As part of the White House’s Black History Month celebration, the first lady hosted a group of children for a screening of Beasts of the Southern Wild on Wednesday, the Associated Press reports. The cast of the film was in attendance, but in her remarks to her young guests — 80 middle and high school students from Washington, D.C., and New Orleans — the film itself quickly took a backseat to an urgent message about self-empowerment, big dreams and potential, with a deeply personal twist. “[W]e are here for you. We did this for you. I deeply love you all and believe in you, and I haven’t even met you,” Obama said.
It’s a pep talk we wish more of America’s kids could hear in person — and not a bad message for adults, either. An excerpt:
Because we are all here today for you, and that’s what I — we are here for you. We did this for you. This event is important to me not only because I love and believe in this film, but also because I deeply love and believe in all of you. Do you understand that? I deeply love and believe in all of you and I haven’t even met you. But I know you’re out there and I know your potential, I know your promise. And I want to find every opportunity that I can to continue to find ways — whatever ways we can to inspire kids like you all over this country to do amazing things. That’s why we’re doing this. This is for you.
Because the truth is that I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I know that my husband, President Obama, wouldn’t be where he is today if he hadn’t gotten that kind of inspiration from somebody in our lives. We wouldn’t be who we are today without all those people who pushed us and believed in us and gave us opportunities to learn and grow and fulfill our potential. We wouldn’t be here.
You all have to really be focused on preparing yourselves for the challenges and the opportunities that will lie ahead for all of you. You’ve got to be prepared. So that means you have to go to school. Plain and simple. Right now, your job — as I tell Malia and Sasha — is go to school. No matter what is going on in your lives, you have to go to school and you have to do your homework every day — every day. That’s all you have to do. That’s your job.
You have to prepare your minds and your bodies for greatness. That’s how you have to think about it. You’re preparing yourself for greatness. Because if Dwight wasn’t ready, it wouldn’t have mattered what opportunity was waiting for him. If he wasn’t ready to take it, it would have passed him by.
So I want you all to understand that reading is important. You have to read everything you get your hands on. That’s one of the things that President Obama does — he reads everything. He reads all the time. You have to read, read and read again.
And then I want you to think about everything you put in your body, the kind of foods you’re eating. Because if you’re not eating healthy foods, you’re not getting your mind or your heart ready for the greatness that lies ahead.
And every day, I want you all to imagine who you are going to be. That’s where it starts. You have to think of who you want to be in your head every single day, and think of all the images and the people that you see — whether it’s me or Quvenzhané or Benh or the president.