Full text of Michelle Obama's address to Chicago school children at the launch of Let's Move Active Schools

February 28, 2013

Transcript provided by Office of the First Lady

Isn’t this exciting?  (Applause.)  Oh my goodness.  Thank you, Serena, Allyson, thanks to all the athletes.  And let me just tell you, I wanted to take a moment before we got into some fun, because I wanted to talk to you all -- I’m in my home town.  (Applause.)

So listen up, just a little serious business because all of these incredible athletes you see here -- they have traveled here today to my home town because, like me, they wanted to be here with all of you amazing kids.  We wanted you to know that there are millions -- do you hear me, millions -- of people like us all over this world who love you so much.  We love you more than you can ever know.  We love you so much.  (Applause.)

And we care about you -- I want you to hear this -- we care about you.  We care and believe in you.  We believe that you have what it takes to accomplish anything that you want in this life.  But we also want you to understand, and I want you all to listen, we want you to understand that the only difference between all of you all out there and all of us standing up here on this stage are the choices that you make in life.

It is so important for each of you to realize that every day you, and you alone, have the power to choose the life you want for yourself.  Whether you spend your day watching TV or whether you use that time to pick up your books and finish your homework -- see, that’s your choice.  Whether you fill your bodies with chips and candy or fruits and vegetables -- see, that’s on you.  Whether you sit around all day playing video games or get up and move your bodies -- these are all the choices that will determine who you will become and what you can achieve.

See, every one of these great athletes standing with me today had to make good choices, and they had to work hard to get where they are.  See, what you guys have to understand -- they weren’t just born faster or stronger or smarter.  And maybe it’s hard for you to believe, but many of us didn’t have it easy growing up.  I mean, some of us are from tough neighborhoods where we had to watch our backs.  Or we went to schools where the books were torn and the lockers were beat up and stuff didn’t always work.  Yes, some of us grew up without a father -- or we saw people we loved involved with gangs and drugs.  And it was a struggle to get each other’s backs and hang together as a family.

And let me tell you, I can tell you that growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money.  We live in a little bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago.  (Applause.)  South Side.  (Applause.)  And for most of my life growing up, I shared a tiny bedroom with my big brother.  And some nights, let me tell you, it was hard to get my homework done because it was so noisy that I could barely think.  And I know some of you know what that’s like, right?

AUDIENCE:  Yes!

MRS. OBAMA:  So it was hard.  So there were times when I started to doubt myself.  In fact, a lot of us up on this stage grew up being told by others that we weren’t good enough or smart enough to achieve our dreams.  We all heard that, right?  So if you guys remember just one thing from our time today, it’s this:  Although I am the First Lady of the United States of America -- (applause) -- listen to this, because this is the truth -- I am no different from you.  (Applause.)

Look, I grew up in the same neighborhoods, went to the same schools, faced the same struggles, shared the same hopes and dreams that all of you share.  I am you.  And the only reason that I am standing up here today is that back when I was your age, I made a set of choices with my life -- do you hear me -- choices.

I chose not to listen to the doubters and the haters.  (Applause.)  I chose to shut those voices out of my head and listen to my own voice.  I chose to ignore any negative things that were happening around me, and instead focus on all the wonderful things I had going on inside of me.  I chose to focus on what I could control. 

So let me tell you what I did.  I worked hard in school to get good grades.  I listened to my teachers.  I behaved in school.  I learned from everyone and everything around me.  I stayed active.  I didn’t do -- I did everything that I could to keep my body healthy and fit.  I did everything within my power to prepare myself for great things.  And eventually all of my work paid off -- I went to college, I want to law school.  And because I had a good education, I could get a good job so that my family wouldn’t have to worry about money and I could live in a house where my daughters could have their own rooms.

And the lesson I learned along the way is that it did not matter where I was from.  It didn’t matter how much my parents had.  What mattered was how hard I was willing to work, and how deeply I was willing to believe in myself.  (Applause.) 

And one of the main reasons I wanted all of you to be here today with us is that that is true for every single one of the folks up on this stage here today.  They can tell you that there is no magic to their achievements.  No one waved a wand and turned these folks into champions.  They turned themselves into champions by doing the hard work, getting their education, exercising every day, eating healthy, practicing their skills over and over and over again.

And we’re all here today to tell you that you can do the same thing.  Do you hear me -- you all can do the same thing.  (Applause.)  You all have every reason to be hopeful about your future.  Don’t let anybody tell you differently.  You all can make yourselves into somebody that you’re proud of.  You have it in you.  You can be anything you want -- whether it’s a doctor, a teacher, a scientist, or, yes, President of the United States.  You all can do that.  (Applause.)

You can make your family proud of who you are and who you become.  And I have the secret.  Do you want to hear the secret?

AUDIENCE:  Yes!

MRS. OBAMA:  You have to get a good education.  Do you hear me -- you have to get a good education.  That is the most important thing that you can do for yourselves right now.  And that means that you have to go to school every day -- every single day no matter what you’re school looks like or what’s going on there, you have to be sitting at your desks, ready to learn.  You’ve got one job at this age and that is to be the best student that you can be.  (Applause.)

So listen to your teachers.  Do your homework -- and not just when you feel like it, but every day, no matter what’s happening in your life.  Remember, no one is born smart.  You become smart through hard work.  The more you read, the more you do math, the smarter you become.  So every single one of you can become smart if you’re willing to put the work in.

And finally, you guys need to take care of your bodies.  You have to.  That means you have to eat the right foods.  It’s not a joke, it’s not a game -- foods that will make you strong and give you energy.  You’ve got to eat fruits.  You’ve got to eat vegetables.  You’ve got to use those meals, those good foods you’re getting now in your schools every single day. 

And you have to be active, guys.  You listen to me -- you’ve got to turn off the TV, move away from the screen.  (Applause.)  You’ve got to keep your body active, even if that means just turning on some music and dancing for an hour.  Do a little dougie, a few jumping jacks, some push-ups.  And you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to be healthy.  You just have to move.  That’s how you’ll prepare your bodies and your minds for greatness. 

You know what -- and now it’s time for the serious stuff to end, okay?  Did you all hear all the message that I had for you?

AUDIENCE:  Yes!

MRS. OBAMA:  You all promise me that you’re going to be good students.

AUDIENCE:  We promise!

MRS. OBAMA:  You all promise me that you’re going to eat right.

AUDIENCE:  We promise!

MRS. OBAMA:  You promise me you’re going to get moving.

AUDIENCE:  We promise!

MRS. OBAMA:  And we’re going to start right here and right now.  (Applause.)  These champions are going to lead the way by showing us how to get moving.  So let’s have some fun.  Are you ready?  (Applause.)  All right, let’s move!  (Applause.)