Obama Election Victory Speech text 2012 transcript
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THE PRESIDENT: "Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward. (Applause.)
It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression; the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope -- the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family, and we rise or fall together, as one nation, and as one people. (Applause.)
Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come. (Applause.)
I want to thank every American who participated in this election. (Applause.) Whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time -- (applause) -- by the way, we have to fix that. (Applause.) Whether you pounded the pavement or picked up the phone -- (applause) -- whether you held an Obama sign or a Romney sign, you made your voice heard, and you made a difference. (Applause.)
I just spoke with Governor Romney, and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign. (Applause.) We may have battled fiercely, but itís only because we love this country deeply, and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service, and that is a legacy that we honor and applaud tonight. (Applause.)
In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward. (Applause.)
I want to thank my friend and partner of the last four years, Americaís happy warrior -- (applause) -- the best Vice President anybody could ever hope for -- Joe Biden. (Applause.)
And I wouldnít be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago. (Applause.) Let me say this publicly -- Michelle, I have never loved you more. I have never been prouder to watch the rest of America fall in love with you, too, as our nationís First Lady. (Applause.) Sasha and Malia, before our very eyes, you're growing up to become two strong, smart, beautiful young women, just like your mom. (Applause.) And Iím so proud of you guys. But I will say that for now, one dog is probably enough. (Laughter.)
To the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics -- (applause) -- the best. The best ever. (Applause.) Some of you were new this time around, and some of you have been at my side since the very beginning. But all of you are family. No matter what you do or where you go from here, you will carry the memory of the history we made together, and you will have the lifelong appreciation of a grateful President. Thank you for believing all the way, through every hill, through every valley. (Applause.) You lifted me up the whole way. And I will always be grateful for everything that you've done and all the incredible work that you put in. (Applause.)
I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics who tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos, or the domain of special interests. But if you ever get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies, and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym, or saw folks working late at a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you'll discover something else.
Youíll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer whoís worked his way through college, and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity. (Applause.) Youíll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer whoís going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift. (Applause.) Youíll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse whoís working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job, or a roof over their head when they come home. (Applause.)
Thatís why we do this. Thatís what politics can be. Thatís why elections matter. It's not small; it's big. It's important.
Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That wonít change after tonight -- and it shouldnít. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty, and we can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today. (Applause.)
But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for Americaís future. We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers -- (applause) -- a country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation, with all the good jobs and new businesses that follow.
We want our children to live in an America that isnít burdened by debt; that isnít weakened by inequality; that isnít threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. (Applause.)
We want to pass on a country thatís safe and respected and admired around the world; a nation that is defended by the strongest military on Earth and the best troops this world has ever known -- (applause) -- but also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being.
We believe in a generous America; in a compassionate America; in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrantís daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag. (Applause.) To the young boy on the South Side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner. (Applause.) To the furniture workerís child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a President. Thatís the future we hope for. Thatís the vision we share. Thatís where we need to go. Forward. (Applause.) That's where we need to go.
Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It's not always a straight line. It's not always a smooth path. By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams wonít end all the gridlock, or solve all our problems, or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus, and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin.
Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. A long campaign is now over. (Applause.) And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you. I have learned from you. And you've made me a better President. With your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do, and the future that lies ahead.
Tonight, you voted for action, not politics as usual. (Applause.) You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together: reducing our deficit; reforming our tax code; fixing our immigration system; freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We've got more work to do. (Applause.)
But that doesnít mean your work is done. The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote. America has never been about what can be done for us. Itís about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. (Applause.) That's the principle we were founded on.
This country has more wealth than any nation, but thatís not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but thatís not what makes us strong. Our university, culture are the envy of the world, but thatís not what keeps the world coming to our shores.
What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on Earth -- the belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations; that the freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for comes with responsibilities as well as rights, and among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That's what makes America great. (Applause.)
I am hopeful tonight because I have seen this spirit at work in America. Iíve seen it in the family business whose owners would rather cut their own pay than lay off their neighbors, and in the workers who would rather cut back their hours than see a friend lose a job.
