We push our young people to strive for things — an advanced degree, a job title, a big salary. Rarely do we urge them to stop and think about what their passion is, what kind of life they want to live, what kind of neighbors and colleagues and parents they want to be.
- Michelle Obama

Remarks by Michelle Obama to Department of Education Staff

06/30/09 | 12:30 pm

Department of Education
Washington, D.C.

MRS. OBAMA: Well, this is a good thing to see this department fired up and ready to go, right? I am — I am honored to be here this afternoon. 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, hardworking, 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 is sort of for me, but, you know, 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’d grown up on the south side of Chicago, kids on the north side, folks in the south, in the west — young people who oftentimes comes 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, our 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, their — the property values in their neighborhoods, get access to an outstanding education.

So as Arne said, this is the first stop in many. I’m 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. They affect you and your children and your grandchildren and those 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.

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