The First Lady Speaks on Education at Number 7 School in Chengdu, China
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The First Lady Speaks on Education at Number 7 School in Chengdu, China

(applause) The First Lady: Ni hao. It is truly a pleasure
to be here at the Number Seven School. Thank you so much for
your warm welcome. Now, before I get started,
on behalf of myself and my husband, I want to say
that our hearts go out to all those with loved ones on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. As I said this past
weekend when I spoke at Peking University, we are
very much keeping all of them in our thoughts
and our prayers at this tremendously
difficult time. So now, let me start by
thanking your Principal, Principal Liu, and your
classmate, Ju Chao, for that wonderful
introduction. Your English, Ju Chao, is
excellent, and you should be very proud. Thank you so much. (applause) And I want to
thank all of the students here today, both those of
you here in person and those of you joining
remotely from across the region. I’m thrilled to be
visiting your wonderful school. Now, in preparation for
this visit, before I left the U.S. I visited the
Yu Ying School. It’s a public school
near the White House in Washington, D.C., and all
of the students at this school study Chinese. And I met with the
sixth-grade class, kids who are 11 and
12 years old. They had recently taken a
trip here to China, and they were bursting
with excitement. They were eager to tell
me about everything about what they had seen. But they admitted that
before their trip, they had all kinds of
misconceptions about China. They thought they would
see palaces and temples everywhere they went, but
instead they found massive cities filled
with skyscrapers. They weren’t sure that
they’d like the food here in China, but they
actually loved it, and they learned how
to use chopsticks. And in the end, one of the
students told me — and this is his quote — he
said, “Coming home was really exciting, but was
at the same time sad.” Now, meeting these
students reminded me that when we live so far away
from each other, it’s easy to develop all kinds of misconceptions and stereotypes. It’s easy to focus on our
differences — how we speak different languages
and eat different foods and observe different
traditions. But as I travel the world,
and I meet young people from so many countries,
I’m always struck by how much more we
have in common. And that’s been
particularly true during my visit here in China. You see, the truth is that
I grew up like many of you. My mom, my dad, my brother
and I, we lived in a tiny apartment in
Chicago, which is one of the largest cities in America. My father worked at
the local water plant. And we didn’t have much
money, but our little home was bursting with love. Every evening, my family
would laugh and share stories over dinner. We’d play card games
and have fun for hours. And on summer nights,
I remember, when our apartment got too hot,
we’d all sleep outside on our back porch. Family meant everything to
us, including our extended family. My grandparents lived
nearby, and my elderly great aunt and
uncle lived in the apartment downstairs from us. And when their health
started to decline my parents stepped in,
helping my uncle shave and dress each morning,
dashing downstairs in the middle of the night
to check on my aunt. So in my family, like in
so many of your families, we took care
of each other. And while we certainly
weren’t rich, my parents had big dreams for
me and my brother. They had only a high
school education themselves, but they were
determined to send us both to universities. So they poured all of
their love and all of their hope into us,
and they worked hard. They saved every penny. And I know that wasn’t
easy for them, especially for my father. You see, my father had a
serious illness called multiple sclerosis. And as he got sicker, it
got harder for him to walk, and it took him
longer to get dressed in the morning. But no matter how tired he
felt, no matter how much pain he was in, my father
hardly ever missed a day of work, because he was
determined to give me and my brother a better life. And every day, like so
many of you, I felt the weight of my parents’
sacrifices on my shoulders. Every day, I wanted
to make them proud. So while most American
kids attend public schools near their homes, when it
was time for me to attend high school, I
took an exam and got into a special public high school
where I could get a better education. But the school was very
far from my home, so I had to get up early every
morning and ride a bus for an hour, sometimes an
hour and a half if the weather was bad. And every afternoon, I’d
ride that same bus back home and then immediately
start my homework, often studying late into the
night — and sometimes I would wake up at 4:30 or
5:00 in the morning to study even more. And it wasn’t easy. But whenever I got tired
or discouraged, I would just think about how
hard my parents were working for me. And I would remember
something my mother always told me — she said:
“A good education is something that no one
can take away from you.” And when it was time for
me to apply to university, I had many options,
because in America, there are many kinds
of universities. There are four-year
universities. There are two-year
community colleges which are less expensive. There are universities
where you take classes at night while working
during the day. So you don’t have to be a