Iíve seen it in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb, and in those SEALs who charged up the stairs into darkness and danger because they knew there was a buddy behind them, watching their back. (Applause.)
Iíve seen it on the shores of New Jersey and New York, where leaders from every party and level of government have swept aside their differences to help a community rebuild from the wreckage of a terrible storm. (Applause.)
And I saw it just the other day in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his eight-year-old daughter, whose long battle with leukemia nearly cost their family everything, had it not been for health care reform passing just a few months before the insurance company was about to stop paying for her care. (Applause.) I had an opportunity to not just talk to the father, but meet this incredible daughter of his. And when he spoke to the crowd, listening to that fatherís story, every parent in that room had tears in their eyes, because we knew that little girl could be our own. And I know that every American wants her future to be just as bright.
Thatís who we are. Thatís the country I'm so proud to lead as your President. (Applause.) And tonight, despite all the hardship weíve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I've never been more hopeful about our future. (Applause.) I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope.
Iím not talking about blind optimism -- the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. Iím not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight. I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us, so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting. (Applause.)
America, I believe we can build on the progress weíve made, and continue to fight for new jobs, and new opportunity, and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founding -- the idea that if youíre willing to work hard, it doesnít matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or where you love -- it doesnít matter whether you're black or white, or Hispanic or Asian, or Native American, or young or old, or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight -- you can make it here in America if youíre willing to try. (Applause.)
I believe we can seize this future together -- because we are not as divided as our politics suggest; we're not as cynical as the pundits believe; we are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions; and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America. (Applause.) And together, with your help, and Godís grace, we will continue our journey forward, and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth. (Applause.)
Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States. (Applause.)"
# END 12:58 A.M. CST
Source: The White House
First Lady Michelle Obama's speech transcripts
Democratic National Convention 2012, September 4th speech.
SPEAKER: FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA OBAMA:
"Thank you.Thank you so much. Thank you so much. With your help -- with your help."(APPLAUSE)
" Let me -- let me start
With your help -- with your help. Let me -- let me
start. I want to start by thanking Elaine. Elaine, thank you so
much. We are so grateful for your family's service and
sacrifice. And we will always have your back.
Over the past few years as first lady, I have had the
extraordinary privilege of travelling all across this country.
And everywhere I have gone and the people I've met and the
stories I've heard, I have seen the very best of the American
I've seen it in the incredible kindness and warmth that
people have shown in me and my family especially our girls.
I've seen it in teachers in a near bankrupt school district to
vowed to keep teaching without pay. I -- I have seen it in
people become heroes at a moment's notice, diving into harm's
way to save others, flying across the country to put out a fire,
diving for hours to bail out a town. And, I've seen it in our
men and women in uniform and our proud military families.
In -- in wounded warriors who tell me they are not just
going to walk again, they are going to run and they are going to
In the young men blinded by a bomb in Afghanistan who said
simply, ``I'd give my eyes and 100 times again to have the chance
to do what I have done, and what I can still do''.
Every day, the people I meet inspire me. Every day they
make me proud. Every day they remind me how blessed we are to
live in the greatest nation on earth.
Serving as your first lady is an honor and a privilege.
But, back when we first came together four years ago, I still
had some concerns about this journey we'd begun.
While I believe it if we dig deeply in my husband's vision
for this country, and I was certain he would make an
extraordinary president, like any mother, I was worried about
what it would mean for our girls if he got that chance. How
would we keep them grounded under the glare of the national
spotlight? How would they feel being uprooted from their
school, their friends and the only home they'd ever known?
See our life before moving to Washington was filled with
simple joys. Saturdays at soccer games, Sundays at grandma's
house, and a date night for Barack and me with either dinner or
a movie because as an exhausted mom, I couldn't stay awake for
And the truth is, I loved the life we had built for our
girls. And I deeply love the man I built that life with and I
did not want that to change if he became president.
I loved Barack just the way he was. You see, even back
then, when Barack was a Senator and presidential candidate, to
me, he was still the guy who picked me up for our dates in a car
that was so rusted out, I could actually see the pavement going
by in a hole in the passenger side door.
He was the guy whose proudest possession was a coffee table
he'd found in a dumpster.
