President Barack Obama shakes hands with students after delivering remarks at his second annual back-to-school speech, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010, at Julia R. Masterman School in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The secret, decoded text of Obama's speech to children

What the president was really saying in his address to America's schoolchildren today


Jonathan Bernstein
September 15, 2010 12:11AM (UTC)

This originally appeared on Jonathan Bernstein's blog

Once again, it falls to Plain Blog to reveal the real message in Barack Obama's video to schoolchildren today:

Hello Philadelphia! It’s wonderful to be here. Today is about welcoming all of you and all of America’s students back to school – and I can’t think of a better place to do it than Masterman. You’re one of the best schools in Philadelphia – a leader in helping students succeed in the classroom. And just last week, you were recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School for your record of achievement. That’s a testament to everyone here – students and parents, teachers and school leaders. And it’s an example of excellence I hope communities across America embrace.

Over the past few weeks, Michelle and I have been getting Sasha and Malia ready for school. And I bet a lot of you are feeling the same way they’re feeling. You’re a little sad to see the summer go, but you’re also excited about the possibilities of a new year. The possibilities of building new friendships and strengthening old ones. Of joining a school club, or trying out for a team. The possibilities of growing into a better student, and a better person, and making your family proud.

But I know some of you may also be nervous about starting a new school year. Maybe you’re making the jump from elementary to middle school, or from middle to high school, and worried about what that’ll be like. Maybe you’re starting a new school, and not sure how you’ll like it.  Or maybe you’re a senior who’s feeling anxious about the whole college process; about where to apply and whether you can afford to go.

And beyond all these concerns, I know a lot of you are also feeling the strain of these difficult times. 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.

It’s a lot to handle; it’s more than you should have to handle. And it may make you wonder at times what your own future will look like; whether you’ll be able to succeed in school; whether you should set your sights a little lower, and scale back your dreams.

But here is what I came to Masterman to tell you: 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.

That last part is absolutely essential – because an education has never been more important. I’m sure there will be times in the months ahead when you’re staying up late cramming for a test, or dragging yourselves out of bed on a rainy morning, and wondering if it’s all worth it. Let me tell you, there is no question about it. Nothing will have as great an impact on your success in life as your education.

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. And at a time when other countries are competing with us like never before; when students around the world are working harder than ever, and doing better than ever; your success in school will also help determine America’s success in the 21st century.

So, you have an obligation to yourselves, and America has an obligation to you to make sure you’re getting the best education possible. And making sure you get that kind of education is going to take all of us working hand-in-hand.

It will take all of us in government – from Harrisburg to Washington – doing our part to prepare our students, all of them, for success in the classroom, in college, and in a career. It will take an outstanding principal and outstanding teachers like the ones here at Masterman; teachers who go above and beyond for their students. And it will take parents who are committed to your education.

That’s what we have to do for you. That’s our responsibility. That’s our job. But here’s your job. Showing up to school on time. Paying attention in class. Doing your homework. Studying for exams. Staying out of trouble. That kind of discipline and drive – that kind of hard work – is absolutely essential for success.



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There's more, but I don't want you to strain your eyes too much. As I said last year, it's tricky because the stuff about his real father Malcolm X is in some kind of complex code that involves assigning different point-values to each letter, and then the stuff about how Acorn is going to steal the 2010 elections involves translating the message from the 11-year-old into Korean and then back, and the letters aren't in order ... it's really hard to get it all. I'll try harder next year!


Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein writes at a Plain Blog About Politics. Follow him at @jbplainblog

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