I just finished reading the advance copy of the speech the President is going to give to classrooms today. I can see why you all were afraid of what he had to say to your children. (Please note the sarcasm again.) An inspiring speech about how students need to believe in themselves and put in the effort needed to not just get ahead in life but to get through life is truly frightening stuff.
By the way, this is a speech that an entire generation of 30 somethings needs to listen to as well, because we all grew up with the same impressions we’ve passed on to our children, and these are not good impressions, that if at first you don’t succeed at something, than obviously you’re just no good at it and you should give up.
I know, because I fight that fight everyday. “Ooh poor me. I’m not a natural born photographer like Salley So and So. She’s way better than me, so why should I try at all?” Because by learning everything there is to learn about lighting and how a camera works and taking thousands of pictures and analyzing each one can I see what I did wrong and how I can make it stronger, or better lit, or more impressive next time, until finally my pictures start looking good every time I take one. But it’s taken years to get there and I’m still learning. One class did not make me a photographer, but I love it, so I’m going to keep taking pictures and studying how to improve.
Same with gardening. Not all my plants came up this year, or produced or even flowered, but I’m going to go back next year and try again, and read more and learn and blog until I get a garden that is the envy of the neighborhood.
Here’s a copy of part of the President’s speech that inspired me the most: “Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.
But the truth is, being successful is hard. 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.
That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you — you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust — a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor — and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you — don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best. It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?”
You should read the rest. I think you’ll find that your fears about the President trying to brainwash your children were correct. He’s trying to brainwash them into being better citizens.