And whose only pair of decent was half a size too small.
But see when -- when Barack started telling me about his family,
see now that's when I knew I'd found in him a kindred spirit.
Someone whose values and upbringing were so much like mine.
You see Barack and I were both raised by families that did
not have much in the way of money or material possessions but
who had given us something far more valuable: their
unconditional love, their unflinching sacrifice and the chance
to go places they had never imagined for themselves.
My father was a pump operator at the city water plant, and
he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and my brother and I
were young. And even as a kid, I knew there were plenty of days
when he was in pain. And I knew there were plenty of morning
when it was a struggle for him to simply get out of bed.
But every morning I watched my father wake up with
a smile, grab his walker, prop himself against the sink and
slowly shave and button his uniform.
And when he returned home after a long day's work, my
brother and I would stand at the top of the stairs of our
apartment, patiently waiting to greet him, watching as he
reached down to lift one leg and then the other to slowly climb
his way into our arms. But despite these challenges, my dad
hardly ever missed a day of work. He and my mom were determined
to give me and my brother the kind of education they could only
dream of. (APPLAUSE)
And when my brother and I finally made it to college,
nearly all of our tuition came from student loans and grants,
but my dad still had to pay a tiny portion of that tuition
himself, and every semester, he was determined to pay that bill
right on time, even taking out loans when he fell short. He was
so proud to be sending his kids to college and he made sure we
never missed a registration deadline because his check was late.
You see, for my dad, that is what it meant to be a man.
Like so many of us that was the measure of his success in
life. Being able to earn a decent living that allowed him to
support his family. And as I got to know Barack, I realize that
even though he had grown up all the way across the country, he
had been brought up just like me.
Barack was raised by a single mom who struggled to pay
bills and by grandparents who stepped in when she needed help.
Barack's grandmother started out as a secretary at a community
bank. She moved quickly up the ranks, but like so many women,
she hit a glass ceiling. And for years, men no more qualified
than she was, men she actually trained, were promoted up the
ladder ahead of her, earning more and more money while Barack's
family continue to scrap by.
But day after day, she kept on waking up at dawn to catch
the bus, arriving at work before anyone else, giving her best
without complaint or regret. And she would often tell Barack,
``So long as you kids do well Bar, that is all that really
matters.'' Like so many American families, our families weren't
asking for much.
They didn't begrudge anyone else's success or
care that others had much more than they did. In fact, they
They simply believed in that fundamental American
promise -- that even if you don't start out with much, if you
work hard and do what you are supposed to do, you should be able
to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for
your kids and grandkids. That's how they raised us.
That's what we learned from their example. We learned
about dignity and decency. That how hard you work matters more
than how much you make. That helping others means more than
just getting ahead yourself.
We learned about honesty and integrity. That the truth
matters. That you don't take shortcuts are played by your own
set of rules. (APPLAUSE)
And success doesn't count unless you earn it fair and
square. We learned about gratitude and humility . That so many
people had a hand in our success from the teachers who inspired
us to the janitors who kept our school clean.
And we were taught to value everyone's contribution and
treat everyone with respect. Those are the values that Barack
and I and so many of you are trying to pass on to our own
children. That's who we are. And standing before you four
years ago, I knew that I did not want any of that to change if
Barack became president. Well today, after so many struggles
and triumphs and moments that have tested my husband in ways I
never could have imagined, and I have seen firsthand that being
president does not change who you are. No, it reveals the you
You see, I have gotten to see up close and personal what
being president really looks like, and I've seen how the issues
that come across a president's desk are always the hard ones.
You know, the problems where no amount of data are members will
get you to the right answer.
The judgment calls where the
stakes are so high and there is no margin for error. And as
president, you are going to get all kinds of advice from all
kinds of people, but at the end of the day when it comes time to
make that decision as president, all you have to guide you are
your values and your vision and the life experiences that make
you who you are. (APPLAUSE)
So when it comes to rebuilding our economy, Barack is
thinking about folks like my dad and like his grandmother. He's
thinking about the pride that comes from a hard day's work.
That is why he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help
women get equal pay for equal work.
