Remarks by the First Lady Before Number Seven School Classroom Visit
Number Seven High School
March 25, 2014
MRS. OBAMA: (Applause.) Well, I’m very excited to meet all of you. I am here to learn from you. I’m very interested to hear all the things you’re doing here at the Number Seven School. I’m really interested to see how the distance-learning program works here; it sounds very exciting.
And also, I’m open to answering any questions that you all have as well, so feel free. So I’m going to stop talking, because I want to hear from you. But thank you for such a warm welcome.
You all truly make me proud, and it is wonderful to be able to highlight all that you’re doing here to students here in the United States who are following my trip. So you all are wonderful examples and wonderful representation of your country.
So thank you. (Applause.)
MR. XIE: Mrs. Obama – for your coming. We, too, feel very honored for your coming. As you can see here, it’s our usual class. And every day, we have tens of thousands of students having the class at the same time. And we are from Number Seven High School -- campus district schools. And here you can see in the screen is a district school from Wen Jiang Number Two, the school. It’s a town not very far away from Chengdu, like half-an hour drive from Chengdu. But we still have another school from our – distant school, and it’s about four hours’ drive. It’s in Nanchong, Yi Long High School.
So we are very eager to ask you questions later. But first of all, we would like to greet the – welcome you. So would you please say something to our First Lady here?
STUDENT: Hello, Mrs. Obama.
MRS. OBAMA: Hello.
STUDENT: Nice to see you. Well, my question is –
MR. XIE: Oh, a question for you.
STUDENT: – we’ve seen many examples of creative Americans, so how do you think school education makes students become creative? Thank you.
MR. XIE: First of all, a question for you. So see how they are eager to ask you questions. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Well, looking back on when I was young, when I was your age -- probably even younger – that was the first time that I got the spark of creativity myself. One of the things I loved to do and still continue to love to do is to write. And some of my best teachers were in school; they were the people who encouraged me to write, who gave me the skills, who showed me new ideas, new approaches. They exposed me to literature, and to other great works that fed my creativity.
But also, the wonderful thing about education is that you are surrounded by your peers. And often, it is your peers who push you and encourage your creativity. So having the opportunity to come to school every day with other young people who are struggling with the same issues and have the same hopes – they push you to be even better.
So that’s one of the reasons why I think it’s so important for every child in this world to have access to an education like you all have. And that’s why I think this distance-learning program is such a wonderful model for reaching out to kids who may not live near schools but can still get the quality education that they need, so that we make sure that we tap into all the creativity of young people like you and none of that energy goes to waste.
Thank you for the question.
STUDENT: Thank you.
MR. XIE: Thank you. Great. (Applause.) Thank you. So of course we have other students here in the school, and we are still prepare – I think they prepared questions for you. So do they get the chance to ask you questions? No?
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, well – tell me, what’s the –
MR. XIE: I mean, the students here –
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, that’s right. You guys are supposed to ask. (Laughter.) So, please.
STUDENT: Excuse me. Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Obama. As we all know, we are a generation leading the 21st century, and people leading this time are under too much pressure competing with each other. So what I wonder is, what’s the technical ability, do you think – should teens just like us have as our core competitiveness to surviving such a society? Thank you.
MRS. OBAMA: I understand this because I have a teenage daughter who is in her second year. She’s a great student, but she feels the stress of trying to succeed. Like you, she’s concerned about already what college she’s going to. My youngest daughter, who is just 12, is already talking about colleges.
So you’re absolutely right, your generation feels a level of pressure that is oftentimes difficult. But the one thing that I tell my daughters – and it’s something that I hope you understand – is that your education, first and foremost, is for you. You have to have it in your mind that everything you’re doing is, first and foremost, for yourself and your own development.
I mean, I spoke in my speech about how I felt like I had to make my parents proud, and that was important motivation for me. But in order to work as hard as you’re going to have to, you have to do it for yourself. You have to have the vision in your head of where you want to be. And you have to not let the disappointment of inevitable failure – which happens to us all -- let you down.
