Obama's back-to-school speech urges youths to 'dream big'

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

President Obama plans to urge the nation's students to "dream big" and "stay focused" on education Tuesday in a low-key speech in Philadelphia described as a nonpolitical event.

The text of the speech - Obama's second back-to-school address since taking office - was released Monday night to allow school officials across the country to review it before deciding whether to show it in the classroom. It was expected to be carried live on the White House Web site at 1 p.m. Eastern time and on cable television, according to administration officials.

The speech steers clear of politics, yet it touches on some themes on the minds of voters in the run-up to the midterm elections. Obama's setting will be Philadelphia's Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School.

"I know a lot of you are also feeling the strain of these difficult times," Obama tells students in the prepared text. "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."

But the president exhorts the students: "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."

Last year, Obama gave a similar televised pep talk at Wakefield High School in Arlington. That speech roused controversy beforehand as critics suggested it could inject ideology into the classroom. But Obama was not the first president to give a motivational address to students in a school setting; President George H.W. Bush did so in 1991.

This year, there has been little debate in advance of the back-to-school speech.

The president also plans to address school violence. The speech decries "bullies in class who try to use . . . differences to pick on you or poke fun at you." Obama adds: "In some places, the problem is more serious. There are neighborhoods in my home town of Chicago where kids have hurt one another. And the same thing has happened here in Philly. So, what I want to say to you today - what I want all of you to take away from my speech- is that life is precious, and part of its beauty lies in its diversity."

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