That is why he cut taxes for working families at small
businesses and fought to get the of the industry back on its
That's how he brought our economy and the brink of collapse
to creating jobs again. Jobs you can raise a family on, good
jobs. Right here in the United States of America.
When it comes to the health of our families, Barack refused
to listen to those folks who told him to leave health reform for
another day. Another president. He didn't care whether it was
the easy thing to do politically. That is not how he was
raised. He cared that it was the right thing to do.
He -- he did it because he believed that here in America,
our grandparents should be able to afford their medicine. Our
kids should be able to see a doctor when they're sick. And no
one in this country should ever go broke because of an accident
or an illness. (APPLAUSE)
And he believes that women are more than capable of making
our own choices about our bodies and our health care.
That is what my husband stands for.
When it comes to giving our kids the education they
deserve, Barack knows that like me and so many of you, he never
could have attended college without financial aid. And believe
it or not, when we were first married, our combined monthly
student loan bill was actually higher than our mortgage. We
were so young, so in love, and so in debt.
And that's why Barack has fought so hard to increase
student aid, and keep interest rates down because he wants every
young person to attend college without a mountain of debt.
So, in the end for Barack, these issues are not political.
They're personal. Because Barack knows what it means when a
family struggles. He knows what it means to want something more
for your kids and grandkids. Barack knows the American dream
because he's lived it. (APPLAUSE)
And he wants everyone in this country, everyone to have the
same opportunity no matter who we are or where we are from or
what we look like or who we love.
And he believes that when you work hard and done well and
walk through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it
shut behind you.
No, you reach back and you give other folks the
same chances that help you succeed.
So when people ask me whether being in the White House has
changed my husband, I can honestly say that when it comes to his
character and his convictions and his heart, Barack Obama is
still the same man I fell in love with all those years ago.
He is the same man who started his career by turning down
high- paying jobs and instead of working in struggling
neighborhoods where a steel plant had shutdown, fighting to
rebuild communities and get folks back to work. Because for
Barack, success isn't about how much money you make. It is
about the difference you make in people's lives.
He is the same man -- he is the same man when our girls
were first born, would anxiously checked their cribs every few
minutes to ensure they were still breathing, proudly showing
them off to everyone we knew. You see, that's the man who sit
down with me and our girls for dinner nearly every night,
patiently answering questions about issues in the news,
strategizing about middle school friendships. That's the man I
see in those quiet moments late at night, hunched over his desk,
pouring over the letters people have sent him.
The letter from
the father struggling to pay his bills. From the woman dying of
cancer whose insurance company won't cover her care. From the
young people with some much promise but so few opportunities.
And I see the concern in his eyes, and I hear the determination
in his voice as he tells me, ``You won't believe what these folks
are going through Michelle. It's not right. We have got to
keep working to fix this. We have so much more to do.''
I see how those stories...
AUDIENCE: Four more years!
OBAMA: I see how those stories, our collection of
struggles and hopes and dreams, I see how that's what drives
Barack Obama every single day. And I did not think it was
possible, but let me tell you today, I love my husband even more
than I did four years ago. Even more than I did 23 years ago
when we first met.
Let me tell you why -- I love that he has never forgotten
how he started. I love that we can trust Barack to do what he
says he is going to do, even when it is hard, especially when
it's hard. I love that for Barack, there is no such thing as us
He doesn't care whether you are a Democrat, a
Republican, or none of the above. He knows that we all love our
country, and he is always ready to listen to good ideas, he is
always looking for the very best in everyone he meets.
love that even in the toughest moments, when we're all sweatin'
it -- when we're worried that the bill won't pass, and it seems
like all is lost, see Barack never lets himself get distracted
by the chatter and noise. No, just like his grandmother, he
just keeps getting up and moving forward with patience and
wisdom, and courage and grace.
And he reminds me -- he reminds me that we are playing a
long game here, and that change is hard, and change is low and
never happens all at once, but eventually we get there, we
always do. We get there because of folks like my dad, folks
like Barack's grandmother, men and women who said to themselves,
``I may not have a chance to fulfill my dreams but maybe my
children will. Maybe my grandchildren will.'' See, so many of
us stand here tonight because of their sacrifice, and longing
and steadfast love, because time and again, they swallowed their
fears and doubts and did what was hard.
