Back to School, Obama Tells Students ‘Your Life is What You Make of It’

By Maya

Sep 14, 2010 1:58pm

ABC News’ Sunlen Miller reports: In his second back-to-school address to kick off the new school year for the nation’s students, President Obama struck a personal tone, recalling how he overcame questions about his mixed race background to eventually apply himself in school. “When I was your age, I was wrestling with questions about who I was; about what it meant to be the son of a white mother and a black father, and not having that father in my life,” the president said from Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School today in Philadelphia, “Some of you may be working through your own questions right now, and coming to terms with what makes you different.” The president said that figuring that out can be even more difficult when students are faced with bullying in class. “There are neighborhoods in my hometown of Chicago, where kids have hurt one another. And the same thing has happened here in Philly So, what I want to say to you today – what I want all of you to take away from my speech – is that life is precious, and part of its beauty lies in its diversity.” Absent from the president’s school speech this year was the controversy that surrounded the first address, when the president was accused of using the address the address as a political speech to kids. Similar themes of working hard, staying in school and following your dreams dominated the president’s message again this year. “I wasn’t always the best student when I was younger; I made my share of mistakes,” the president admitted recalling a conversation he had with his mother while in high school when his grades were slipping, “I was like, I don’t need to hear all this. So, I started to say that, and she just cut me right off. You can’t just sit around, she said, waiting for luck to see you through. She said I could get into any school in the country if I just put in a little effort. Then she gave me a hard look and added, ‘Remember what that’s like? Effort?’” The president said this conversation was “jolting” to him – and afterwards he started to make an effort and began to see his grades and opportunities improve. “More and more, the kinds of opportunities that are open to you will be determined by how far you go in school. In other words, the farther you go in school, the farther you’ll go in life…So, you have an obligation to yourselves, and America has an obligation to you to make sure you’re getting the best education possible.” The president announced the second commencement challenge, promising again to speak at the graduation ceremony of the winning high school. With a nod to the hard external factors facing students today, as the nation tries to dig out of a recession and still waging a war in Afghanistan, the president said that many students are feeling the strain of difficult time at home. “You know what’s going on in the news and your own family’s lives. You read about the war in Afghanistan. You hear about the recession we’ve been through. You see it in your parents’ faces and sense it in their voice. A lot of you are having to act a lot older than you are; to be strong for your family while your brother or sister is serving overseas; to look after younger siblings while your mom works that second shift; to take on a part-time job while your dad is out of work.” Noting that it may seem like even how it’s too much to handle the president said that no one should ever set their sights a little lower because of these hard times. “Nobody gets to write your destiny but you. Your future is in your hands. Your life is what you make of it. And nothing – absolutely nothing – is beyond your reach. So long as you’re willing to dream big. So long as you’re willing to work hard. So long as you’re willing to stay focused on your education.”

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