We have all failed. I have had some miserable failures in my life – tests I didn’t do well on, big exams I had embarrassing failures on. My husband, the same way – he wasn’t always a great student. But it’s the perseverance, it’s the sense of what your own goal is, and it’s pushing beyond your fear of failure to make sure that you’re still trying to be the best that you can be.
I don’t know if that directly answered your question.
STUDENT: Thank you.
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.)
MR. XIE: Another question here. Yes.
STUDENT: Nice to meet you, Mrs. Obama. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: You all aren’t shy. I love that. (Laughter.)
STUDENT: I know you are in China for – in some – in a few days. So my question is, what’s your impression about the people you meet, the cities you have gone to, and the food you eat in China? (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: This is my first time visiting China, and let me tell you, it has been a phenomenal experience. Words can’t describe – I mean, I don’t know if you followed my trip. I started in Beijing, yesterday we were in Xi’an, and today I’m here in Chengdu.
And the cities are so vast and so complex and so different from one another. You can’t lump any aspect of China into one stereotype. As I mentioned in my speech, sometimes in the United States, people don’t – they’ve never visited China, they don’t know much about the culture, so sometimes they sort of exist on those stereotypes and misconceptions. Fortunately, I travel a little more than most people in the United States so I’m already pretty open to new cultures. But that’s one of the things that I want to do through this trip.
I want to encourage more young people in the United States to, what I call, step outside of their comfort zones and try new things – get on a plane, travel to another country, experience another language, try new foods. Because, as I said in my speech, underneath all of those difference, we’re still the same. When I look into your eyes – and I’ve met many young people – you all remind me of my girls. You remind me of my kids. And I want for you what I want for them and what I want for all kids.
And the kids – the young people I’ve met here, you all remind me of the kids that I’ve met in India, the kids that I’ve met in Moscow – I could go on and on. You all are born with innate gifts, warmth, a possibility for hope that I don’t want you to lose. And I want us to be in a world that cultivates that for all of you.
So that is my passion. But being here in China just reminds me, yes, we have millions and millions of phenomenal young people who deserve access to the best that the world has to offer. So it has been a true privilege, but, more importantly, I’ve been glad that I’ve been able to bring along other kids in the United States who are following this trip. And maybe they too will think, maybe I’ll come to Chengdu, and maybe I will study at Number Seven School – (laughter) – and learn how to speak Chinese as well as you all speak English.
So that is my hope.
STUDENT: And what’s your impression about Chengdu and our school?
MRS. OBAMA: Chengdu is beautiful. I mean, I have to say, when we drove in last night I didn’t expect it – it is – the river that runs through the city is beautiful. The walkway is gorgeous. We came in at night, the lights were breathtaking. In Beijing – there’s much more green space here than in a bigger city – (laughter) – in Beijing, which was wonderful to see.
I didn’t get to go out last night, but I’m going to have lunch here. So I’m going to try some traditional dishes, so I’ll have to let you know. I’m sure I’ll love it.
But the impression is absolutely wonderful. I told my kids – I don’t know if this is politically correct – but Chengdu is probably the kind of city that I would choose to live in if I were to come to China.
STUDENTS: Ooohh –
MRS. OBAMA: But that’s no – (laughter) – of all of the other cities. But this one is – it’s beautiful.
STUDENT: Okay. Have fun in Chengdu. Thank you. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you.
MR. XIE: – you have another student from a distance who made – who wants to ask you another question. Would you please? Yes. And this student is – well, will you just wait for a moment because we cannot hear you properly. (Laughter.) Yes, would you please say it – also again? Sorry to interrupt you.
STUDENT: Oh, okay. (Laughter.) I heard that you had tried Chinese calligraphy in Beijing, and I want to know, are you interested in any other forms of Chinese culture like kung fu, (inaudible,) and so on. That’s all. Thank you.
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. I think I might get to try some tai chi while I’m here at this school. I think that’s what my staff told me.
And one of my father’s favorite sports – he introduced us – and I don’t know how he knew – to badminton when we were – and I’m not any good at it now. But when we were little, we had a badminton set and we would set it up in our backyard, and we played when I was little. I learned how to play badminton – again, I am no good at it now. (Laughter.)