So today, when the challenges we face start to seem
overwhelming or even impossible, let us never forget that doing
the impossible is the history of this nation.
OBAMA: It is who we are as Americans. It is how this
country was built.
And -- and if -- if our parents and grandparents could toil
-- and -- and struggle for us, you know if they could raise
beams of steel to the sky, send a man to the moon, connect the
world with a touch of a button, then surely, we can keep on
sacrificing and building for our own kids and grandkids, right?
OBAMA: And if so many brave men and women could sacrifice
their lives for our most fundamental rights, then surely we can
do our parts as citizens of this great democracy to exercise
those rights. Surely we can get to the polls on a election day
and make our voices heard. (APPLAUSE)
If -- if farmers and -- and blacksmiths could win an
independence from an empire, if -- if immigrants could leave
behind every, if women can be dragged to jail for seeking to
vote, if a generation could defeat a depression and define
greatness for all time, if a young preacher could lift us to the
mountain top with his righteous dream, and if proud Americans
can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they
love, then surely, surely, we can give everyone in this country
a fair chance at that great American dream.
Because in the end -- in the end, more than anything else,
that is the story of this country. The story of unwavering hope
grounded in unyielding struggle. That is what has made my story
and Barack's story and -- and so many American stories possible.
And let me tell you something, I say all of this tonight, not
just as a first lady, no, not just as a wife. You see, at the
end of the day, my most important title is still mom-in-chief.
My -- my -- my daughters are -- are still at the heart of
my heart and the center of my world. But, let me tell you,
today, I have none of those worries from four years ago, no.
Not about whether Barack and I were doing what was best for our
Because today, I know from experience that if I truly
want to leave a better world for my daughters, and for all of
our sons and daughters, if -- if we want to give all of our
children a foundation for their dreams, and opportunities worthy
of their promise, if we want to give them a sense of that
limitless possibility, their belief that here in America, there
is always something better out there if you are willing to work
for it, then we must work like never before, and we must once
again come together, and stand together for the man we can trust
to keep moving this great country forward.
My husband, our president, Barack Obama.
Thank you. God bless you, and God bless America."
First Lady Michelle Obama:
first graduation speech at UC Merced.
"Thank you. Thank you so much, Class of 2009. All I can say is wow, and good afternoon, everyone. I am so proud of these graduates. We have to just give them one big round of applause before I start. This is just an amazing day.
I want to thank Dick for that lovely introduction. He makes for a good companion when you have to go to an inauguration. (Laughter.) So I'm glad he could be here with me today. I appreciate all that he has done to make this day so very special.
I want to acknowledge a few other people before I begin: Congressman Jerry McNerney, Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, Attorney General Jerry Brown, and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass. I want to thank you all for your leadership and for being an example of what a life in public service can mean to us all.
And of course I have to thank Chancellor Kang for this incredible welcome, and as well as President Yudof and Provost Keith Alley for all that they've done to help make this event just such a wonderful day for us all.
And to the graduates and their families and the entire community of Merced, I am so pleased, so thrilled, so honored to be here with all of you today.
UC Merced web site. While being the 10th campus within the University of California system, UC Mercedís stated mission is to be the best student-centered research university.
Now, I know we've got a lot of national press out there, and a few people may be wondering why did I choose the University of California-Merced to deliver my first commencement speech as First Lady. (Applause.) Well, let me tell you something, the answer is simple: You inspired me, you touched me. (Applause.) You know, there are few things that are more rewarding than to watch young people recognize that they have the power to make their dreams come true. And you did just that. Your perseverance and creativity were on full display in your efforts to bring me here to Merced for this wonderful occasion. (Applause.)
So let me tell you what you did. If you don't know, parents, because some of you were involved, my office received thousands of letters and, of course, Valentines cards from students; each and every one of them so filled with hope and enthusiasm. It moved not just me but my entire staff. They came up to me and said, "Michelle, you have to do this." (Laughter.) "You have to go here!"
