserve early childhood education programs.

And I know all of you here know the importance of investing in early childhood education. Imagine what we can do with millions of dollars of more investment in this area.

We can expand opportunities in low-income districts for all students and particularly for students with disabilities.

And then, as we look over the longer term, these investments will accelerate education reform, one of Arne's specialties, by funding and rewarding innovation— innovative approaches to teaching and learning, such as teacher quality initiatives, school turnaround programs, and, of course, charter schools.

There's a lot of work to do, and we're going to need you.

I've said that for two years.

Sometimes I don't ask for much other than prayer and hard work and then a little more prayer and then a little more hard work.

But we've got a great leader in Arne and a wonderful leader in our President Obama.

And more importantly, we have to remember that the children of this country are counting on all of us. They're looking to us for direction. They're looking to us for that ray of hope. They're looking to us to help them figure out how to make it through. And we have everything we need right here and now to make that happen.

So we're counting on you every step of the way.

So thank you for taking the time to come.

Thank you for your service.

And let's get to work.

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Last Modified: 02/06/2009