But, yes, I’m interested in learning so much more. And that’s one of the reasons why I am excited about the school I mentioned in my speech, the Yu Ying School, which is in Washington, D.C. It’s a charter school that’s completely dedicated to Chinese culture and Chinese language. And every single student at that school, from the age of three on up, they’re learning to speak Chinese at a very young age. They’re learning everything about the culture, the music, the dance, the film, the food.
And that’s part of my hope that I will encourage through my trip, is that more and more young people in the United States will explore and learn more about Chinese culture. So, yes, I am interested in doing so much more.
MR. XIE: Thank you, Mrs. Obama. I know that – (applause) – we appreciate your time to be with us.
MRS. OBAMA: We’re done? That’s it?
MR. XIE: Yes, well we want – sorry, but we want you more –
MRS. OBAMA: Let’s do one more question.
MR. XIE: One more question. Yes, you’re lucky, guys. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: You choose. It’s hard to pick.
STUDENT: Okay. So, hello, Mrs. Obama. As your daughter is now learning Chinese, has she ever thought being an exchange student in China, or even staying in China for some time?
MRS. OBAMA: My youngest – we were trying to correct this in the media – in fourth grade – she’s now in seventh grade – they focused for a semester on Chinese culture. And that’s – and it happened to be the time when the Chinese President was there. So she knew some phrases when she was very young, but she didn’t continue to study Chinese; she, instead, is taking Spanish.
I am encouraging both of my daughters to study abroad somewhere. Now, like any parent, I want it to be their choice, because if you tell kids at your age what to do, sometimes you do the exact opposite. (Laughter.) And they’re going to figure it out as they get older.
But my husband and I, we believe that because we are living in a more global economy where our world just feels a lot smaller – because the Internet and so much of technology allows us to be closer to one another that it is so important for young people like you to be citizens of the world. You have to be comfortable traveling and living in all parts of the world, because that’s how you’re going to get jobs in the future, that’s how you’re going to be able to make contributions. Because we can’t solve these problems together if we don’t know one another. And the best way to learn about one another is to live together and learn each other’s languages.
So I want my girls to be global citizens. Now, whether their first effort at studying abroad is in China or Spain or you name it, I will be happy that they take that first step. So I’m not going to commit them because that would be unfair for me to say, yes, they’re going to come to China. (Laughter.) And they will say, mom, why did you say that?
So we’ll see as they get older.
STUDENT: So thank you.
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.)
MR. XIE: – you are even more popular than Mr. Obama, right? (Laughter.) And so before you go, please leave us some encouraging words – to young people? We do appreciate that.
MRS. OBAMA: Well, I think – I can tell that you all are very serious students already, so I don’t have to tell you how important education is because I think you know that. I can see that.
What I want to just remind you is that education is about more than learning words and numbers, and memorizing things, and taking tests and getting good scores. It’s also about the experiences that you have. And I hope that, as you grow older, that you’ll understand that life is a balance; that you have to feed yourself with experiences to continue to grow.
That first question about creativity – creativity comes because you’re filling yourself with all kinds of different experiences that just shape your mind and shape your thinking. So if you’re always comfortable and safe, then you have to think to yourself, well, how much am I learning if I’m not pushing myself outside of my comfort zone? And I think that’s the thing that I would encourage you all to do, is think about how you’re going to continue to fill your life with experiences.
And some of that could be raising your own families, it could be travel, it could be taking up a new hobby, it could be exercising, it could be pursuing a different career than you ever thought you’d ever pursue. But experiences are the other half of the educational process.
And sometimes we as adults just sort of focus on the scores – and the scores are important now. (Laughter.) The grades are important, and I tell my kids that too. But think about how you’re going to strike that balance so that you grow up to be well-rounded people. Because if you’re going to be the leaders of your country, of the world, you’ve got to have a lot of experiences to draw from to make good judgments, and some of that is going to be about what you’ve learned in a book, but a lot of that is going to be about what you’ve learned by meeting and interacting with other people.
So keep learning from each other, and continue to be open to new experiences and to new ideas.