They were all terrific. Like the one from Christopher Casuga that read, "Dear Mrs. Obama -- Please come to UC Merced's Commencement. We could really use the publicity." (Laughter.) That really touched me.
Or then there was one from Jim Greenwood who wrote not on his behalf but on behalf of his wife and the mother of his two children, who is graduating with us today. (Applause.)
And then there was the one from Andrea Mercado. I think this was one of my favorites. Andrea said that the role of First Lady is -- and I quote -- "the balance between politics and sanity." (Laughter.) Thank you, Andrea, for that vote of confidence. (Laughter.)
I received letters from everyone connected to this university -- not just students, but they came from parents, and grandparents, and cousins, and aunts, and uncles, and neighbors, and friends, all of them telling me about how hard you all have worked and how important this day is for you and for the entire Merced community.
And then there's that beautiful video, the "We Believe" video. Well, let me tell you, it worked, because I'm here! (Applause.)
And I want to thank in particular Sam Fong and Yaasha Sabba and all of the students who launched the "Dear Michelle" campaign.
I am honored by your efforts and happy to be with you to celebrate this important milestone.
But I understand that this type of community-based letter writing campaign isn't unique to me. This community, this Merced community, employed the same strategy to help get the University of California to build the new campus here in Merced. (Applause.) Every school kid in the entire county, I understand, sent a postcard to the UC Board of Regents in order to convince them to select Merced, and I just love the fact that some of the graduates sitting this audience today participating were involved in that campaign, as well, and then they used the same strategy to get me here. That is amazing. And what it demonstrates is the power of many voices coming together to make something wonderful happen. And I'm telling you, next year's graduation speaker better watch out, because Merced students know how to get what they want.
(Laughter and applause.)
This type of activism and optimism speaks volumes about the students here, the faculty, the staff, but also about the character and history of Merced -- a town built by laborers and immigrants from all over the world: early settlers who came here as pioneers and trailblazers in the late 1800s as part of the Gold Rush and built the churches and businesses and schools that exist; African Americans who escaped slavery and the racism of the South to work on the railways as truck drivers up and down Route 99; Mexican Americans who traveled north to find work on the farms and have since become the backbone of our agricultural industry -- (applause); Asian Americans who arrived in San Francisco and have slowly branched out to become a part of the community in the San Joaquin Valley.
Merced's make-up may have changed over the years, but its values and character have not -- long, hot days filled with hard work by generations of men and women of all races who wanted an opportunity to build a better life for their children and their grandchildren; hardworking folks who believed that access to a good education would be their building blocks to a brighter future.
You know, I grew up in one of those communities with similar values. Like Merced, the South Side of Chicago is a community where people struggled financially, but worked hard, looked out for each other and rallied around their children. My father was a blue-collar worker, as you all know. My mother stayed at home to raise me and my brother. We were the first to graduate from college in our immediate family.
I know that many of you out here are also the first in your families to achieve that distinction, as well. (Applause.) And as you know, being the first is often a big responsibility, particularly in a community that, like many others around our country at the moment, is struggling to cope with record high unemployment and foreclosure rates; a community where families are a single paycheck or an emergency room visit away from homelessness.
And with jobs scarce, many of you may be considering leaving town with your diploma in hand. And it wouldn't be unreasonable. For those of you who come from communities facing similar economic hardships, you may also be wondering how you'll build decent lives for yourselves if you choose to return to those communities.
But I would encourage you to call upon the same hope and hard work that brought you to this day. Call upon that optimism and tenacity that built the University of California at Merced to invest in the future of Merced in your own home towns all across this country. By using what you have learned here, you can shorten the path perhaps for kids who may not see a path at all.
And I was once one of those kids. Most of you were once one of those kids. I grew up just a few miles from the University of Chicago in my hometown. The university, like most institutions, was a major cultural, economic institution in my neighborhood. My mother even worked as a secretary there for several years.
Yet that university never played a meaningful role in my academic development. The institution made no effort to reach out to me Ė- a bright and promising student in their midst Ė- and I had no reason to believe there was a place for me there. Therefore, when it came time for me to apply to college, I never for one second considered the university in my own backyard as a viable option.
