In his annual back-to-school message to students, President Barack Obama talked about the need for students to buckle down and get to work. He acknowledged that for many students that’s a tall order, and underscored how important this generation of students is for the country.
“I know that you’ve got a lot to deal with outside of school,” he said. “Issues that used to stay confined to hallways or locker rooms now find their way into your Facebook feeds and Twitter accounts. And some of your families might be feeling the strain of this economy. You might have picked up an after-school job to help out, or maybe you’re babysitting for a younger sibling because Mom or Dad is working an extra shift.”
He talked about the fact that students are growing up faster and interacting with the wider world in a way that most adults did not have to do at such an early age.
“I don’t want to be another adult who stands up to lecture you like you’re just kids,” Obama said. “Because you’re not just kids. You’re this country’s future. Whether we fall behind or race ahead in the coming years is up to you. And I want talk to you about meeting that responsibility.”
The president told the students that they need to start with being the best student they can be — not always getting a perfect score on every assignment or getting straight As all the time, though he told them that’s a good goal to strive for.
“It means you have to work as hard as you know how,” he said.
Obama said school is for discovering new passions and acquiring the skills to pursue those passions in the future. He also challenged the students to set high goals.
“I want all of you to set a goal to continue your education after high school,” he said. “And if that means college for you, just getting in isn’t enough. You’ve got to finish.”
I love what the president said about teachers: “Teachers are the men and women who might be working harder than anybody. Whether you go to a big school or a small one, whether you attend a public, private, or charter school, your teachers are giving up their weekends and waking up at dawn. They’re cramming their days full of classes and extracurriculars. Then they’re going home, eating some dinner and staying up past midnight to grade your papers.
“And they don’t do it for a fancy office or a big salary. They do it for you. They live for those moments when something clicks, when you amaze them with your intellect and they see the kind of person you can become. They know that you’ll be the citizens and leaders who take us into tomorrow. They know that you’re the future.”
President Obama ended by underscoring his main point: “I have no doubt that America’s best days are ahead of us because I know the potential that lies inside each one of you. Soon enough, you’ll be the ones leading our businesses and our government; you’ll be the ones charting the course of our unwritten history. All of that starts this year. Right now. So I want you all to make the most of this year ahead of you. Your country is depending on you. Set your sights high. Have a great school year. And let’s get to work.”
Regardless of personal politics, I believe we can all agree that is exactly the message we want all our students to hear.
— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.