The Washington Post

Obama’s ‘back to school’ speech at D.C.’s Banneker will urge students to work hard, dream big

President Obama may be on a re-election campaign footing, but the annual back-to-school speech he is scheduled to deliver at Banneker High School this afternoon is essentially the same, politically innocuous, work-hard-dream-big pep talk he’s made the last two years to a nationwide student audience.

“You guys are growing up faster and interacting with the wider world in a way that old folks like me didn’t have to,” he will say, according to prepared remarks released by the White House last night to head off any fuss about his using the nation’s students as a backdrop for a political speech. It will be live streamed on and carried live on MSNBC.

“So today, I don’t want to be another adult who stands up here to lecture you like you’re just kids,” says the fairly lecture-like address.

He will urge students to be the best they can be, which doesn’t have to mean straight As. “It means you have to keep at it. It means you have to work as hard as you know how. And it means that you take some risks once in a while. You wonder. You question. You explore. You color outside the lines every now and then,”according to the prepared text.

Obama says he “wasn’t always the very best student,” but that he remembers his eighth-grade ethics class.

“I remember the way it made me think. I remember being asked questions like, ‘What matters in life?’ ’What does it mean to treat people with respect and dignity?’ ‘What does it mean to live in a diverse nation?’

“Each question led to a new one, and I didn’t always know the answer right away. But those discussions and that process of discovery are still with me today.”

As he has in the past, Obama selected a diverse, high-performing school as the setting for his speech. Banneker, where admission is by application-only, is one of DCPS’ top-scoring high schools. Ninety-four percent of its sophomores read at proficiency level or better on the 2011 DC CAS. Only School Without Walls had higher pass rates.

Located in Ward 1 near the Howard University campus, Banneker’s enrollment of 427 is about 85 percent African American, according to 2010 enrollment figures. Nearly 50 percent of the student body is eligible for free or reduced price lunch, an indicator of poverty.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.


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