And as fate would have it, I ultimately went on and accepted a position in student affairs at the University of Chicago more than a decade later. What I found was that working within the institution gave me the opportunity to express my concerns about how little role the university plays in the life of its neighbors. I wanted desperately to be involved in helping to break down the barriers that existed between the campus and the community.
And in less than a year, through that position, I worked with others to build the university's first Office of Community Service. And today, the office continues to provide students with opportunities to help reshape relationships between the university and its surrounding community. Students there today are volunteering in local elementary schools, serving as mentors at high schools, organizing neighborhood watches, and worshiping in local churches.
But you know a little something about working with your community here, don't you, Merced? UC Merced, its faculty and its students seem to already have a handle on this need and it speaks once again to the character of this community. As I learned more about what you have done, I am so impressed with how the students, faculty and the community are collaborating to ensure that every child in this community understands there is a place for them at this big beautiful university if they study hard and stay out of trouble.
For example, there is Kevin Mitchell, a professor in the School of Natural Science, who studies chaos, of all things. He's coordinating a program to bring physicists into local elementary and high schools to help open the eyes of students to the possibility of careers in science.
Then there is Claudia Zepeda, a junior psychology major, who is mentoring students from her high school here. The first in her family to attend college, Claudia works with the Westside Initiative for Leaders, an organization that helps prepare disadvantaged students for college. And because of her help, 10 students from her high school will attend UC Merced this coming fall. That is amazing.
And then there are local leaders like police officer, Nick Navarette -- (applause) -- who coordinates a program that brings about 60 UC Merced students to local elementary schools each week to mentor students from poorer neighborhoods. Nick then brings kids to campus regularly so that they can do something special; see what it's like to be on a college campus, and begin to dream.
And then there is my friend and former law school professor, Charles Ogletree, a product of the Merced public schools. (Applause.) Now, he is an example of how you can bring your skills back. His ambitions took him far away from home, but he has never forgotten where he came from.
Each year, with his help, Merced's high schools are able to hand out scholarships, not just for the best and the brightest students, but also for many students who are just stuck in poverty and simply need a hand up to compete.
So the faculty, the students, local leaders, Merced alumni, everyone here is doing their part to help the children of Merced realize that access to a quality education is available to them as long as they work hard, study hard and apply themselves.
It is this kind of commitment that we're going to need in this nation to put this country back on a path where every child expects to succeed and where every child has the tools that they need to achieve their dreams. That's what we're aiming for. (Applause.) And we're going to need all of you, graduates, this generation, we need you to lead the way.
Now, let me tell you, careers focused on lifting up our communities Ė- whether it's helping transform troubled schools or creating after-school programs or training workers for green jobs -Ė these careers are not always obvious, but today they are necessary. Solutions to our nation's most challenging social problems are not going to come from Washington alone. Real innovation often starts with individuals who apply themselves to solve a problem right in their own community. That's where the best ideas come from.
And some pretty incredible social innovations have been launched by young people all across this world.
Teach for America in this country is a great example. It was created by Wendy Kopp as a part of her undergraduate senior thesis in 1989. And now, as a result of her work then, more than 6,200 corps members are teaching in our country's neediest communities, reaching approximately 400,000 students.
And then there's Van Jones, who recently joined the Obama administration, a special adviser to the President on green jobs. Van started out as a grassroots organizer and became an advocate and a creator of "green collar" jobs Ė- jobs that are not only good for the environment, but also provide good wages and career advancement for both skilled and unskilled workers; jobs similar to the ones being created right here at UC Merced as this green campus continues to grow.
And then one of my heroes, Geoffrey Canada, grew up in the South Bronx. After graduating from Bowdoin and getting his masters at Harvard, he returned to New York City and used his education to ensure that the next generation would have a chance at the same opportunity. Geoffrey's Harlem Children's Zone is a nationally recognized program that covers 100 blocks and reaches nearly 10,000 children with a variety of social services to ensure that all kids are prepared to get a good education.
And in an effort to invest in and encourage the future Wendy Kopps, Van Joneses and Geoffrey Canadas, the Obama administration recently launched the Office of Social Innovation at the White House. The President has asked Congress to provide $50 million in seed capital to fund great ideas like the ones I just described. The Office is going to identify the most promising, results-oriented non-profit programs and expand their reach throughout the country.
