Just twenty miles away from Berwyn, President Barack Obama took the podium at the Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School in Philadelphia today to deliver his second “Back-to-School” address. The speech encouraged all of us to make the most of our education in order to succeed, not just in education or in personal goals but as Americans.
Obama gave his first back-to-school speech last year, but his message of the importance of education was overshadowed by controversy in the nation and in this district. Critics claimed that he had an underlying political motive in his actions, and, locally, Conestoga teachers were not required to show the speech last year.
This year, the message about doing well and staying out of trouble resonated with all, whether liberal, conservative or apathetic. Fortunately, every student in the building had the opportunity to hear it, as teachers were required to show the speech and could not give out class work during those twenty minutes.
Despite what critics might assert, there was no talk about liberal strategies or right-wing policies. Instead, an inspirational man spoke inspirational words, encouraging us, the nation’s youth, to tap into the potential that we all possess. Such motivation might have been dismissed as rhetoric, but Obama incorporated his own personal shortcomings as a student into his speech. He told us that there was a time when his “grades were slipping” and how his attitude toward the future could be described only as “casual,” inspiring not only the class president, but also the class clown.
It was apparent that Obama was aware of his diverse audience and made sure to connect with everyone from the excited kindergartener learning how to construct sentences to the anxious high school senior filling out college applications. He did not exaggerate or preach; he simply highlighted the importance of education in the increasingly competitive and globalized world.
Though some might argue otherwise, Obama embodies what we all, kindergarteners and seniors alike, can achieve if we fulfill our obligation to be the best students we can possibly be. And therein lie the central message, one that, though often repeated, stands as true today as it ever was: The future is in our hands, and despite what may be happening in the world today and tomorrow, “so long as you’re willing to work hard, nothing—absolutely nothing—is beyond your reach.”