WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is taking to the nation’s airwaves once again, this time for an address to America’s schoolchildren in which he will tell them nothing is beyond their reach as long as they dream big, work hard and focus on learning.
Obama will make that point Tuesday at a Philadelphia school when he delivers his second back-to-school pep talk. Lee County students will hear Obama's speech but Collier County students won't.
“Nobody gets to write your destiny but you,” Obama says in the speech, which the White House released a day early Monday so people could read the remarks beforehand and judge the contents for themselves.
“Your future is in your hands. Your life is what you make of it. And nothing — absolutely nothing — is beyond your reach. So long as you’re willing to dream big. So long as you’re willing to work hard. So long as you’re willing to stay focused on your education,” he says.
After the White House announced last year’s speech, some conservatives accused Obama of trying to foist a political agenda on children. Some parents threatened to pull their children from class rather than have them hear directly from the president.
But that type of outcry is largely missing this year.
The goal of the speech is to urge students to stay in school, study hard and take responsibility for their education. Obama long has said an educated work force will help the U.S. compete globally in the 21st century.
He’ll hit that note again, telling students that nothing will affect their success in life as much as their education.
“The kinds of opportunities that are open to you will be determined by how far you go in school,” Obama says. “In other words, the farther you go in school, the farther you’ll go in life.”
Raised by a single mother who often rose before dawn to tutor him before they went to work and school, Obama said government, educators and parents have a responsibility to prepare students for classroom success. But students have responsibilities too, he says.
“Here’s your job: Showing up to school on time. Paying attention in class. Doing your homework. Studying for exams. Staying out of trouble,” Obama says. “That kind of discipline and drive — the kind of hard work — is absolutely essential for success.”
Obama says he knows that’s true because he didn’t always have the drive. He uses his earlier-in-life slacking-off as a motivating example.
In the speech, he recalls a conversation with his mother about his slipping grades, how he hadn’t started filling out college applications and how he was being “casual” about his future. He started to tell her he didn’t need to hear that, but Obama says she cut him off, gave him a hard stare and asked if he remembered what it was like to put in a little effort. Obama says hearing that from his mother jolted him.
“But eventually, her words had their intended effect,” he says. “I got serious about my studies. I made an effort. And I began to see my grades — and my prospects — improve. And I know that if hard work could make the difference for me, it can make the difference for you too.”
Obama went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and a law degree from Harvard University, two of the nation’s best schools. He served in the Illinois state Senate and the U.S. Senate before being elected president in 2008.
Obama’s venue for Tuesday’s speech is the Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration school in Philadelphia. The Education Department last week designated Masterman, as the school is commonly known, as a Blue Ribbon school. That’s the federal designation for high-achieving schools or schools that have improved significantly and helped close achievement gaps among disadvantaged and minority students.
More than 90 percent of its 1,150 fifth- through 12th-graders score proficient or advanced on state standardized reading and math tests.
Last year, the Education Department also was criticized for distributing proposed lesson plans with the 2009 speech, including a section, later changed, that asked students to write about how they could help the president.
There is no accompanying curriculum for this year’s speech, White House spokeswoman Gannet Tseggai said.
Schools were not required to air the 2009 speech, which Obama delivered from an Arlington, Va., school. After the White House released the text early, many critics backed off and some schools agreed to air it after all.
Schools are not required to air the president’s remarks Tuesday either, though some are giving parents an opportunity to pull their kids from class during the broadcast, which CNN is expected to carry live.
In the speech, Obama is also announcing the second Commencement Challenge, a nationwide contest in which schools compete to land him as their graduation speaker. He spoke at Kalamazoo Central High School’s graduation in Kalamazoo, Mich., last June.
Associated Press writer Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia contributed to this report.