And this university is blessed with some of the leading researchers and academics who are focusing already their attention on solving some of our nation's most critical issues, like the energy crisis, global warming, climate change, and air pollution.
And you, the students, the graduates and faculty on this campus, you're capable of changing the world, that's for sure. Where you are right now is no different from where Wendy and Van and Geoffrey were when they graduated, remember that. You too can have this same transformative effect on the community of Merced and our entire nation. We need your ideas, graduates. We need your resourcefulness. We need your inventiveness.
And as the students who helped build this school, I ask you, make your legacy a lasting one. Dream big, think broadly about your life, and please make giving back to your community a part of that vision. Take the same hope and optimism, the hard work and tenacity that brought you to this point, and carry that with you for the rest of your life in whatever you choose to do. Each and every single day, some young person is out there changing the ways -- the world in ways both big and small.
But let me tell you something, as you step out into that big, open world, and you start building your lives, the truth is that you will face tough times, you will certainly have doubts, let me tell you, because I know I did when I was your age. There will be days when you will worry about whether you're really up for the challenge. Maybe some of you already feel a little of that right now. Maybe you're wondering: Am I smart enough? Do I really belong? Can I live up to all those expectations that everyone has of me?
And you will definitely have your share of setbacks. Count on it. Your best laid plans will be consumed by obstacles. Your excellent ideas will be peppered with flaws. You will be confronted with financial strains as your loans become due and salaries fall short of both expectations and expenses. You will make mistakes that will shatter your confidence. You will make compromises that will test your convictions. You will find that there is rarely a clear and direct path to any of your visions. And you will find that you'll have to readjust again and again and again. And there may be times when you wonder whether it's all worth it. And there may be moments when you just want to quit.
But in those moments, those inevitable moments, I urge you to think about this day. Look around you. Look around you. There are thousands and thousands of hardworking people who have helped you get to this point, people who are celebrating with you today, who are praying for you every single day, and others who couldn't be here, for whatever reason. I want you to think of the people who sacrificed for you -- you know that -- family members who worked a third job to get you through, who took on the extra shifts to get you through, who put off doing something important for themselves to get you to this day.
And think about the friends who never got the chance to go to college but were still invested in your success -- friends who talked you out of dropping out, friends who kept you out of trouble so that you could graduate on time, friends who forced you to study when you wanted to procrastinate. (Laughter.)
Most importantly, though, think of the millions of kids living all over this world who will never come close to having the chance to stand in your shoes -- kids in New Orleans whose schools are still recovering from the ravages of Katrina; kids who will never go to school at all because they're forced to work in a sweat shop somewhere; kids in your very own communities who just can't get a break, who don't have anyone in their lives telling them that they're good enough and smart enough to do whatever they can imagine; kids who have lost the ability to dream. These kids are desperate to find someone or something to cling to. They are looking to you for some sign of hope.
So, whenever you get ready to give up, think about all of these people and remember that you are blessed. Remember that you are blessed. Remember that in exchange for those blessings, you must give something back. (Applause.) You must reach back and pull someone up. You must bend down and let someone else stand on your shoulders so that they can see a brighter future.
As advocate and activist Marian Wright Edelman says, "Service is the rent we pay for livingÖit is the true measure, the only measure of our success." So, graduates, when times get tough and fear sets in, think of those people who paved the way for you and those who are counting on you to pave the way for them. Never let setbacks or fear dictate the course of your life. Hold on to the possibility and push beyond the fear. Hold on to the hope that brought you here today, the hope of laborers and immigrants, settlers and slaves, whose blood and sweat built this community and made it possible for you to sit in these seats.
There are a lot of people in your lives who know a little something about the power of hope. Don't we, parents and grandparents?
Look, I know a little something about the power of hope. My husband knows a little something about the power of hope.
You are the hope of Merced and of this nation. And be the realization of our dreams and the hope for the next generation. We believe in you. Thank you so much, and good luck. God bless you all."
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the First Lady's Official White House web site
First Lady Michelle Obama