President Obama delivered an encouraging and no-nonsense speech Tuesday morning to a Virginia high school audience and millions of other students nationwide by Internet broadcast, urging them to believe in themselves and never give up on reaching their goals and fulfilling their dreams.
Obama’s speech was like so many other presidential addresses throughout history – the chief executive acting as the chief encourager.
Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush made a similarly encouraging speech at Tupelo High School in 1987, campaigning for GOP gubernatorial candidate Jack Reed Sr. of Tupelo and for himself as the front-runner for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination.
The THS students, like the students in Virginia on Tuesday with Obama, provided an appropriately enthusiastic, respectful welcome for Bush, the highest-ranking official ever to speak to a student audience in Tupelo.
This week, former first lady Laura Bush put the whole idea of presidential speeches and students in perspective: In an interview with CNN, Bush said, “There’s a place for the president of the United States to talk to schoolchildren and encourage school children” to stay in school.
Bush, a former Texas public school teacher, said that regardless of any partisan differences, it’s “really important for everyone to respect the president of the United States.”
The unfounded concerns expressed by some about an Obama “indoctrination” speech melted Monday with release of the speech’s content. Many detractors became supporters and praised presidential encouragement for students’ doing the right thing: staying in school, defying adversity, graduating, taking responsibility for themselves, and striving for success, which Obama said is never easy.
“ … At the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities … unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed,” Obama said at Wakefield High in Arlington, Va.
President George H.W. Bush made strongly similar challenges in a 1991 speech to all the nation’s students:
“I’m asking you to put two and two together: Make the connection between the homework you do tonight, the test you take tomorrow, and where you’ll be 5, 15, even 50 years from now. … The real world starts right here. What you do here will have consequences for your whole lives.”
Obama followed an important, rock-solid tradition in his remarks. We need more speeches like it.
NEMS Daily Journal