top student to attend a university. And even if your parents
don’t have much money or you live in a tiny town in
a rural area, in America, you can still
attend university. And you can get
scholarships and government loans to
help pay your tuition. So I attended Princeton
University for my undergraduate degree,
and I went on to Harvard University for my
graduate degree in law. And with those degrees
I was able to become a lawyer at a large law
firm, and then I worked as an executive at a city
hospital, and then I was the director of an
organization that helped disadvantaged
young people. And my story isn’t
unusual in America. Some of our most famous
athletes, like LeBron James, and artists,
like the singer Janelle Monae, came from struggling
families like mine, as do many business leaders
— like Howard Schultz. He’s the head of a company
called Starbucks, which many of you may
have heard of. When Mr. Schultz was a boy
his father lost his job, leaving their
family destitute. But Mr. Schultz
worked hard. He got a scholarship to a
university, and eventually built the largest
coffeehouse company in the world. And then there’s this
other guy I know who was raised by a single mother
who sometimes struggled to afford food for
their family. But like me, this guy got
scholarships and loans to attend universities. He became a lawyer and a
professor, and then he was a state senator and
then a national senator. And then, he became President of the United States. This guy I’m talking about
is my husband, Barack Obama. (applause) These stories
are the stories of so many Americans, and of
America itself. Because in America, we
believe that no matter where you live or how much
money your parents have, or what race or religion
or ethnicity you are, if you work hard and believe
in yourself, then you should have a
chance to succeed. We also believe that
everyone is equal, and that we all have the right
to say what we think and worship as we choose, even
when others don’t like what we say or don’t
always agree with what we believe. Now of course, living up
to these ideals isn’t always easy. And there have been times
in our history where we have fallen short. Many decades ago, there
were actually laws in America that allowed
discrimination against black people like me, who
are a minority in the United States. But over time, ordinary
citizens decided that those laws were unfair. So they held peaceful
protests and marches. They called on government
officials to change those laws, and they voted to
elect new officials who shared their views. And slowly but surely,
America changed. We got rid of
those unjust laws. And today, just 50 years
later, my husband and I are President and First
Lady of the United States. And that is really the
story of America — how over the course of our
short history, through so many trials and
struggles, we have become more equal, more inclusive,
and more free. And today in America,
people of every race, religion and ethnicity
live together and work together to build a better
life for their children and grandchildren. And in the end, that
deep yearning to leave something better for those
who come after us, that is something we
all truly share. In fact, there’s a Chinese
saying that I love that says, “To achieve true
happiness, help the next generation.” And like so many of your
parents, my parents sacrificed so much so that
I could have opportunities they never dreamed of. And today, as a mother
myself, I want even more opportunities for
my own daughters. But of course, as I always
tell my daughters, with opportunities
come obligations. And that is true for
all of you as well. You all have the
opportunity to receive an education from this
wonderful school, and you all have an obligation
to take the fullest advantage of this opportunity. And I know that’s exactly
what you all are doing. You’re winning prizes
in math and science. Here, you are staging
musical performances around the world. You’re volunteering
in your communities. And many of you are
working hard to get an education your parents
never dreamed of. So you all have so much to
offer — and that’s a good thing, because the world
needs your talent. The world needs your
creativity and energy more than ever before. Because we face big
challenges that know no borders — like improving
the quality of our air and water, ensuring that
people have good jobs, stopping the
spread of disease. And soon, it will all fall
to all of you to come together with people on
every continent and solve these problems together. Now, fortunately, here at
this wonderful school, you’re already
well on your way. For more than a decade,
you’ve been building special relationships with
a American school in — an American high school, and
many of you will attend universities in America or
find other ways to reach out beyond your borders. So in the years ahead,
much like you and I are doing here today, you
will be creating bonds of friendship across the
globe that will last for decades to come. And over the past week,
as I have seen both the ancient wonders and the
modern achievements of your fascinating country,
and as I’ve met with extraordinary young people
like all of you, I am more confident than ever
before in our shared future. And I cannot wait to see
everything that you will achieve here in China
and around the world. Thank you again for
hosting me and my family at this extraordinary
school, and I wish you all the best of
luck in your journey ahead. Xie-Xie. (applause)

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