On September 8, President Barack Obama delivered a speech aimed at students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. He spoke at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia, and his message was broadcasted across the nation. Students were meant to view the speech during the school day, as Obama urged them to stay in school and focus on making good grades. However, the speech was hit with controversy, as some conservative parents did not want their children to hear what Obama had to say.
Some parents were worried that Obama would use the back-to-school speech to promote his own political views. Although the president released the full text of the speech before it was delivered, concerned parents were afraid the president would deviate from the text. In order to pacify the worried parents, many schools required permission forms to be signed before the speech aired. Others chose not to show the speech at all.
The speech’s lack of a political message proved many parents’ fears wrong.
Instead of promoting his political beliefs, Obama urged students to stay in school and work hard for good grades. He explained to them that they are the future, and they need to persevere in order to be successful. “The truth is, being successful is hard,” said Obama during his speech. “You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.”
The president used examples from his own childhood to explain to students that he had been in their place before.
“[My mother] decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning,” said Obama. “Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, ‘This is no picnic for me either, buster.’”
Despite the controversy surrounding Obama’s message, many students did get a chance to view the live speech. “When you see someone of such power saying what your parents say or your teachers have said, like all your life, it really makes it more powerful to you and it really makes you want to try more,” said Ariana Steele, a student at Thomas Jefferson High School.